Entering the US at the Montana border (August 12th) at Chief Mountain was like stepping 100 years back into the wild west. Montana is also called “the Last Best Place” in America. It has a very low population density and besides the Rocky Mountains in the west the state consist of prairie where millions of buffaloes used to roam.
We entered the state on Hwy 89 and headed toward St. Mary, the gate to the “Going-to-the-Sun” road in Glacier National Park. As we arrived in St. Mary we stopped at the visitor center, where we were lucky to get a chance to listen to an old Native American speaking about his childhood being brought up by a Shaman. He also told a beautiful story about creation of the drum.
The story takes place in the Rockies where Glacier Nat. Park is located today. Back then this land was a very important area to the Indians.
Glacier National Park or “Backbone of the World” as the natives call the Rocky Mountain
The mountains are sacred and they were an important source of Salmon, big game, roots, herbs, berries and much more that the Indians were depending on to survive. In the 19th century the European settlers made a treaty with the Indians that gave the Europeans access to mine gold in the mountain. The Indians thought they only gave the white people the right to mine in the mountains and not the right to the land, but after the treaty was signed, the military no longer allowed the Indians access to the land. It’s a very sad story and one little example of how the Indians were tricked of their homeland and pushed into dry, cold prairies with nothing for them to live on.
After his speech, he invited the listeners to the ongoing Indian Pow Wow festival in the nearby Indian Blackfeet reservation in a small town Heart Butte. I was quite a bit out of our way, but somehow I just felt that this was something we couldn’t miss out on.
Riding from St. Mary, located by the mountains into the prairie towards the Blackfeet Indian Reservation and Heart Butte was magical. The winding roads took us through the soft hilled cow lands and brought us further away from the lush greenery into dry, stony, unfruitful prairie.
The settlers, gold-diggers, trapper and hunters from Europe sought out the rich pieces of land with no regards to the existing native population. And it was not hard to understand why the European invaders choose exactly this piece of prairie for the Blackfeet Indian reservation. Before the European invaded America there was an abundance of buffalo on the prairie but the pioneers had hunted them until there was no animals left.
This cold prairie did not provide the berries, roots, herbs, elk, moose, deer, bears, beavers, grouse or shelter as the mountains did and which the Indians needed to survive the winters. And even more importantly the Indians were cut of important waterways that were essential for them. Fresh water and salmon was just as important for the survival of the Indians as is was to the pioneers exploring this beautiful land.
It is hard to accept that the mountains that the Indians were once so dependent on were taken from them to mine gold and other metals. And today where there’s no longer mining in these mountains, the area is a national park for people to visit to enjoy the stunning views, fish in the rivers and swim in the lakes for recreation purpose. But we don’t see any Native Americans visiting these mountains that were once so precious to them.
Arriving in Heart Butte, was quite special. Neither Lars nor I have been to this part of the world before and have little perception of an Indian reservation. But we are of course affected by the many stories and warning given by our kind about the troubles in these places. It was hard to judge whether we were in a place we shouldn’t be, or if our prejudicial filter was making us unable to see that this was a perfectly safe place.
The Pow wow festival area was surrounded by a campground and looked pretty much like any small town festival back home with food stands and lotteries. The only visible differences were the shape of the tents, which were tipis naturally.
In the middle was a large circular arena surrounded by a tribune for the spectators. We found ourselves a good spot and were surprised to see that we were the only “white skins” there. This was apparently not a nostalgic show in honor of the tourist – but a real local festival.
Slowly the drummers, singers and dancers arrived to the arena. We watched as they put on their incredible outfits including headgear, hair accessories, necklaces, dresses, pants, boots and much more I wouldn’t know what to call.
It was obvious that they put an enormous amount of energy into their outfits and seemed very proud to wear them. The spectators were family and friends, who were there to support their dancer. There were kids and dogs everywhere running in and out of the arena to their moms and dads and sisters and brothers and no one took much notice of that. The relaxed atmosphere was almost a contrast to the seriousness of their outfits.
Posing for the camera.
One big explosion of color.
The drummers and singers were gathered in circles around the big drums. 6 bands in all who took turns in singing. At first the music sounds like noise, but after a little while it becomes really pleasant and almost meditational.
The guy in the middle is Eddie Spears a famous Blackfoot actor. He’s in the amazing “Bury my heart at wounded knee” a TV film based on the book of the same name by Dee Brown. The book and movie tells the story of the U.S. expansion in the west from the Indians’ perspective and I recommend it warmly.
After the initial ceremony the female dance competition started.
The winner of the female dance contest. Isn’t she beautiful?
Visiting Heart Butte and being a spectator at the pow wow was definitely one of the best experiences on this trip.
We could have spend the night in Heart Butte but decided to leave and head for Browning. It was getting very late and we drove through the horse fields in the dark. The sky was clear and millions of stars lit up the prairie.
Back to the stunning but touristy Glacier National Park, we lined up behind the cars to get our piece of the scenery. Glacier National Park is without doubt just amazing, and a popular vacation destination.
On the top of the Logan pass we walked up the mountain and saw mountain sheep and the amazing mountain goats. These rock climbers navigate the steepest mountainsides imaginable, and they didn’t seem very comfortable in the summer sun.
A mountain goat panting in the summer heat
We spend the night in a very cool campground: Glacier Campground. Just one of those places, where you feel at home, and where they know how to tend to travelers needs. Free showers, free WiFi, an awesome living room, laundry, a really cool cafe that made the best BBQ and breakfast ever. We enjoyed this place so much we stayed another night.
Henriette making friends with Skeeter.
Western Montana is very much Wild West Country. The guys wear cowboy hats and boots and look as if they just rode in on a horse. – They actually rode in in their big ass pickup truck with at least one dog and two ATV’s on the back.
The cars are enormous and louder than the Harleys. Poor Harley guys, how are people gonna notice them around here!? Kalispell is a city true to its heritage with Wild West architecture and fonts on shop signs.
From Kalispell we headed south towards the National Bison Range, which is one of the oldest wild life refuges in North America. We were unfortunately not able to enter on our motorbikes and had to watch from the outside.
From there we headed south along the Continental Divide on some beautiful gravel roads, which took us through amazing scenery. Highlight was the Skalkaho pass in the Sapphire Mountains and Lemhi pass. We zig-zagged our way through the area and weren’t very efficient in terms of getting further south, but that didn’t really matter. We loved riding on these back roads.
A big herd of mountain sheep.
Camping is awesome, when you find a sweet little sunny spot next to a crystal clear river like this one.
Who needs a cooler, when you have ice cold glacier water to cool your beers?
Enjoying the culinary experience of a freeze dried Mountain House meal!
And with no other means of entertainment, there’s always the camera!
The next day we continue along small farmer roads (August 17th). In Wise River we stop at a small diner for lunch and met Randy and John who happen to know Annette Birkmann, our good friend from Denmark. Annette traveled alone on a motorcycle all over South ad North America and has been of great inspiration to us.
The barbed wire that tamed the wild west!
Coolidge mining chost town in Beaverhead Deerlodge National Forest.
As we hit the town of Leadore on Hwy 28, we headed back North to Salmon. (August 18th). We wanted to ride along the Salmon River up to the Sawtooth Mountain and in an astounding scenery along the river we headed towards Sun Valley and Ketchum.
Salmon River and Sawtooth Mountains in the background.
On the winding mountain roads just outside Ketchum the Suzuki got a flat. This wasn’t supposed to happen! Here we were on a beautiful mountain road in the sun, on a nice warm afternoon! That’s not when you get a flat! We’ll we were just really glad to work on the flat in these conditions and even found a nice shady spot.
A large piece of carton cutter had cut a large hole in the tire and tube.
Half an hour after we fixed the flat, we arrived in posh Ketchum ski resort. We were still covered in dust and dirt from the tire and it felt a bit awkward to walk around between the pastel dressed people in their Audis and Porches. We quickly left the premises.
Bunny loves all the action!
Evening skies over the Sun Valley hills.
Enjoying the sunset.
We couldn’t find a place to camp and had to continue in the dark all the way to the campground in the Craters of the Moon National Park through a spooky landscape. Arriving a the park campground was weird. It was pitch black, and we could almost touch the stars.
Camping at Craters of the moon in black lava (August 19th)
Mountain of lava in Craters of the Moon National Park
Craters of the Moon National Park is something else.
Strangely enough plants and trees are able to grow in the dry lava.
We are back on the prairie heading for Idaho Falls and Yellowstone. The long straight stretch of Hwy through the prairie was lined with signs to keep on the Hwy. The prairie was one large Nuclear power plant development zone.
Just North of Idaho Falls we looked up the Klim headquarters. We both think Klim makes awesome adventure gear. Maybe a bit over our budget, but doesn’t mean we can’t love it. So we thought we’d stop by in Rigby and hoped they had an outlet by the factory. We first heard about the Klim brand at the Horizons Unlimited Mountain Madness (HUMM) rally last year where several guys recommended this technical riding gear.
Since we spend the day in Idaho Falls shopping for a new camera, we arrived pretty late at the Klim headquarters Friday afternoon. They were closing down for the weekend, but we found the warehouse crew outside on the parking lot. Kimberley, the Warehouse Manager invited us in for a tour in her meticulous organized warehouse. (working for IKEA, I have great respect for warehouse workers that take their role of running an efficient business seriously – and Kimberley was certainly one of them)
Brandon who’s working in Klim’s R&D department stopped us as we were about to leave and invited us to follow him to the owner Justin’s place. The Adventure line Designer, Edward, was there as well working on Justin’s new KTM.
Edward invited us to stay at his place for the night at his house in Idaho Falls. His girlfriend Alisa is a super cool lady and an adventure rider as well. She rode through South America on a Suzuki DR650 just like mine and had a lot of good inputs for us. It was totally awesome to get to know the both of them – and Mr. Purr – the sweetest little kitten.
It turned out Alisa also know our good friend from Denmark Annette Birkmann. What a small world!
Camping – now with our own livingroom!
Alisa & Edward had just moved in to their new house a week ago, but still felt they could accommodate and entertain two dirty travelers.
From Idaho Falls we headed towards Teton National Park and Yellowstone. In Swan Valley we dumped into a nice local market with live Bluegrass music. So we spend a few hours lying in the grass, staring at the blue sky and listening to awesome music – now that’s vacation!
At the entrance to the Tetons National Park we visited Jackson Hole and the famous Million Dollar Cowboy bar.
Amazing elk antlers portals in Jackson Hole. All collected from the National Elk Refuge just north of Jackson.
Camping at Granite Creek south of Jackson.
The Tetons National Park.
Enormous elk herd in the Tetons National Park.
Bunny has fine company.
Riding the Grassy Lake dirt road to Camp a this beautiful lake was a treat.
Campfire marshmallows – Mmmmm!
Next stop was Yellowstone National Park (August 21st). Understandable a very popular vacation destination for people all over the world. It is large enough for you to spend 2-3 days even if you never leave the car for anything but Kodak Moments. If you are into hiking you could spend weeks there.
The park has numerous hot springs, geysers, waterfalls, canyons, mountains, lakes and rivers. There are large herds of bison, bears, elks, moose, pronghorns deer and wolfs in the park.
We arrived at the Madison campground late that night just to find that it was full. We didn’t wanna continue riding in the dark in an area with so much wildlife, so we circled the campground to try and find other riders, we could share a spot with and finally 2 great guys Don and Joe invited us to stay at their campsite. They were riding their shiny and cool Harleys – Don was on a brand new Harley with not a single dust corn on it. These guys were serious about their ride!
I got badly sunburned on our first day in the park, so on the second day Lars went about alone and came back with amazing pictures of colorful hot springs, bison herds and wolfs.
Wolfs eating of a bison carcass. (They were far away, so the picture quality is unfortunately not too good)
I spend the day at the campground – getting all upset about the rigid strict uniformed staff at the place. They were impolite and unapologetic when they realized they had made a mistake with our reservation. They had rules for anything you could imagine and was patrolling the campground every hour. Since there are bears in the area, they put up signs on all camping tables saying that you couldn’t have cooking gear, water, cups, lotion etc. etc. – Why not just put a frickin fence around the campground and let customers relax a bit!
We met Mark and Gerry in Yellowstone. Mark rides a BMW F650GS and lives in Costa Rica and invited us to come and visit him, when we get there. Gerry was taking his brand new Super Teneré for a ride.
We spend the next night (August 23rd) in extreme luxury in a Motel in Gardiner just North of Yellowstone.
Pizza and beer at the K-BAR is just GRRRRRREAT!!!!!!
Home sweet home!
By coincidence the Globebuster tour was staying at the same motel. 12 BMW’s going from the top of Alaska to the tip of Argentina – just like us, but they are doing it in 4 months – half the time, that we are – so they had a pretty tough schedule and did a lot of miles everyday. The participants where from the UK, Ireland and Australia and they were followed by a support vehicle with spare parts etc.
This was their rest day, so they all had time to hang around and talk, which was really awesome. Liz was riding her cool BMW 800 – I envied her seat and she envied the weight of the Suzuki.
The Globebuster tour had very bad weather conditions when they went up the Dalton Hwy to Prudhoe Bay and the road turns into one big mud path and they were only a few day into the journey. One of their participant was riding a large BMW Adventure with his wife on the back. At one point he lost control and crashed his bike. He landed so unfortunate that he killed himself. It a terrible and a very sad story. May he rest in peace.
It’s incredible how quickly the conditions on the Dalton Hwy changes from perfect to very dangerous. We did the ride just a few weeks earlier in nice sunny dry conditions and the road was great. It’s hard to accept, but I guess it’s a risk you always take as soon as you take yourself out in the traffic. Road conditions, wildlife, and other vehicles – everything represents a risk.
In Gardiner we stopped at the local Hutterites produce market and got to know Rachel, Donna and Liza. Hutterites are a pacifist democratic community comparable to Mennonites or Amish people. They live in communities throughout Canada and United States.
The sweetest girls Liza, Rachel and Donna from the Martindale Hutterite community.
The Hutterite believe in hard work and simple life. Their incomes all comes into the same pool, they all eat together every evening and they follow pretty strict rules in their community. There can be maximum 160 people in one community. When they grow bigger than that, they split up the community and half of them move to a new place. Therefore an important mission in their society is to save funds for buying new land and building new houses for new communities. Since they farm as large communities rather than individual families, they are most often very strong financial and use modern state-of-the-art agricultural techniques.
The Catholic church in Europe treated them as non-believers/heathens and did what they could to eliminate them (read torture and kill). They moved around in Europe and ended up in Russia, where the Zar saw benefit from the hard-working farmer mentality of the Hutterites. When the Russians installed compulsory military service law they finally left Europe for good and took advantage of the possibilities in the Wild West.
It’s very interesting to meet people who live in our part of the world but choose a different type of community than the rest of us. And it’s hard to see what they are missing out on – except maybe equality between men and women. Women basically have no saying and cannot vote. Can you call a community a democracy when women cannot vote?
The 3 girls told us that they married late, since divorce was not possible. They could have several boyfriends though. They just had to be real sure before they married a man. They invited us to come and visit their community in Martinsdale, and we would have loved to do that, but it was 100 miles north and unfortunately we weren’t gonna go back that way.
From Yellowstone we headed toward Billings over the amazing Beartooth Pass. The pass is 10,947 ft / 3.337 meters and it beats the famous Stelvio in Italy. It is known as “the most beautiful drive in America” and it was really so amazing, we considered to turn around and do it once again.
Awesome mountain climbing in Beartooth.
In billings we are meeting up with Billings Roller Derby Dames. In fact they are bouting the coming Saturday, so of course we’ll stay a few days extra for that. Let’s see what these Wild West Modern cowgirls can accomplish when they swop the horse with a pair of 8-wheelers! See separate post.
While I was hanging out with the Billings Roller Derby Dames, Lars went to visit the Little Big Horn Battlefield west of Billings. See separate post.
From Billings we headed back towards red Lodge and Beartooth Pass and went through this amazing landscape once again. On Hwy 296 we headed for the Chief Joseph Pass towards the rodeo town Cody. We were chased by a thick black storm cloud and raced through the landscape to try and avoid it. Just before Cody the prairie winds got so strong, we were blown all over – and almost off the road.
Cody is named after Buffalo Bill (William Frederick Cody) and famous for its Nite Rodeos.
As with all other American sports events, there’s an opening ceremony with the national hymn, a flag parade and a prayer.
Big old mean guy.
Real men willing to break their backs.
“I believe I can fly!”
After a long day of riding and an intense night of wild west rodeo entertainment, we went for a nice warm motel in downtown Cody.