Wednesday, July 17, 2013

Cody, Part the Second

Chief Joseph
In 1877 a band of about 800 Nez Perce Indians fleeing from the American military fought a three-month, 1200 mile skirmishing retreat from western Oregon, through the Idaho panhandle and into Montana. Their escape route cut through a small corner of northwestern Wyoming including the recently established Yellowstone National Park.  They then turned north, back into Montana, in hopes of obtaining asylum with Chief Sitting Bull who was hiding out in Canada after a minor incident at the Little Bighorn River. The leader of this band  of Nez Perce was Chief Joseph the Younger who eventually obtained significant recognition as a spokesman for Indians rights. A small part of the Nez Perce retreat has been memorialized as the Chief Joseph Scenic Byway (WY Hwy 296) starting about 17 miles northwest of Cody and ending where the highway intersects US Hwy 212 just outside the northeastern entrance to Yellowstone National Park.

Paul and Ruth at Dead Indian Pass
On Friday morning we piled into Paul and Ruth's shiny new Subaru Outback with the dogs relegated to the hatchback area and we took off to see what was so scenic about this scenic byway. The answer, unsurprisingly, is quite a bit. The road runs up the east side of the Absaroka Mountains from the desert flatlands around Cody becoming progressively more green and wooded as you climb. The road peaks at Dead Indian Pass where the Nez Perce left one of their wounded comrades to try and delay the following soldiers. There is an overlook here which gives you a dramatic view of the west side of the mountain range as
Semi-tame chipmonks
well as a close-up view of tourist children feeding the local chipmunks. We spent about 20 min. admiring the view and then drove down the extensive switchbacks to the valley below where the Sunlight Bridge, Wyoming's highest, runs over 280 feet above Sunlight Creek. The road continues on for another 21 miles past the Cathedral Cliffs before running into US Highway 212 known as the Beartooth Highway, an All-American Road.

Sunlight Gorge
For those of you who, like me, are totally ignorant of what exactly constitutes an "All-American Road", here is the skinny. According to Wikipedia, "A National Scenic Byway is a road recognized by the United States Department of Transportation for one of the six "intrinsic qualities": archeological, cultural, historic, natural, recreational, and/or scenic. The program was established by
The Beartooth?  We never found out.
Congress in 1991 to preserve and protect the nation's scenic but often less-traveled roads and promote tourism and economic development." If a scenic byway is not just scenic but really,  really scenic, it gets bumped up into the category of All-American Road. Thus far 120 stretches of asphalt have been declared National Scenic Byways and 31 have been given the distinction of being All-American Roads. These are spread out over 46 states. There are none in Rhode Island, which is unsurprising given that the state is so small you would have to designate it as a National Scenic Drive Way. There are also none in Texas, which is somewhat more surprising unless you have actually been to Texas.

The summit of the Beartooth Hwy.
As All-American Roads go, the Beartooth Highway is a clear winner. It goes through some of the most beautiful real estate I have ever seen. Pictures don't begin to do it justice.  The top of this pass goes to almost 11,000 feet, well above the timber line where the landscape takes on an almost otherworldly character. Going down the Eastern side of the Beartooth Mountains, we rolled past waterfalls, lakes and forests with each vista trying to top the last. We saw deer, mountain goats and marmots along
Yellow Bellied Marmot
the way. Ruth desperately wanted to see a bear but none were forthcoming. We were pretty much overwhelmed by the time we finally rolled into Red Lodge, Montana, where the All-American Road ends.

The entire drive from Cody to Red Lodge, MT is only about 90 miles. We left Cody about 11 o'clock figuring it would take a couple of hours. But we made so many stops and took so many pictures that we did not actually roll into Red Lodge until nearly 5:30. We stopped and had dinner at Bogart's Café which is a restaurant and bar that specializes in Mexican food and pizza. A somewhat strange combination, but I guess it works because the place was packed. We had originally planned to drive back along the same route but decided it would be smarter to take the quick way back, going down Montana Hwy 72 and Wyoming Hwy 120 to get back to Cody in about an hour.

As for Chief Joseph and the Nez Perce, they conducted their retreat with such consummate skill and high military ethics that they won universal acclaim in the press and public. They eventually made it to within 40 miles of the Canadian border before they were finally stopped by the United States Army. During the surrender negotiations, Chief Joseph made his famous speech wherein he said "I am tired of fighting. Our chiefs are killed; Looking Glass is dead, Too-hul-hul-sote is dead. The old men are all dead. It is the young men who say yes or no. He who led on the young men is dead. It is cold, and we have no blankets; the little children are freezing to death. My people, some of them, have run away to the hills, and have no blankets, no food. No one knows where they are—perhaps freezing to death. I want to have time to look for my children, and see how many of them I can find. Maybe I shall find them among the dead. Hear me, my chiefs! I am tired; my heart is sick and sad. From where the sun now stands, I will fight no more forever."  During the entire 1200 mile retreat they had committed no atrocities, killed no civilians and fought only when forced to by their pursuers. In return, the United States government promised them that they could return to their tribal lands in western Oregon and Idaho. Then they packed them all into unheated boxcars and shipped them to Oklahoma where, over the course of the next seven years, over a third of them died of starvation and illness. There is a lesson here, but I'm not sure anyone wants to learn it.

Bonus Pics:

The start of Chief Joseph's highway

The road snakes down from Dead Indian Pass

Sunshine Valley

The Cathedral Cliffs

Waterfall along the Beartooth Hwy

South Twin Lake, Shoshone Nat. Forest

View across North Twin Lake

Wild flowers in Beartooth Pass

1 comment:

  1. Yup, it is me again making a you just delete all others??
    OOOH and AHHHH -- I read about the very scenic Beartooth Highway when researching our trip to Lead and it sounded just gorgeous. Thanks for sharing -- it is on our list next time we're in the Yellowstone NP area!