As we headed north out of Bozeman on Day 3 of Cycle Greater Yellowstone, I couldn’t help but notice the multiple new housing developments and lot-for-sale signs. I wondered how all this out-of-town development was affecting things like traffic, water quality, existing agricultural practices, and wildlife migration.
Speaking of migration, we heard a number of sandhill crane serenades as we pedaled along fields adjacent to the East Gallatin River and its tributaries. (Those dark specks in the field in the photo below are cranes.)
Oh, look – a ranch! The sign on the barn says so! House-moving operation, too. I wonder if the house was coming or going.
This was a speedy morning for Wyobraska Tandem, as the route was primarily downhill for the first 35 miles or so. We made good time to the water stop at the Dry Creek Church. I coughed a bit on the ride – wildfire smoke in the air. Luckily, we soon moved out of the smoky area.
Just past the water stop, we spotted two does and two fawns out standing in a field.
A quick spin through Manhattan, population ~1,568 – home of the seed potato.
Next rest stop: Sacajawea Hotel in Three Forks.
The bison sculpture on the lawn was a popular photo backdrop and bike stand.
We’d been by the Sacajawea Hotel in 2013, but I hadn’t taken the time to peek inside. This time, I did, being careful to take off my cycling shoes so as not to scratch the lovely wooden floor. What a gorgeous ceiling!!
I’d had a pretty relaxing morning thus far, aside from a honker on a residential street in Manhattan. But the 7 miles on Highway 287? Not my favorite.
Maybe I’ve become a wimp by choosing to avoid traffic-y routes on my training rides back home, but on that section of 287 after the gravelley shoulder disappeared, my spirit animal could’ve been a fanned-out porcupine, I felt so prickly. There was a lot of traffic passing us, heavy on the trucks, mostly at a high rate of speed, sometimes on blind hills and curves, sometimes way too close. I found myself muttering prayers of protection for us and for other cyclists.
Double-trailer, flammable material, coming through! (This was one of the more comfortable passes, as the driver had slowed down – THANK YOU, DRIVER!! – and I was actually able to take a picture instead of bracing for airwash.)
When we found ourselves being trailed by an RV, we opted to pull out at a viewpoint for a pleasingly decrepit log house, to let built-up traffic pass.
I looked back and saw a string of cyclists laboring among a train of semi trucks. Yikes! When the lead trucker in this photo went by, I waved and smiled as a thank-you for being courteous around the cyclists, but I got a frown and a shake of the head in response.
I was soooo glad to turn off Highway 287 onto Highway 2 towards Lewis & Clark Caverns State Park! My nerves were about shot.
Also, it was getting pretty hot out. Cattle sought shade next to and inside of an old cabin.
Rats! Uphill climb. We couldn’t manage more than 9 miles an hour, even with the temptation to mash the pedals to get a higher reading on the radar sign.
On Highway 2, we passed a vast, dusty parking area that looked like it was meant for a crowd of thousands. Thousands of potentially unruly people, apparently. The signs plastered at every entrance read “NO PETS NO WEAPONS NO VIOLENCE.” There was a prominent, random “bridge over nothing.” I later learned this remote location is the site of a huge music festival: Rockin’ The Rivers. SO glad we didn’t intersect that event. I’m sure the traffic would’ve been a nightmare. (As it was, there was a pickup that unwisely passed us when there was a motorcycle oncoming. The motorcycle driver made a rude hand gesture.)
My favorite part of the day was the ice cream at lunch. YAY, ICE CREAM!!! Bugman was posing for a cheesy photo with the ice cream when Roger from Missouri jumped into the action, too.
On the way out of our lunch stops, signs for the ride sponsors were scattered about. I thought I’d post a picture here and give them a shout out. Thanks, sponsors, for helping to make this First Best Ride in the Last Great Place happen!
Before departing lunch, we slathered on more sunscreen and wetted down our arm coolers. Aaaaah! So refreshing!
The next couple of miles between the Caverns and LaHood were one of my favorite segments of the whole trip, I think: scenic, fairly flat, relaxed traffic, coolness emanating from the rock on the shaded side of the canyon.
My view from the back of the tandem. Not bad!
At LaHood there was a historic point that actually had some shade, so Bugman and I stopped to drink and rest along with several other cyclists.
As we rode along an I-90 frontage road, the driver of a passing semi on the interstate waved exuberantly at us. Wow. That was one friendly truck driver! (I later learned that some of Jennifer Drinkwalter’s family is in the trucking industry, and that the driver may have known exactly where all the cyclists came from that day.)
A funny sign from a gas station next to the interstate: “TOMORROW WE WILL EAT KALE BUT TODAY IS FOR ICE CREAM.” Yes!!!!
More cattle taking shelter in whatever shade they could find. Hard to see them in this photo, as their dark color blends them into the shadow pretty effectively. It was uncomfortably hot out in the sun.
As we approached Whitehall, we could see some colorful streaks on one mountain peak, with a barren slope below.
I later learned it was the Golden Sunlight gold mine. Here’s a Google maps view, with the yellowish scar of the bared rock of the open-pit mine clearly visible to the northeast of Whitehall.
I’ll admit to a bit of a BANANA (Build Absolutely Nothing Anywhere Near Anything) reaction to the mine’s alteration of the landscape. But I felt like a hypocrite. I have a gold wedding band on my finger. My bike is made of metal. My car is made of metal. My cellphone and computer have bits made of rare mined elements. And mining provides critical livelihood and tax revenue for many people and communities (though it’s a tenuous source of income, given market fluctuations).
But open-pit gold mines are not benign. I had a recent conversation with a materials engineer who was overseeing part of the American Solar Challenge, and he noted that when you are mining for a particular element, lots of other potentially toxic stuff comes up with the desired material. People who live near mines or farm or ranch near mines or work in tourism businesses near mines would be wise to keep an eye on those mines. According to an abstract in the PubMed database from the journal Reviews of Environmental Contamination and Toxicology, there can be serious impacts to water supplies from open pit gold mining:
To prevent flooding in mine open pits, and to enable earth moving on a large scale, it is often necessary to withdraw groundwater and use it for irrigation, discharge it to rapid infiltration basins, or, in some cases, discharge it to surface waters. Surface waters are diverted around surface mining operations. Adverse effects of groundwater drawdown include formation of sinkholes within 5 km of groundwater drawdown; reduced stream flows with reduced quantities of wate available for irrigation, stock watering, and domestic, mining and milling, and municipal uses; reduction or loss of vegetation cover for wildlife, with reduced carrying capacity for terrestrial wildlife; loss of aquatic habitat for native fishes and their prey; and disruption of Native American cultural traditions. Surface discharge of excess mine dewatering water and other waters to main waterways may contain excess quantities of arsenic, total dissolved solids, boron, copper, fluoride, and zinc. When mining operations cease, and the water pumps are dismantled, these large open pits may slowly fill with water, forming lakes. The water quality of pit lakes may present a variety of pressing environmental problems.
The mining industry is aware of these problems and is working on solutions. For further reading, see Mission 2016 from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.
But this brings me to a point the Greater Yellowstone Coalition staff made during presentations and side conversations on the group’s ride: while larger mining companies are working on solutions and taking care to select only the best sites, and there is an acknowledged need for metal mining IN THE RIGHT PLACES, some smaller companies with fewer resources appear to be going after some tenuous opportunities. Case in point, a proposal to explore a gold mine bordering Yellowstone National Park, on a site that looms over the Yellowstone River. Here’s a photo from the Greater Yellowstone Coalition‘s website:
This just seems the epitome of stupidity to me, since gold mining damage cannot be undone, and especially because the Yellowstone River, which supports a huge chunk of the Montana economy through tourism-related businesses, is already stressed by climate change and other human impacts. (ICYMI: 183 miles of the Yellowstone River, plus tributaries, was closed to all recreations activities on August 19 to try to prevent the spread of a deadly fish parasite outbreak thought to be enabled by warm water temperatures and low water flows.) There needs to be a place for mining – our modern world depends on it at the moment. But there are some places mines just should not go, and it seems to me the upstream borderland of Yellowstone National Park is one such place.
Back to the bike ride!
I was so glad when a course volunteer told me we only had a few more miles to go, that I could use a blue water tower on the horizon as a landmark for the finish line. I was hot, and I was tired.
Not so tired not to be delighted by the Pac Man fire hydrant I saw at the roadside in town, though. I wish I’d had the energy to get a photo of it and to go seeking more decorative fire hydrants. A community volunteer told me there’d been a contest, and I’m sure I could’ve created a fun photo compilation of them.
The Whitehall residents I spoke with were lovely, welcoming people. I got the sense not everyone was thrilled we were there, though. A pickup truck coal rolled the finish line just after I arrived. Not nice.
Shade was at a premium at our Whitehall High School campsite on this hot, dry day. A couple of cyclists took advantage of the shady area under the school’s renewable energy station. Solar panels: good for producing energy, and shade!
The CGY organizers were cognizant of the need for shade as well and purchased a number of tarps to rig up into an impromptu sun shelter along the tennis court fence.
Many cyclists headed next door to cool off in the community pool.
I slept quite well in Whitehall. The well-watered grass was nice and cushy under the tents, and the sound of vehicle tires thrumming on I-90 about 1,000 feet away drowned out other sounds and soothed me to sleep. 😀
Day 3 stats
1,466 feet of climb
14.2 mph avg speed
low temp 43
hi temp 88
wind 5-17 g 20 E
Copyright 2016 by Katie Bradshaw