To Canyon Lodge - The Yellowstone Ride - CycleBlaze

June 16, 1995

To Canyon Lodge

I awoke early again, and was startled to find a thin coating of snow on the ground and the surrounding hills seriously whitened.  Nothing was falling at the moment though, and the sky looked almost promising.  Too early for breakfast, I decided to hop on my bike and make a quick tour of the basin, hoping to find some dawn-feeding wildlife.  No luck, but it was a pleasant, brisk warmup before breakfast.  The dining room at Old Faithful Inn was just starting to serve when I returned, and I settled down to an omelet, hash browns, toast, and remarkably bad coffee.

I was in no great hurry to finish my meal, since I was sure it would be too cold for any serious riding until the day warmed up a bit.  I was distressed when I left the dining hall to discover that it was snowing fairly heavily and that most passes in the park were closed until 9; and that the expected high for the day was 40.  I began resigning myself to another cold and miserable day in the saddle.

I waited in the lodge until about 9, called Rachael to touch base, and then headed back to the cabin to prepare for departure.  It was no longer snowing, but it was still very cold.  I bundled up with my wool shirt, two rain jackets and warm gloves, and felt reasonably comfortable when I set out.  My hopes for the day were fairly modest - enough of a dry spell to carry me through a significant leg of the ride before misery set in.

As it turned out though, this was a wonderful day.  I never really got wet, and saw some amazing terrain and wildlife.  The first part of the ride took me down the same path I had walked last night.  I enjoyed the relaxing terrain and was watching out on both sides of the path for wildlife when I rounded a bend and was shocked to find a bison standing on the bike path, about forty feet in front of me.  His companion grazed placidly another twenty yards on.  After hastily dismounting my bike on the opposite side from this monster, I tried to look unthreatening as I pulled out my camera to make the most of the situation.  It's a rare event when a wild animal is close enough to more than fill the frame!

Fairly intimidating obstacle to find in the bike lane. I also like this picture because it reminds me of how low the snow level was.
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This seemed like a good time to just be patient and wait for the parade to pass.
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Unfortunately, as interesting as they were, the buffalos put a crimp in my travel plans.  Neither one seemed at all interested in moving on, and I was disinclined to try to shoo them off.  I stood in the cold for about ten or fifteen minutes until they were far enough from the path (about 20 feet) that I decided to make a dash for it before they turned around again.

Relieved to have escaped ungored and untrampled, I cycled happily on for a few hundred yards until I rounded another bend and encountered two immense elk in the path, again only about 40 feet away.  It was quite an amazing experience.  Happily, elk move a bit more quickly than bison, and I didn't have as long to wait before I was able to pass on.

I think these two sightings are the closest I’ve ever been to a large animal in the wild.
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For the next fifteen miles I peacefully followed the Firehole River until arriving at Madison Junction.  About half the route was on bike paths or small side routes, and the remainder was on a surprisingly wide shoulder of the highway.  It was a great ride, interrupted frequently by stops to view wildlife.  Probably the best was a small bison herd (about 15 head).  And, remarkably, it was still dry.

The next stretch was a lovely upstream stretch along the Gibbon River.  Although it was on a rough-surfaced shoulderless highway, the traffic was quite light and biker-friendly.  I never felt anxious about the traffic and was able to devote my attention to the great scenery and occasional wildlife display.  The best sighting was a family of four elk and a mule deer running from a half-heartedly pursuing black bear.

Amazingly enough, I was still dry at Norris, where I left the Gibbon River and turned east for the final 14 mile leg to Canyon.  This stretch was enjoyable, even though it included a long, sometimes significant climb.  Wildlife sightings along this stretch included many more elk and mule deer; bison in the distance; a Bostonian cyclist biking from Portland to South Dakota; and three European cyclists (a Belgian, and a Swede with his 12 year old son) on a major expedition across the US and then north to Alaska.  After chatting with this group for awhile I resolved to avoid complaining about my own trivial challenges and travails.

Baby buffalo! I had no idea they were tawny.
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Canyon Village, my home for the next two night, is a bit of a sprawl.  My cabin is far enough from the central complex that it was better to bike to than walk - particularly since there are no direct routes and it would be easy to get lost.  After thawing out with a wonderful hot shower I hiked out to Inspiration Point, a few miles down the Yellowstone, and hiked back along the canyon rim.  It is a dramatic, extremely colorful formation with steep thousand foot cliffs plunging to the wild river below.  It is a very narrow canyon in some places, with the opposite rims frequently less than a mile apart.  The colors of the cliffs are extraordinary, with the

south face dominated by a sulfurous yellow hue, and the north with dramatic reds and pinks.  Fortuitously, the weather was at its best, with blue skies unexpectedly breaking through for an hour or so.  Sunlight brought all of the colors to light.

After becoming discouraged by long lines and slow service at both the cafeteria and the grill, I settled once more for dinner in bed, enjoying a healthy meal of banana, yogurt, granola, trail mix and beer.

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Today's ride: 44 miles (71 km)
Total: 237 miles (381 km)

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