After 350 miles, Cycle Greater Yellowstone comes to a conclusion at Yellowstone National Park. But who says just because the ride finished the fun needs to end?Read More
Sometimes less is more. The 2015 Cycle Greater Yellowstone ride included snow, ice, hail, temperatures in the mid-20’s and grizzly bear patrols. The 2016 version of the ride offered more of what Montana is known for: big blue skies, majestic mountain ranges, roads that stretch towards the horizon and some of the friendliest people you could ever hope to meet.
Brett Wartenberg and I flew into Bozeman, Montana which served as the starting point for the 2016 ride. Bozeman is the home of Montana State University and the Greater Yellowstone Coalition which sponsors our ride. The ride does not begin until Sunday morning. We decide Saturday is a good day for a warm-up ride to prepare for the seven days of rigorous riding ahead. We head south out of Bozeman and begin a long uphill ride into the Gallatin National Forest. A beautiful mountain steam runs parallel to the road from the reservoir at the top of our climb. We see a solitary fly fisherman working the stream. This is the area where many of the scenes in Robert Redford’s A River Runs Through It were filmed. We slowly wind our way up the mountain road until we arrive at the reservoir at the end of the road. After a short photo break, we plunge back down the mountain until we hit the outskirts of Bozeman in the valley below.
We join 300 other riders for the start of the ride on Sunday morning. Our destination is Livingston, an old railroad junction which now serves as a magnet of sorts for celebrities who have vacation homes south of town including Meryl Streep, Dennis Quaid and Harrison Ford. We ride northeast out of Bozeman and begin a long climb up into Bridger Canyon. The road tops out at Battle Ridge Pass at 6,372 feet where cowboys and native americans reportedly fought in 1878. From here, we coast downhill towards Livingston. We pass through the Shields River Valley which the Lewis and Clark expedition passed through in 1806. We enter Livingston later that afternoon and camp in a park alongside the Yellowstone River.
After riding back to Bozeman the following day, our ride turns west. Our destination is Whitehall, population 1,038 which sits squarely in the Jefferson Valley. It is brutally hot when we arrive at our campsite at Whitehall High School, the alma mater of the late NBC newscaster Chet Huntley. We soon discover there are virtually no trees in Whitehall and we all scramble to find a shady spot. The downtown consists of two or three square blocks and has clearly seen better times. I find a dilapidated laundromat in town with a broken black and white television set on the wall where I settle in to do my laundry.
We continue west the following morning into the Rocky Mountains by way of Pipestone Pass. Multiple railroads used the pass beginning in 1909 to travel from Chicago to the Pacific Northwest. The steady but not particularly steep climb up the pass goes on for over 20 miles. We are told that the Continental Divide cuts directly through the pass near it apex. I envision a majestic vista with boundary markers and abundant photo opportunities. Instead, I find that the Continental Divide is marked by an unimpressive wooden sign in a dirt parking lot with a few portable toilets and nothing else to see. We head down the pass through the towns of Divide and Wise River on our way to our campsite in Dewey beside the Big Hole River.
Dewey has a name but it is hard to describe it as a town. It appears to consist solely of a general store that closed over 20 years ago and the one-room Dewey Bar. The primary business in and around Dewey is fly fishing.
This afternoon, the bar is filled with fishing guides and cyclists with their laptops trying to take advantage of the bar’s wifi connection. Dewey is in “dark territory” in this section of southwestern Montana. There is no cellular service and the ride staff are joined by a team of volunteer hand-radio operators in order to maintain communications over the next 24 hours. This hardly matters back at the Dewey Bar. I grab a Coors and a basket of pretzels and sit on a bench on the porch of the bar chatting with a local television reporter from Bozeman who has joined us for the ride. Time passes slowly here and what is happening in the rest of the world outside Dewey hardly matters this afternoon.
We continue west through an industrial area on the outskirts of Butte, Montana the following day and stop at Bannack, an old gold mining town that once was home to over 10,000 residents. Today, Bannack is a ghost town maintained by the State of Montana as a tourist destination. The town today includes a hotel, a one-room school house and a church. In 1864, Bannack briefly served as the capital of the Montana Territory. The remainder of our journey takes us through two other gold-mining towns, namely, Nevada City and Virginia City. Virginia City is the bigger tourist draw with well-preserved buildings that include music halls, soda shops and assorted eateries. I stop briefly for a soda in one of the local shops, knowing that a steep 3 to 4 mile climb lies ahead as we leave town.
As I slowly wind my way out of town through a series of switchbacks, I see a male and female cyclist of the side of the road. Given the rigors of the climb, I slowly pull over towards the side of the road to catch my breath in the guise of merely being sociable. As I do so, the woman cyclist asks “Do you see the bear in the tree?” I instantly decide that rest can wait and turn back up the road at a cadence I did not think I was capable of achieving.
The remainder of our trip takes us through the towns of Dillon and Ennis. We ride back to Bozeman on a sunny Saturday morning with the scenic Madison River at our side. My Garmin shows 490 miles of riding over the last eight days with over 17,500 feet of climbing. Brett tells me my climbing number is substantially understated.
Brett and I have already signed up for the 2017 ride which will run from August 19 to August 25. The ride will begin in West Yellowstone, Montana and head west into Idaho. The ride will be shortened to six days with an optional rest day. On August 21, we will have a prime vantage point in the mountains of eastern Idaho to see a total eclipse of the sun. Brett and I hope you will join us. You don’t need to be fast. You simply need to focus on your endurance as you build up for the ride. Although this is primarily a camping trip, the camping is easy. For a modest fee, you will have a tent set up for you and taken down at each campsite. Hot showers, massages, good food, wine and beer are available at each campsite. You will stand in awe at the scenery that surrounds you and will make friends that return year after year. Brett and I would love to share this special experience with you.
By John Murphy
My twin brother and I had just returned home from our 4th grade class when our mom instructed us to quickly pack up a bag because she was taking us on a spontaneous trip to Yellowstone National Park. We threw some clothes in a duffel, gathered up our Gameboys and a few comic books for the long drive from Seattle. It didn't take long before we forgot all about our Gameboys and focused on the jaw dropping scenery around us.
My first foray into the greater Yellowstone ecosystem was jam packed with memorable moments. In just 3 days we saw moose, herds and herds of bison, a wolf, a coyote, elk, bighorn sheep, and deer. I wrote enthusiastically in my journal at the time: "Boy was that ever amazing! Best walk I've ever been on. We saw 10 geysers and bison and a coyote and Old Faithful spurted right on time. Wow! This is great! We've also passed gorgeous lakes and mud pots. I'm gonna stop writing because I really want to see a moose. Bye". Even though my parents raised us playing outside all over the Pacific Northwest, I recognized the unrivaled uniqueness, beauty, and wilderness of Yellowstone at a young age.
Since that auspicious first trip to Yellowstone, I have harbored a special place in my heart for the park and the surrounding land. That trip helped cement my love and appreciation for the interconnectedness of wilderness, geology, and wildlife. I have returned to the park with my family and friends several times with the same level of enthusiasm and wonder I had as a nine-year-old. This summer, I look forward to my third stint volunteering for Cycle Greater Yellowstone. I feel so lucky to be a part of an event that allows people to experience the vast and dazzling area of land in such an intimate way. I can't wait to help make people's experience in the Greater Yellowstone ecosystem as wonderful and enchanting as my first time was.
Morgan has volunteered for Cycle Greater Yellowstone for three years on the tour as a SAG driver and is currently CGY's Ambassador in Alaska. To learn more about the Ambassador Program click here or to volunteer for the tour click here.
On Day 5 of Cycle Greater Yellowstone 2016, cyclists will ride beside one of the most beautiful rivers in all of Montana, tour through the seldom visited, but sublime Pioneer Mountains on the Pioneer Scenic Byway, and discover historic towns with a timeless role in the settling of the west.
From Divide, cyclists will head southwest passing by the Fleecer Mountain Wildlife Management Area and enter a canyon riding parallel to The Big Hole River on Highway 43. This canyon stretch of The Big Hole River passes through a small town called Wise River where cyclists will turn south onto the Pioneer Scenic Byway. Gradually ascending to 7,800 feet, this 49 mile byway takes cyclists into the heart of the Pioneer Mountains. These mountains are replete with truly unique species of terrestrial and aquatic wildlife, mountain meadows, willowy river bottoms, lodgepole pine and old growth white bark pine forests, clear lakes and streams, and geologic and historic highlights.
Few places in America can be portrayed as an ecological treasure, but those are the exact words Howie Wilke used in his book The Big Outside to describe the Pioneer Mountains in Montana. Spanning 2,000 square miles, the Pioneer Mountains are located in Southwest Montana and are part of the Beaverhead-Deerlodge National Forest. Because of the remoteness and lack of human development, there are animals and plants living there today that Lewis and Clark documented while on their expedition of the Corps of Discovery 212 years ago.
The Pioneer Mountains are divided into two subranges by the Wise River and the Pioneer Scenic Byway: The East Pioneers and the West Pioneers. Their terrains are very different from each other. Granite peaks rising above 11,000 ft in elevation are to the east, while gentler, forested landscapes characterize the west.
The Eastern Pioneers have rugged, heavily glaciated peaks and possess not only the highest mountains in the entire range, but also the tallest peaks in the Beaverhead-Deerlodge National Forest. Mountain Goats inhabit the high cliffs, while pronghorn dwell in the lower elevation grassland foothills.
There are more than 30 high lakes nestled in the eastern half including Grayling Lake, which contains Arctic Grayling fish. They are listed as a species of concern by the U.S. Fish Wildlife Service. In addition, Arctic Grayling are native to Montana, and they are known to migrate up to 60 miles between habitats in The Big Hole River. Lewis and Clark noted these, "new kind of white or silvery trout" in 1805. Moreover, the lakes and streams are also home to Rainbow Trout, Brooke Trout, and Montana's State Fish the Westslope Cutthroat Trout, so named for the red slashes near the lower jaws.
In stark contrast to the East, the West Pioneer Mountains are much gentler and thickly forested. These mountains rise east of the Big Hole River Valley, and have many lakes hidden among the forested landscape that contain perhaps some of the last pure strain of population of the Arctic Grayling south of Canada. Moose, elk, mule deer, black bear, pine marten, coyotes, northern goshawk, wolverine, and beaver reside here in various micro-niches throughout the ecosystem. The forest is comprised of evergreen conifers such as the endangered white bark pine, douglas fir, and lodgepole pine. Additionally, there is a stand of lodgepole 500 years old and is considered to be the oldest known anywhere.
As abundant and forested as this mountain range is, it didn't escape the attention of miners throughout history. There are many abandoned gold and silver mines scattered throughout the Pioneers including unmarked, open shafts and pits. One area wrought with old mines is Trapper Creek.
As cyclists continue heading south on the Pioneer Scenic Byway, they will see Crystal Park, which attracts rockhounds of all ages in search of crystals and sapphires.
Before leaving the Pioneer Mountains, cyclists will pass by Elkhorn Hot Springs and Maverick Mountain ski area. And lastly, towards the end of the byway, riders will go through Polaris, a town of about 76 people with a rural school house and post office, until it intersects with Highway 278. From 278, cyclists get to experience the old west at Bannack State Park, the site of Montana's first major gold discovery and territorial capital. Bannack is considered a National historic landmark and is well known for its western re-enactments. After a visit through the state's best preserved ghost towns, the route continues east on 278 for about 48 miles and then gets onto Interstate 15, where riders finish their day's journey in Dillon.
On Day 5 of this year's tour, cyclists have the opportunity -- that even many Montanan's don't get -- to travel through and experience this ecological treasure.
"Bannack State Park." Montana Fish Wildlife and Parks. Retrieved on April 30, 2016. http://stateparks.mt.gov/bannack/
"Fishing and Hiking in the Pioneer Mountains." Big Sky Fishing. Retrieved on April 29, 2016, from http://www.bigskyfishing.com/Mountain-Fishing/pioneer_mountains.htm
Wolke, Howie (1992). The Big Outside. New York, NY: Harmony Books. pp. 124-125.
Cunningham, Bill (1995). Wild Montana. Helena, MT: Falcon Publishing, Inc. pp 166, 169.
"Pioneer Mountains, MT" Summit Post. Retrieved on April 29, 2016, from Summit post.org
"Pioneer Mountains Scenic Byway." USDA Forest Service Beaverhead-Deerlogde National Forest. Retrieved on April 29, 2016, from https://fs.usda.gov/Internet/FSE_DOCUMENTS/stelprdb5363829.pdf
"Arctic Grayling -- Thymallus arcticus." Montana Field Guide. Montana Natural Heritage Program and Montana, Fish, Wildlife and Parks. Retrieved on April 29, 2016, from http://fieldguide.mt.gov/speciesDetail.aspx?elcode=AFCHA07010
Google maps. Retreived on May, 3 from https://www.google.com/maps
On Saturday, April 16, 2016 CGY had it's first-ever CGY Almuni Ride in Portola Valley, California. Conceived from two of CGY's Ambassadors, John Cianciolo and Rob March, they strove to bring together some CGY Alum to have a great ride and get excited for Cycle 2016 this August. Starting and finishing at the famous Alpine Inn in the hills of Palo Alto, John and Rob lead 17 riders, four of which were alumni and the rest good friends, on the Porto Valley Loop, which included the Canada Road. They rode 40 miles with 3,000 feet of elevation and in John's words, "It's a modest climb up Old La Honda... just a walk in the park!" Along the way, there was a man playing a guitar beside the road and two sports cars that coincidentally matched John's CGY Ambassador jersey. With ample sunshine and good cheer highlighting the day, they ended their ride with some burgers and beer at the Alpine Inn.
Whether training for Cycle this August or desiring to ride with some CGY peers for fun, this Alumni Ride was meant to be an exciting and convivial opportunity to get together and bring back some great memories riders experienced while traveling through the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem in previous years and to bolster support and enthusiasm for this year's Cycle Tour! Thank you John and Rob for all of your efforts and charming abilities to grow the CGY community in amazing ways!