I really liked Missoula (and Montana for that matter), not quite sure what it was about it, but it had a good feel (despite the circumstances of the day we got there).
After breakfast in a nice little cafe we headed out of town towards Yellowstone National Park. The original plan was to try and get to Jackson, Wyoming in a couple of days for the 4th of July, which had a rodeo that we wanted to check out. However, as we were making our way through Montana, trying to get to West Yellowstone before dark, we stumbled across the small town of Ennis, which was clearly geared up for celebrations for the weekend.
As we were looking for a place to eat I noticed that there was to be a rodeo on there that night. This appealed to both of us even more than the one that was to be held in Jackson as this was just a small country town, not gear to tourists like Jackson and so we decided to get something to eat, set up camp on the river just out of town and head in to check out the rodeo.
Glad we did, as it was quite a big affair with competitors and spectators coming in from all around the county and beyond to watch their local guys and girls have a go. It was a great setting looking back over the Rocky Mountains, towards Yellowstone National Park as the sun was setting.
One of the weirdest events they had at the end (and this might be normal for those that go to rodeos in Aus) was were they get a few groups of girls to see which group can put a t-shirt on a calf the fastest (with head and front legs through the appropriate holes) and get it to the finish line. Amusing enough but a weird concept. After the rodeo it was a mass exodus into town and beyond. So many trucks (utes), many just driving the 1km into town (which we walked). In town the bars were filling up and we joined them to have some beers and watch a modern twist on country dancing. They all knew how to do it and it was quite impressive how fast they were. There was cowboy hats and plaid twirling everywhere. Jock and I were content just to sit back, have a couple of beers and watch.
The nest morning was the 4th of July and we were off to West Yellowstone (about an hour away). After getting in and sussing out the town, we found out that the parade and celebrations were kicking off at 5pm so we had plenty of time to head into Yellowstone National Park for a bit of a ride to check out Old Faithful. Yellowstone is quite hyped up and a lot of people discount it because of this, but I really liked it, despite the crowds. On our way in to see the geysers, we passed alpine streams, full of trout fisherman (something you’d never see in a national park at home), bison hanging out on the roadside, elk grazing in the forest, lakes and all sorts of idyllic settings. The riding was slow but fun. Heaps of traffic that we were overtaking for sport rather than to get anywhere faster.
Then you come to the lunaresque (new word) landscape of the geothermal area (my name for it not theirs!) and you could be in a completely different area. They’re pretty cool to see – we wandered around a few of them before making our way down to see the grandfather of them all.. Ol’ Faithful. We got there a bit early, apparently it wasn’t due to go off until 3:10pm plus or minus 10 minutes, so we had a wander around to kill time. The ranger was telling a group beside us that in order to predict the timings they have a ranger that will sit there with a stop watch each time it goes off to time the duration of the eruption. They are then able to use that to calculate the period before the next one (to an accuracy of a 20 minute window).
Definitely worth the wait (and the crowds), the rangers timing wasn’t too far off and the eruption itself was pretty spectacular. I’e never seen a geyser before so I thought it was pretty cool. Inside in the grand old visitors centre (great old building that made you think about how they used to holiday up here in the old days) there was a local photographer displaying his work, focussed on the park. His pics of the wildlife were great and I wish I had room to grab some, but one of the picture that really stood out to me was of Old Faithful in winter, covered in snow, with bison wandering through in the foreground. It could’ve been an artist’s rendition of the last ice age!
Cruising back to the town of West Yellowstone we settled into an outside table of a restaurant on the main street to have some dinner and watch the 4th of July parade come through. It wasn’t the huge display of pageantry that might happen in other places, but a whole of community affair with all sots of random floats and participants. Children were definitely the focus, although I’m not too sure about the kid sitting in the back of the truck holding a 12 gauge!
I was kinda ready for some super hyped up American patriotism, but was pleasantly surprised. Sure there was a lot of patriotism going on, its their national day after all, but it was all in good nature and added tremendously to the atmosphere.
The parade was followed later in the evening with a pretty impressive fireworks display (especially for the size of the town) that was conveniently best viewed from just outside out campground. Whilst we retired after the official show, the ‘unofficial’ shows kept going off until the early morning and sleeping in a tent an ipod was definitely essential for sleep.
Just on the topic of fireworks – all through each town we’d ridden through since entering the states there were numerous vans/trailers selling fireworks to the public. We should’ve had a crack but thought we’d leave it to the locals to blow themselves up.