Friday, September 2, 2011

DAY #2: Beartooth Mountains Backpacking Trip

Scenery in North Dakota. This is part of the badlands in Theodore Roosevelt National Park.

Saturday, August 20, 2011

We woke up at the campground around 4 AM. Rachel and I were giggling. It was our first night as tent mates, and it seemed we were going to have a really great time. No better way to share a tent with a friend then to go to bed laughing, and wake up laughing.

My mom’s cantaloupe was sitting on the picnic table and we all noticed that it had a rather ripe, awful smell to it. We knew it would taste amazing, and we didn’t really want to waste it. Margie had a cooler in her van, so we decided to place it in there to keep it cool if possible.

We started out at 5:00 on the button just as planned. Dad was driving their Envoy, and I started out driving the van. It was a very smooth driving trip, which is always a good thing when driving so far. At one point, we opened the cooler and could no longer take the cantaloupe smell, so I ran it and the plastic bag it was in over to the other vehicle and handed it to my mom. She giggled and took it with her. Later on in the trip we switched drivers around, and as I went over to the Envoy to ride for a while I told them they should move the cantaloupe to the van… come to find out, they already did -- the stinkers!! The first stop after we gave it back to my mom, they snuck it into the back of the van, tucked in between a couple of backpacks and never said anything! Sneaky!!

We drove through Minnesota in no time. We were all excited to reach North Dakota… it really felt far away from home. There were some incredible sunflower fields that we drove by. That’s what I mostly remember from North Dakota. Margie was telling us about how they bow their heads when rain is coming so the seeds don’t get damp and rotten. They are like little people out in the fields. I always knew they followed the sun, and we witnessed that as we drove through… and when a rain cloud rolled in, sure enough – they’re heads were all turned down towards their roots.

In North Dakota, we also came across a couple of areas of highway that were being worked on after being washed out by flooding earlier in the year. The water was still very high and coming right up to the edge of the shoulder of the road. Crazy stuff!

We stopped in at the Theodore Roosevelt National Park in North Dakota for a break and to get some photos. Some of us even spotted a buffalo with a fellow sight-seers’ binoculars (I was in the gift shop, darnit!) What a beautiful stretch of Badlands. So many colors in the land against the blue sky and white puffy clouds spaced so perfectly across the sky. We snapped a couple of photos and got a group shot or two, then got back on the road again. We were making great time, and I’m pretty sure that was due to our excitement to see the mountains and be that much closer to the backpacking portion of the trip.

When we got to Billings, MT, we stopped in at an Irish pub called Pug Mahone’s, recommended by HikerJer, a friend I met on the Backpacker Magazine forums a while back. Jerry was a tremendous help when I was planning this trip. He’s been exploring the Beartooth Wilderness for more than 40 years, so he was able to recommend some routes and give a ton of pointers about navigating, bugs, weather, camping, and all kinds of good stuff. I owed him a beer, at the very least, so we coordinated meeting him when we came through his hometown of Billings. He rode his bike out to meet us and gave us a few more pointers, and wished us luck before we headed out.

There was a campground he said we’d probably have no problem getting in at in Laurel, MT, which was not far at all from Billings. We stopped at a gas station to pick up a six-pack of local brew to enjoy on our last night car-camping, but when we arrived at the campground, we found it to be closed. This campground is right on the Yellowstone River where the recent oil spill took place. We didn’t mind, as all we wanted to do was set up tents, have a few drinks and sleep. But we had to head further on down Hwy 212 toward Red Lodge. There were two security guards at the fence of the campground that said there were a couple of sights on our way, and that we had to look for the brown signs with the fish and a hook. They were boat-launch fishing areas, but with campsites. We did end up finding one, and it was a pretty sweet little spot next to a rushing creek. It was dark when we set up, but in no time my dad had a little campfire going, we were sitting back enjoying our brews and talking excitedly about driving over Beartooth Pass the next day.

The cantaloupe was in the van and ready to be cut open the next morning for breakfast. We were looking forward to eating it, but mostly looking forward to getting rid of the smell!

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