Thursday 23rd to Saturday 25th June (Stages 43 & 44).
Thursday 23rd June – Grant Village, Yellowstone to Cody (Stage 43).
We were up bright & early today for what is the longest ride day of the adventure so far. Leaving Grant Village at 8am, the first 5 miles were very much like the end of yesterday’s ride, taking us through forest, but as we were turning right onto Highway 20, we made a last minute decision to stop at the West Thumb Geyser Basin.
Being located on the shore of Yellowstone Lake, it’s one of the stand-out features on the Southern Loop, although it’s also one of the least visited sites. It doesn’t have the obvious thermal activity that some of the other hotspots can offer, but its views over the lake to the distant mountains are second to none. Yellowstone Lake is quite full at the moment, which resulted in a couple of the geysers either being completely or partly submerged which gave them an ethereal quality.
We followed the wooden walkway (see first photo) around the various geysers including the Thumb Paintpots, Seismograph Pool & Bluebell Pool.
As we continued to make our way towards the lake, we could look across the basin & make out the steam rising from the active geysers at the opposite end of the trail. Reaching the shoreline, we came face to face with the Winter Spring & Lakeshore Geysers, both of which were completely submerged.
Fishing Cone geyser was next, offering stunning views across the smooth lake, followed almost immediately by Big Cone & Hillside geysers. While the photos look good, they really aren’t a patch on the real thing!
The Black Pool & Abyss geysers led us on towards the Painted Pool & Thumb Paintpots – every time you thought there couldn’t be a more spectacular geyser, one appeared!!
There was an opportunity to get a long shot of the West Thumb basin, as well as a couple of shots looking across the lake, before finding ourselves back where we started. The geyser basin couldn’t be any more different to the forest of yesterday – Yellowstone has the ability to keep throwing different scenery & wildlife at you. We spent about an hour walking round the trail & it was worth every second!
While I know I’ve mentioned the correct geysers, I may have mixed up which photo is which, so please just enjoy them anyway.
Forest covers about 80% of the park with lodgepole pine being one of the dominant species. It requires temperatures of between 104 to 122 centigrade for the cones to open & start the reproduction cycle. The trees themselves have thick bark which gives it the ability to resist low intensity fires.
There is a sub-plot taking place when lodgepole pine are absent – Subalpine fir & Engelman spruce battle for supremacy. This explains why some of the forest photos look so different to each other.
Every now & again there were lookouts & gaps in the treeline, allowing views across the lake to the Grand Tetons in the far distance.
At Bridge Bay Marina a lone motor boat was setting off for a day on the lake, while a little further down the road we could see cars parked all over the road. This is a sure sign there are large animals in the area & on this occasion we met a gang of very docile elk – while they have fuzzy antlers they are less likely to attack anything, as their antlers are very sensitive. However, once their antlers have hardened, they are much more dangerous!
We took the right turn towards Fishing Bridge – I stopped for a couple of photos before we pulled in to the General Store for a coffee. Setting off again, we’d assumed that we’d had our last opportunity to spot some of the larger wildlife, when we saw what looked like large black boulders over to our left…..
In the space of 5 minutes, we saw a small herd of 3 bison (they must have been a couple of hundred yards away), then a single bison grazing on the grass – I was about 30 yards away. I read that on 27th June, someone was gored by a bison when it became agitated because the man got too close (advice is never get closer than 25 yards to most wildlife, but keep 100 yards away from bears & wolves.
In 1988, wildfires caused damage to just over a third of Yellowstone – they burned for months & the entire park was closed for the first time in its history. Although the fires looked to have caused irreparable damage at the time, Yellowstone has recovered & new growth trees are now well established & some of the trees survived as only the ground vegetation was burned. As we cycled from Yellowstone Lake towards the East Entrance, we could see this at first hand.
We had th
A couple of small alpine lakes added a European feel as we climbed up to Sylvan Pass (at 8,530 feet above sea level, it’s the highest pass in the park). We still had another 58 miles to cycle, but from here it would be mostly downhill! We descended 1,600 feet in the next 7 miles, which delivered us to the East Entrance Gate – time for a final photo from Yellowstone!
Leaving Yellowstone behind us, I was on a familiar road – in 2010 I rode the final 52 miles into Cody on a Cycling Adventures tour. As we descended, following the course of Middle Creek, we saw the last of the yellow volcanic rock.
The cliffs became red sandstone & siltstone as we descended the Wapiti (Elk) Valley, now following the course of the Shoshone river. The rock formations reminded me of Utah (especially the areas around Bryce, Zion & Moab), with hoodoos & arches high up. We passed Buffalo Bill Cody’s hunting lodge at Pahaska Tepee (we stopped for a quick coffee) as a tailwind pushed us down the valley.
As the Wapiti Valley opened out, we got our first views of the Buffalo Bill Reservoir – constructed between 1905 & 1910, it was one of the first concrete dams built in the USA & at the time it was finished, it was the tallest dam in the world at 325 feet. The dam was raised an additional 25 feet when work was completed in 1993. Although I couldn’t find any information to explain why, you can see there is significant log debris near the dam.
The power of the water as it cascaded to the valley floor was breath-taking! I’ve included a small video clip.
The final 5 miles from the reservoir to our motel passed in a flash – this had been our longest day ever on the touring bikes by a significant margin (our previous longest ride was 86 miles & it almost broke us!). We’d had a truly special day that started with the Thumb Thermal Basin, we saw exceptional scenery & got to meet Yellowstone’s wildlife at close quarters. It was time to celebrate 3 glorious days in Grand Teton & Yellowstone National Parks!!
Stage Stats – 104 miles, 3,274 feet of climbing. A thermal basin, up close wildlife & stunning scenery, plus a climb over the highest pass (Sylvan Pass) in Yellowstone.
Friday 24th June – Rest Day.
A short update to say hello & thank you to a couple of people I met when I was getting my bike serviced at Joyvagen (which translates as “Path To Happiness”) in Cody.
Pam, it was lovely to meet you, I hope you get many hours of happiness from your new bike! Thanks for sharing your knowledge & thoughts on routes in Wyoming. As I write this, we’ve made it as far as Gillette!
Marshall – I can’t thank you enough for fixing my gears & brakes. It was great to spend some time chatting with you & I hope you got to enjoy the bike festival in Shell on the Saturday & that you all raised a huge amount for cancer. Your friendliness, professionalism & kindness was well above & beyond what you had to do – thank you so much!!!
Saturday 25th June – Cody to Greybull (Stage 44).
We woke to overcast skies, but warm temperatures. As it was a short ride we decided to have a slightly later start than normal – we were on the road just after 10am. As we left town, we spotted a mule deer almost immediately, quickly followed by some American Avocets at Alkali Lake. As if that wasn’t enough excitement for the first 10 minutes, we also watched a plane as it swooped over the road before landing at the nearby airport!
After 3 days of stunning views, today was always going to be a bit like the day after the Lord Mayor’s Show – being on long, straight roads with featureless vistas in all directions simply reinforced that feeling! However, as we chatted to each other we were reminded what an enormous privilege it is to be on the adventure of a lifetime. We’re exploring the best scenery, experiencing the best wildlife & meeting some of the kindest, friendliest people along the way.
We stopped at a couple of Points of Interest, where we learned about the McCullough Peaks wild horses. They’re more well known as Mustangs (derived from the Spanish word Mustengo – ownerless beast) & they live on 109,814 acres of land just outside Cody.
We also learned about the Bridger Trail – following the discovery of gold & silver in Montana, a faster route to the mining territories was required. The trail funnelled large numbers of emigrants into Montana.
On a bike you get a better feel for how far places are apart & how desolate the landscape really is – we spoke to someone who said that Greybull was about 45 minutes away by car – it took us just over 3 1/2 hours in favourable conditions on the bike to cycle the 54 miles! It helps me to appreciate how adventurous the early pioneers really were.
The only town on today’s route was Emblem – it had a declared population of 10! We’re expecting more of the same for the next few days, as we really are in the remote part of Wyoming. In fact we saw as many sand cranes on todays ride as the number of people we spoke to (2 of each)!!
The one small drag of the day was made more of a challenge than it should have been, as the top layer of tarmac had been treated, resulting in a rough ride (imagine a road in the UK with the ironwork showing – this was the American equivalent).
As the day progressed, the sun burned away the lower cloud & the temperature rose into the high 80’s, our first experience of the hot sun. Luckily we were on a shorter day, so water wasn’t an issue, but it reminded us of the importance of topping up wherever the opportunity arises.
Just outside Greybull we passed the Museum for Flight & Aerial Firefighting, with exhibits of historic firefighting planes. Unfortunately, it appeared closed, as this was somewhere I would have really enjoyed exploring further – I definitely picked up Dad’s interest in planes.
After a small descent, we hit the outskirts of town (another neat Welcome sign) & now we’re entering the Bighorn Mountains, we saw our first bighorn sheep – admittedly it was a sculpture!
After checking in to our Motel for the evening (very nice it was too), we set off to the Historic Hotel Greybull & The Speakeasy restaurant, where we enjoyed cheese & spinach ravioli & chocolate fudge cake, washed down with a local IPA!
Stage Stats – 54 miles, 771 feet of climbing. Into a cross/headwind for most of the day.