Day Six


"Travel Guides Are Good"

September 10, 2002

Dillon, MT -
West Yellowstone, MT

372 miles

6:30 riding time

4 Passes Today
18 Passes To Date


The road to Bannock Pass

On previous tours, we've often used the Moon travel guide books; they seem to strike the right balance between too much detail (the McDonalds in Butte doesn't take AMEX), too little detail (covering Montana in six pages), while telling us about interesting places (like the Silver City Saloon), and not telling us about the tourist traps (like the place with the World's Largest Cow Pie).  Our favorite Moon guide is Road Trip USA which we used extensively on our 1997 Seattle-Michigan trip.  (I wonder if I should be volunteering this information now since perhaps our readers thought we ferreted out all those great places we stopped with our psychic powers.)

So, in the interest of full disclosure, I freely admit today's report will draw heavily on information gleaned from Michael McCoy's excellent travel guide, Montana - Off the Beaten Path - A Guide to Unique Places.  I found it yesterday in, of all places, a Dillon Exxon mini-mart that had a full four shelves of interesting books on Montana.  Barnes and Noble, you need to hire the book buyer for this store.

As background, the area of Montana we're in is called Beaverhead Country.  This is the area where the 1860's gold rush started and evidence of past (and current) mining activities are abundant.  Ghost towns are everywhere. 

Another ranching chore Giz and I have been noting is hay farming.  They must be taking in the hay right now because massive hay-bale fortresses are visible in nearly every farmer's field.  In fact, the Big Hole Valley, where we were yesterday, is known as "The Land of 10,000 Haystacks."  Apparently the basin's rich soil is ideal for growing hay and Montana is a large hay exporter.  Another interesting aspect of this land is how popular it is for fly fishing.  More on this later.

Today, Gizmo and I split up!  That's right, I've had it with this online bike touring thing, we're going to each go our separate ways and this is the last report you'll get from me.  Pregnant pause ... I was just joking, you should be so lucky.  No, we did split up, but only for a couple hours in the morning.  I wanted to bag Bannock Pass (which requires some fairly serious gravel riding), but we also needed to bag Monida (Mon-Ida—get it?) south of Dillon on I-15.  So the plan was to bag one pass each and then meet up at a funky eating establishment known as the Calf-A Cafe in the tiny town of Dell, MT.

Early morning at Bannock Pass (named after the Bannock Indians) was absolutely spectacular.  Gizmo's loss.

8AM at Bannock Pass on the Montana-Idaho border.  This is looking SW towards Salmon ID.  Lewis and Clark crossed the Divide just N of here at Lemhi Pass. Many passes have great informational displays describing the pass history.  This info will eventually make it into our pass table.
High-tech German machinery in the middle-of-nowhere.  The bike has been absolutely reliable, a good thing since the nearest BMW mechanic is in Salt Lake City. Turnoff to Lemhi Pass, about 8 miles before Bannock Pass.  My previous research indicated that this road would be too tough to traverse on big road bikes.

Gizmo's foray S on I-15 resulted in this shot at Monida Pass.  It was a sprint to get this shot.  The only suitable camera support was his bike and he had to park it about 100 feet from the sign.  The timer delay on his camera was somewhat short for this distance and there was a huge ditch he had to leap to get from the bike to the sign.  It took him a couple of tries to get the shot.  Can you see him huffing?  

We met up again for breakfast at the Calf-A cafe in Dell.  From McCoy's book,  "The old school it's housed in was a school from 1903 until 1963, with an average enrollment of twenty kids, and then opened as a restaurant in 1978.  Its walls, shelves, and bare pine floor are blanketed with memorabilia, fur-bearing trout, piles of old Life magazines, vintage rifles, an old piano with yellowed sheet music, rocks and fossils, a bedpan banjo, well-worn school desks, pull-down maps, spurs, kerosene lanterns, a ceramic water cooler, and a whole lot more."  We both had sumptuous breakfasts and the total bill was $10.  If you're on I-15 between Salt Lake and Butte, you must stop and eat at this place.

The Calf-A cafe in Dell, Montana.  Neat place! The cafe was an old school house and most of the trappings of an old school house (books, maps, flags, pictures, etc.) have been preserved.

Leaving the Calf-A, we struck up a conversation with a  nice gentleman named Mike.  We learned that Mike is from Dillon (about 40 miles N) originally, but now lives in Detroit where he is a physician-in-residence.  (Wow, I can't think of anywhere more unlike SW Montana than Detroit.)  Mike was visiting the area, camping in his dad's travel trailer, and bow-hunting in the same areas we have been riding.  As always, we gave him our card and are looking forward to corresponding.
After bagging Bannock Pass, Monida Pass, and our hunger, we headed  back N to Dillon so we could loop around to get to our next two passes:  Raynolds and Targhee.  (We could reach these passes by going S into Idaho, but it is a longer distance and, as you know, WE LOVE MONTANA.)  Did you know that Dillon has a Patagonia Outlet Store?  Gizmo has been whining about cold feet, so he was looking for socks.  Patagonia doesn't do socks.  Not wanting to leave an outlet store empty-handed, he purchased some silk-weight long-johns which I think may come in very handy when we travel S to hotter climes.  Fortunately, there was a sporting goods store right next door with a great selection of socks, so all needs were met.
Next whistle stop, recommended by McCoy, was the R. L. Winston Rod Company in Twin Bridges, manufacturers of fishing gear extraordinaire.  McCoy describes RLWRC's fishing gear as the Rolls-Royces of fly fishing.  A nice lady give us a mini-tour (the regular tour is at 2PM, too late for us) and we bought a couple of tee-shirts.  I wish I knew more about fly-fishing, but I need a new hobby like a submarine needs a screen door.

The R. L. Winston Rod Company is housed in a tidy building. The immaculate shop floor at RLWRC.  Rod prices range from $495 to as high as $2550 for their best bamboo models.
Ellie showing us one of RLWRC's shirts. A picture from the RLWRC museum.  Apparently, after a successful television ("Family Ties") and movie career, Michael Gross remade himself by changing his name, moving to Twin Bridges, Montana,  and becoming a fly-fishing rod maker.

After Twin Bridges, we continued on to the small towns of Nevada City and Virginia City.  These two towns seem to be competing with one another to see how can have the best wild-west ghost town, but it seemed a little tourist-trappy for us.  I found this sign interesting.  O.J., move over, at best your trial was the 2nd most extraordinary.
We had an abbreviated late lunch in Ellis at a small ice-cream stand called Cowboy Espresso.  Next door was the Continental Divide Cafe, a white-linen, dinner-only sort of place and mentioned in McCoy's book as having a "nouvelle eclectic menu" in which the owner, Jay Bentley, might make a dish differently each time it is ordered.  At Cowboy Espresso, I had a quesadilla and Gizmo ordered an espresso-yogurt-banana something-or-another.  While eating we struck up conversations with the locals, distributed W&G cards, and generally made a nuisance of ourselves.  Teri, who has a gallery next to Cowboy Espresso, chatted with us about our adventure and we agreed to correspond over email.  Teri, please check in!

Teri of Rusty Cowboy Gallery The quesadilla was excellent. 
The cook said it was an old family recipe.

Wrapping up the day's ride, we stopped off at the Madison Canyon Earthquake Area.  This is really an incredible story:  On August 17, 1959 at 11:37PM, the area was struck by a magnitude 7.1 earthquake which caused a large portion of the mountain to slide.  Twenty-eight of the 250 campers in the canyon below were killed and the Madison River was dammed by rocks and debris (enough to fill the Rose Bowl ten times), forming Earthquake Lake.

Earthquake Lake The large rocky area is the part of the mountain that collapsed into the Madison River Canyon forming Earthquake Lake.

Calling it a day, we bagged two final passes and then rolled into W. Yellowstone.

Raynolds Pass is in a broad flat valley, so it is open to debate where the Divide actually is. Unfortunately Targhee Pass has an information sign without elevation or an elevation sign without the pass name.  Take our word for it—this is Targhee Pass.

Tomorrow we say goodbye to wonderful Montana and say hello to Wyoming, the least populous state in the US of A, if memory serves me correctly.  Look for our next report from Rock Springs.

P.S. We realize that many of you are reading this on the one-year anniversary of the 9/11 tragedy.  Gizmo and I haven't decided exactly what we're going to say in tomorrow's report, but we will be doing something connected to the anniversary.  I hope all of you are safe and sound, and that you're getting through the day with good spirits.

Wow, you guys are really creative!  We have a winner already for Contest #4, Caption That Crazy Photo!  Harold Cohen supplied this excellent caption:

Special Righting Ventures, Inc., of Simms MT is seeking venture funding for its new writing instrument.  Inventor Al Frankenheimener, interviewed as his home, claims that the market for this tool, once reduced in size for individual use, is infinite.

Thanks to Stephen Marra, Glenda Revelle, Marty Levin, Bing Gordon, Bob Seidensticker, Joe Ozinski, Pete Meiring, TJ Brady, Dale Pestes, Tom Grove, Richard Hicks, Betsy Boyle, Ty Bailie, John Helms, and Tom Boyle for submitting entries.

Look for a new W&G contest tomorrow!