Travel Day – Wyoming, August 13, 2014
Our drive this day wasn’t all that far. We were going from the Big Horn Mountains of north-central Wyoming to a campground in the Absaroka Range near the northeast entrance of Yellowstone National Park. The route took us through a variety of countryside, some of it pretty desolate, with a beauty of it’s own.
After lunch in Cody and some shopping for groceries, we headed over more mountains on the Chief Joseph highway. This road follows part of the route that the 1877 flight of the Nez Perce Indians took.
Traditionally, Nez Perce lived in separate bands and were led by various warriors. This fluid social and political system allowed them to move in small groups during times of low resources (such as winter)and as large groups during times of abundance (such as summer). But this system—used by many tribes—also confused U.S. treaty negotiators who assumed the signature and agreement of one band bound the entire tribe. This confusion is part of what caused the troubles of 1877: several bands never sold their land to the federal government and never agreed to move to a reservation. The most famous leader of these bands, Joseph, was one of several who led their people on the journey of 1877. (Flight of the Nez Perce)
Chief Joseph led his band of Nez Perce Indians over a rugged pass in the Absaroka Range – today known as “Dead Indian Pass” – as they were being pursued the U.S. military in 1877. There are at least 3 different stories about the origin of the name, Dead Indian, which is also applied to several other features in the immediate area.
The Chief Joseph Highway has multiple switchbacks on both sides of Dead Indian Pass.
Our campground for the next 2 days was Fox Creek campground, in northwestern Wyoming, just a few miles from Cooke City, Montana. We picked it because it was on the western side of the Beartooth Highway, a very scenic high mountain road we wanted to visit the next day – without driving the RV over it. Beartooth is very curvy and not recommended for RVs. We were a little concerned about the weather as the forecast was not looking favorable for our planned drive.
After getting to the campground and setting up the camper, we decided to take a short drive to the nearby town.
Cooke City, Montana, is a small mountain town that lies near the northeast entrance to Yellowstone National Park. There are three main routes to the town, Beartooth, Chief Joseph and Yellowstone Park’s northeast entrance road. During the winter, the only road that is kept open is the road through the park.
Unlike many mountain towns, I wouldn’t say that Cooke City is a tourist trap. Instead, I think, it caters more to visitors looking for mountain and forest experience and adventure. There are, of course, a couple of touristy type stores. One interesting establishment is the Cooke City General Store, a general merchandise store in business since 1886.
We often take notice of colorful flower baskets and displays when we travel to cooler areas and Cooke City certainly had its share.
Of course, since we were so close, we just couldn’t resist driving into Yellowstone and a ways up the Lamar Valley, even though we has reservations for 5 nights in the park coming up soon.
Back at the campground, I noticed that the camper water pump was cycling occasionally without any faucets being open. I looked around a bit to see if I could find a cause. It looked like the drain plug on the water heater was leaking, so I decided to tighten it.
It was already tight. When I tightened the plastic drain plug more, it broke and water started pouring out. It wasn’t hot as we had not yet turned the water heater on.
I managed to get the rest of the plug out. However, without a plug in the water heater, we couldn’t use the water in the camper. If we turned the pump on it would try to fill the water heater. Fortunately, we carry extra water in gallon jugs and we were near a campground faucet, so we had water for drinking, cleaning and flushing.
I figured the nearest place I could get a replacement part was back at Cody – which meant that the Beartooth Highway drive might be out of the question.