Epic Loop-5

Headed out of Butte about 10, driving on I-90 straight up until we crossed the continental divide. Super steep coming up, much gentler slope on the east side. Confusing now because all the rivers flow east. The river always flows west in toward the Columbia when you are from western Washington. I’m used to the western flow as I’ve spent most of my life in Southwest Washington.

Turned off I-90 at  MT-359, a small two-lane highway wth a speed limit of 70. It’s easy so far because you are just following the signs to Yellowstone. The views are eye-popping: crossing many rivers, each an unrivaled beauty; winding through beautiful farmland producing many crops. The rivers provide an abundance of water to irrigate the dry eastern Montana soil. Two fields of alphalfa being cut; the air smells so good!

You will drive by Montana potato distributors (yep, you did just read that). Montana doesn’t come to mind when thinking of potato growing states. Which onecomes to mind for you? For me, it’s Idaho. They advertised a lot when I was growing up and it stuck!

Turned right on Hwy 287 Ennis and Yellowstone National Park. This is a 68 mile stretch of two lane highway amongst the Tobacco Root Mountains. There are many farms along the road and the miles increase between each where you can’t see the neighbors. It actually feels pretty lonely at times.

About 10 miles up the road there seems to be an invisible line where farms become interspersed with ranches. Rolling brown hills with hundreds of black Angus cattle. Herds of antelope can be spotted by looking close. They are a little tough to see as they graze on the yellow grass.

At Ennis, a cute little western town, we went right on 287. Yep, heading toward Yellowstone but we are skirting around this trip in favor of time in Jackson and Thermopolis. Ennis looks like a great place to stop for lunch or dinner. There are a couple nice looking places to stay. The town seems to cater to tourists coming for fishing, hunting, and skiing.

Once past Ennis the landscape changes almost exclusively to ranches. Oh, you will see the occasional patch of green farming as you round a bend, but green becomes scarce coninuing south. There is a small airport for those with private planes to hop in and out easily.

The best part of the drive is passing through the small hamlets; something taking the interstste routes and bypasses lacks. Turned off on MT-87 heading southeast. Fly fishing galore in the Madison River. The Madison, Gallatin, and Jefferson rivers come together at Three Forks, becoming the headwaters of the Missouri. The best fly fishing in the world is found on these rivers. The fishing scenes for the iconic movie, “Where a River Runs Through It,” were primarily filmed on the Gallatin River.

Left Montana, crossed back into Idaho on the northern border below the panhandle toward Wyoming. Beautiful Red Rock Lakes and increasingly forested land makes this a beautiful area. Million dollar homes and recreational cabins dot the edge of the lake.

A theme through these posts has been, you said it: construction! We turned right on US-20. Almost immediately we were notified of road construction ahead and to expect one hour delays. We arrived at the construction, an 18 mile paving project, and motored along great. The landscape immediately changed to forest land too. Trees as far as we could see! And then what to our wondering eyes should appear, a flagger!

Put the coach in neutral and set the brake just before the Phillips Lodge recreation turnoff. After waiting about 20 minutes Mike released the brake, put it in gear and got moving. A pilot car led traffic through a single lane section of a little over five miles. Counted 82 waiting vehicles at the other end!

Oh, forgot something important! This routes takes you through the Targhee National Forest with many parks and recreation areas to enjoy. Dropping out of the national forest a panoramic view of farmland appears as it ordered by a cinematographer. This time of year the farmers are busy harvesting or getting ready to harvest.

Ashton claims to be the world’s largest seed potato management area. Must be a lot of seed potato grown! A left on Main Street in Ashton and About a mile down we turned right on ID-32. Yay! The signpost finally indicates Jackson at 69 more miles. Estimated time by Siri is a little under 1.5 hours. The road is a two lane rural road. There are rolling fields of wheat, potato, and sage brush. The rivers are beautiful; the water is so clear that you can see the rocks on the bottom even when passing at 60 mph.

Turned left on W Hwy 33, now only 42 miles out of Jackson, WY. First town Tetonia, ID, population 269. It almost feels like home except for the open fields. Getting closer to the Tetons. They are stunning even through the haze. Why a haze, could it be 90F creating a bit of a heat haze?

Interestingly, ended up back inthe Targhee National Forest. The national forest boundaries are always so interesting on road trips. It seems like no sooner do we leave the forest and head around a corner and find ourselves right back on national forest land. Found a few drops of rain and a little more road construction. Road crew cleaning up a small slide. Probably a good idea so the whole hill doesn’t come down. Only held up about five minutes this time.

Crossed into Wyoming about 2:40 on WY-22. Ten percent grades here, steepest we’ve seen so far! The coach did great up the hills, dropped down to 35 mph at one time. The road was super curvy so it wasn’t a big deal.

Arrived at the Virginian RV park at about 3:30. The construction hang ups only added about a half hour. The park is about five blocks from downtown Jackson, super close to the rodeo grounds and the bike path! Oh, and there’s a bonus, we can use the Virginian Hotel’s pool while we are here.

Let the fun begin!

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