Day 9: To Tower Falls campground - Yellowstone and Grand Tetons 2004 - CycleBlaze

September 5, 2004

Day 9: To Tower Falls campground

It was 30F (-1C) when I got up at 7:30AM after sleeping 10 hours. Everything had a heavy layer of frost. The rain fly was frozen stiff. I got on the road at 10 AM after a short hike to the waterfall.

Early morning view of 11,708 foot Pilot Peak from the Crazy Creek campground.
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Waterfall near the Crazy Creek campground.
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At 10 AM it was still mostly cloudy and quite chilly. Fortunately today's ride starts with an 1100 foot climb to Colter Pass (elevation 8040 ft). That kept me warm. The road crosses back into Montana on the way up Colter Pass. The road was being reconstructed for 3 miles between Colter Pass and Cooke City. The construction zone was a big mess because the new road is on a different alignment (wider, straighter, better grading). It was Sunday, so no construction workers were around to tell me not to bike on the road.

In Cooke City I stopped for lunch at the busiest-looking restaurant. I appreciated being able to sit in the warm restaurant for a while. Even at noon it was still overcast, windy, and chilly. Cooke City is smaller and less charming than Red Lodge. It's the northeast gateway to Yellowstone and has several restaurants and a couple of motels.

After lunch I continued southwest and the riding was easy because the road goes downstream along Soda Butte Creek. After about 4 miles I entered Yellowstone again and paid another $10 entry fee which will be good until the end of the tour. I took a short break at the Warm Creek picnic area but the creek didn't seem very warm to me. Shortly after the picnic area the road crosses into Wyoming again and enters Icebox Canyon. Despite the name, the clouds started to break up and the temperature warmed noticeably. The canyon is very scenic with tall mountains on both sides.

Icebox canyon.
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Soda Butte creek.
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After Icebox Canyon the road turns northwest when Soda Butte Creek flows into the Lamar River. The Lamar valley is much wider and the surrounding mountains became gradually smaller as I go downstream. The temperature climbed as I lost elevation and the sky cleared.

The Lamar Valley is a popular wildlife watching area. Many cars were parked on the side of the road with people nearby scanning the valley with binoculars. I didn't notice any wildlife but I wasn't looking very closely. No bison or elk crossed the road in front of me but I did see an eastbound touring cyclist with a trailer.

Lamar river valley.
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The road crosses the Yellowstone River just before Tower Junction. I turned left at Tower Junction to go south to the Tower Fall area. At Tower Junction the Yellowstone river is in a very wide valley. But going south towards Tower Fall I could see the river flowing out of a narrow canyon. The road climbs to the top of the canyon. At the top of the canyon a series of overlooks have spectacular views of the Yellowstone River and interesting rock formations.

Yellowstone river once again.
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Yellowstone river overlook near Tower Falls.
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Pinnacles over the Yellowstone river.
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Two layers of columnar basalt above the Yellowstone river.
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1/2 mile beyond the canyon overlook is the Tower Fall area with a large parking area and a gift shop/snack bar. I walked the short trail to the Tower Fall overlook and was thoroughly unimpressed. You can't see the waterfall very well from the overlook. The trail to the bottom of the fall was closed. So I walked back to the bike and pedaled up the short steep spur road to Tower Fall campground (elevation 6600 feet) arriving at 5:30. I set up in the hiker/biker section and a ranger told me that I'm only the 2nd touring cyclist to stay here this year. It's a primitive campground with just pit toilets and outdoor water faucets. But that's okay with me because I brought my own shower. I washed laundry in my cook pot, one item at at time.

This was a very easy day-mostly downhill after the 1100 foot climb in the morning. I needed an easy day after climbing Beartooth highway yesterday, and I'm planning a strenuous day tomorrow. The day started very cool and cloudy but by 4PM it was mostly sunny and 70F. The temperature dropped rapidly when the sun set.

Distance: 49.0 miles (78.4 km)

Climbing: 2130 feet (645m)

Average speed: 10.0 mph (16 km/h)

Maximum speed: 39.3 mph (62.9 km/h)

Hiking: none

Today's ride: 49 miles (79 km)
Total: 416 miles (669 km)

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