Taking the Backroads

Kansas/Nebraska border

In keeping with our love of adventure and mountain biking, this summer Dave and I decided to travel to Big Sky, Montana to shoot the Big Mountain Enduro event that was being held at the resort.

Just for fun.

But instead of taking the interstate and arriving at our destination a handful of days quicker, we decided to meander our way to Montana taking the backroads and exploring parts of this massive country that neither one of us has ever seen before.

We loaded up Dave’s Subaru with photo gear, Dave’s fly fishing rod, hitched his bike to the back of the car and away we went, a full ten days ahead of us full of surprises, new sights to see and people to meet.

The Flint Hills of Kansas. The wide open plains and tiny railroad towns of Western Nebraska. Historical markers at rest stops. Endless miles of prairies and beautiful big blue skies (I may live in Arkansas, but this Kansas girl will always love her big flatland blue skies till the day she dies). We stopped and took dozens of pictures of a vintage biplane crop dusting fields in Nebraska, climbed a fire tower in a state park and were rewarded with views that stretched as far as the horizon. With every new state we crossed into, we stopped at the state sign and posed for pictures (In Wyoming, we got a little silly and attempted a very lopsided “W”). One of our favorite Nikon Ambassadors liking, and even commenting, on a photo I posted on Instagram, and not just commenting, but even telling us which Nebraska highway to take to really get a sense of the state. Prairie dogs, antelope, bald eagles, a unicycle being ridden on the shoulder of the highway . . . all seen from the front seat of the car.

Driving through Grand Tetons National Forest, however, was probably the highlight of the trip for me because we got to see a momma grizzly bear and her cub grazing on the grasses a few feet off the highway. We pulled in with all the other cars lining the shoulder of the road, me squealing and practically in tears I was so happy and excited to finally get to see a bear in the wild. I reached around from the passenger seat to grab my camera with the long lens, and rolling down my window (and Dave grabbing my legs to keep me from crawling through), I proceeded to take over 600 photos of Momma and Baby in the span of 5 minutes which was all it took for the two magnificent animals to decide to amble across the road to graze on the other side. The rest of the ride into Jackson Hole found me with a continuous grin plastered on my face and speechless, except to tell Dave, “I just saw my first bear!!!!”

I’m still grinning as I write this. I adore bears.

Another Wyoming highlight was getting to spend an afternoon waist deep in the icy Snake River watching Dave fly fish with the majestic Grand Tetons off in the distance. We practically had that stretch of the river to ourselves, sharing it only with a golden eagle perched up in a pine tree, ospreys swooping in low to catch their dinner and a couple of pelicans making passes above us. Dave caught his first rainbow trout, grinning like a little kid, his version of seeing a bear in the wild. It was such a peaceful afternoon, the sound of his line swishing through the air and slapping the water’s surface, my camera clicking, the occasional scolding from the eagle, the warm sun beating down making the cold water all the more refreshing. We didn’t talk, but we each knew that we never wanted that afternoon to end.

We left Jackson Hole a day earlier than we had planned, the tourists and gigantic RV’s driving us out of town. We pushed on to Idaho, the rolling green fields and massive ranches seeming tiny next to the huge mountains bordering the valleys. Rivers and streams chased us into Montana at last, where we fell in love with Bozeman. The afternoon we arrived, the town was in the middle of its annual food festival and the main street was blocked off for six blocks and filled with tables lined end to end. Food trucks and vendors catered to visitors and townspeople, everyone catching up and getting to know each other better. The atmosphere was so friendly and welcoming, and the setting so Small Town, even though Bozeman is anything but small with a population of 45,000 +. There’s fly fishing, mountain biking, kayaking, hiking, trail running, mountains, waterfalls, a gorgeous public library we discovered, a dinosaur museum . . . . What’s not to love? In fact, if we can, then next year’s adventure will be to travel back to Bozeman and stay a week. I’m keeping my fingers crossed.

Big Sky, Montana. What can I say but sadly that we were less than impressed. We had a ball meeting up with Arkansas friends who had come up to race and we had tons of fun photographing the pre-ride the day before the race, but well, resorts just aren’t really our thing. We prefer being in towns where there are lots of things to do and to explore. I mean, the setting was drop dead gorgeous, but once the lifts shut down at 4:30, there wasn’t access to the trails to mountain bike or hike in the late afternoon. It was a beautiful place, but after talking it over, we decided to leave a day early and begin the long journey home.

This time on the interstate.

We had an amazing adventure and realized once again just how vast and different this country really is. We had wonderful conversations in the car, dreaming and planning and playing “Name That Tune” to the songs that came over the satellite radio (I won every time. What can I say? I’m a fan of punk rock and 1980’s alt music bands. 😉). There were long silences, too, each of us lost in our daydreams staring out the windows as the endless railroad tracks followed us alongside the road going on forever into the horizon far away from us, begging us to chase them.

Next time we will.

Somewhere in South Dakota heading back home.

(Click on thumbnails to enlarge each image, and to view the Big Mountain Enduro pre-ride photos, I’ve made a gallery located under the “Gallery” tab in the navigation bar at the top of the page.)

Western Nebraska, Mason City and crossing into Wyoming

Lander, Wyoming and crossing into the Grand Tetons

Jackson Hole, Wyoming and Grand Tetons National Park

An afternoon along the Snake River

Driving to Bozeman, Idaho & Bite of Bozeman Food Festival