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Old 09-20-2011, 06:59 AM   #1
mknight OP
Gnarly Adventurer
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Joined: Aug 2005
Location: Harrisville, Utah
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Sheepskin Lovin on the Beartooth Highway

Sheepskin Lovin on the Beartooth Highway
(A backroad journey through Utah, Wyoming, Montana, and Idaho)

My wife has often accused me of not associating with anyone unless they ride a dirt bike. As I look at my circle of friends, I think she’s right.
I’m fortunate to have made many riding friends over the years, and we ride together often. Over the past few years, many of those same friends have also started to enjoy adventure riding with me.

A few weeks ago, my good friend Jason started a chain of events just prior to my 40th birthday, that resulted in me getting a hall pass from my wife to buy a “new to me” KTM 950. This bike has long been on my list of dream bikes, so what better excuse to buy one than my 40th birthday.
Of course, what good is an adventure bike if you don’t have a good ride planned?

A few months ago I was in Yellowstone with my family on vacation and caught a glimpse of the Beartooth Highway outside of Cooke City Montana. I told my then 15 year old son, “we’ve got to come back and ride this someday”.

He’s now 16, with a fresh motorcycle license burning a hole in his pocket, and Dad has a new bike, with a loaner KLR for him….. time to go riding, and head for Montana and the Beartooth!

The general plan was this, me and my oldest son Josh along with 4-5 very good friends would ride from our houses in Northern Utah through Wyoming and Yellowstone, up to the Beartooth Highway in Wyoming and Montana, back through Yellowstone to our family cabin in Island Park Idaho, and then back home over the course of 3 ˝ days. The intent was to ride as many backroads (dirt) as possible, camp along the way, and use highway connectors where necessary.

Let’s ride.

Obligatory starting shot at my house, last Wednesday evening, September 14th (L to R: my son Josh, me, and friends Chad and Jason).

In preparation for the ride, Jason was trying to acquire a solution for a more comfortable seat and had it in his head that a sheepskin seat cover was the ticket. He went to a local upholstery shop and asked if they had any old sheepskin laying around. The woman sold him (cheap) what appeared to be something out of the backseat of a 1970 Monte Carlo. It was brown, shaggadelic, and was even complete with a nice diamond pattern sewn into it. He somehow fashioned it his seat, knowing full-well that he was going to be the brunt of a lot of jokes for the next few days.
It’s slightly visible in this pic where we met up with our friend Charles in Hyrum as we headed up Blacksmith Fork Canyon towards Hardware Ranch.

The first bit of the route was all familiar stuff in our “backyard”. As we headed north, the skies were threatening.

Had a brief pit stop after the mirror fell (broke) off Charles’ KLR.

We dropped into Laketown on the south end of Bear Lake and then road highway around the east side of the Lake. We still managed to stay dry up to this point.

Me likes.

Stopped in Montpelier Idaho for Gas….skies really looking scary at this point and we were headed north right into them.

But I was still smiling…..why wouldn’t I be, I was riding.

The intent for the first night was to get north up Highway 89 and back onto dirt for the evening knowing we had a big day ahead of us tomorrow. With threatening skies and daylight quickly escaping us, we peeled off on the first dirt road and found an old sheep camp to call home for the night. The rain started, but we stayed reasonably dry. The next morning, all the rain had turned to ice, but we survived.
Interesting ice patterns on my seat.

Scene the next morning.

Josh’s first night on the road, and it was a cold one. Check out the ice on the KLR and bags.

We woke to a beautiful morning though, and with the rain the night before, the dirt roads were going to be great, and they did not disappoint.

We headed up the Smith’s Fork road, headed towards the LaBarge Guard Station when we encountered this.

Jason was in good company but I didn’t see any brown sheep with diamond patterns in their wool.

Charles can even stop a herd of sheep in their tracks.

We then motored on for miles of this. I had a huge smile under my helmet.

We got to the LaBarge Guard Station and I had to take a pic of Charles.

There is a story behind this, and the short version is that a few years ago, he and I and a friend Brent (who joins us the next day on this ride) came upon this Guard Station in a horrible snowstorm in mid June on our bikes late at night. We found an open door, a cabin full of bunk beds with sheets, a stove with wood and we had food and water. We wanted badly to stay the night but because we were due home that night, we knew we couldn’t stay or our wives would have had Search & Rescue sent out for us with no way to contact them. It’s become a bit of an inside joke among us, so it was fun to see this place again. Here’s a picture of us in the snow in June of 2009.

Route finding wasn’t too difficult, but I prefer to navigate with maps rather than GPS. I love maps….I’ll read them for hours at night, tracing my finger along small dotted lines, connecting roads and trails dreaming of my next adventure.

Somebody’s camp trip ended prematurely.

Part of the fun of adventure riding is reading about the history of the places you visit.

….and checking out old cemeteries is always a bonus.

At this point, we had wrapped around the bottom of the Wyoming Range and were now headed east paralleling the Wyoming Range. This was flat out awesome and beautiful country with the high north basins still full of snow.

When you reach the northern part of the range, you either have to head west back up and over McDougal Pass to the Greys River, or east across the flatlands towards Pinedale Wyoming. Our route was taking us to PineDale and then north past New Fork and Green River lakes on the north end of the Wind River range in Wyoming. The road behind Chad here is the one that takes you to McDougal Pass.

Wyoming equals big open country when you get out of the mountains. Josh heads east towards Pinedale with a faint view of the Wind Rivers off in the distance. Josh and I have spent two separate weeks in the Wind Rivers backpacking in previous summers so he was excited to see a different part of the range.

Lunch and gas in Pinedale, then north to pick up more dirt past New Fork Lakes. We were headed over what is known as “Union Pass”.
Jason was loving it.

I traded Josh bikes for a while to let him have some fun on the 950.

I could do this all day. Here is Charles and Jason with the Wind Rivers in the background. If you look closely, you can see a fresh dusting of snow on the peaks from the previous night.

Higher towards Union Pass. This is getting into Bear country.

Snack break at the top of Union Pass.

More goodness.

Chad and Josh. Does it get much better than this?

We eventually started to drop down off the mountain towards Highway 26 that would take us west into Moran Junction just north of Jackson Hole and into Grand Teton National Park. Unfortunately we would have to hit the slab from this point, but I suppose if you’re going to have to ride slab, this is a pretty great place to do with it views like this.

Jackson Lake

With about an hour of daylight left, we charged north to Yellowstone. We wanted to get through Yellowstone and out the East entrance towards Cody Wyoming to camp for the night. It was getting chilly, but at least the scenery was great.

Yellowstone Lake.

A little wildlife.

Chad on the edge of Yellowstone Lake with the sun quickly setting behind him.

Although we were in a bit of a hurry, we stopped to enjoy the sunset from the west edge of Yellowstone Lake.

A big brown hairy thing (Charles), and a bison.

One of the things that I love about adventure riding (or any riding for that matter) are those impromptu moments that just sort of happen, where all the elements come together for a few minutes of unplanned, unscripted, moto nirvana. Every ride has them in varying degrees, and you can never predict exactly when or how they will happen.

On this evening, just after getting east past Yellowstone Lake, the sun had just set behind us. We were heading down the canyon towards the East entrance of Yellowstone past Sylvan Lake. Visibility was good, and we didn’t encounter a single car for about the next 5 miles. The road had recently been re-paved and there weren’t even center lines painted. The canyon turned and twisted constantly and pretty soon we found ourselves carving perfect turns, using the whole road, and rolling on the throttle powering out of corners and setting up for the big lean into the next corner. I was literally giggling inside of my helmet. I’m not much of a “pavement” guy, but I’ll tell you what, that was about as fun as it gets and the big power of the 950 had me feeling like I was in the Moto GP dragging my pegs.

When we got to the bottom at the entrance we all just stopped and started laughing, everyone knowing that we had just experienced one of those moments and the fact that it happened within the boundaries of Yellowstone made it even more fun.

We had our fun, but it was now time to find a place to camp for the night. All the campgrounds were closed for the season, plus we prefer primitive camping (read: no fees, no neighbors, and a big campfire).
There were signs everywhere saying “no tent camping” in the campgrounds and cautions about being Bear Aware since this was big-time Grizzly country. We finally found a place to call home for the night. We took what precautions we could and after dinner, changed all our clothes and put clothes and food on the bikes well away from our tents.

Once a father, always a father, and I pitched my tent close to Josh in case I had to wrestle a bear in the evening.

Jason wakes up Friday morning, grateful to have survived the evening.

In this pic, notice our bikes are well away from the tent, behind the fence…..

But then I discovered this (notice the tent and shiny black 950).

It turns out that Brent “Bear Bait” Carlsen, one of our good riding friends, couldn’t stand the fact that he wasn’t able to join us, and rode all night from his house in Providence Utah to join up with us. Little did he know we had smothered bacon grease all over his bike :)

He had been watching our Spot tracker GPS waypoints the previous day and knew our exact location and was able to ride to our exact campsite, arriving about 1:45 a.m. that morning. Isn't technology great.
We were excited to have him for our day’s ride.

Here I get ready for the morning…..yes it was chilly, but not as bad as the day before.

Chad making a fashion statement.

Today’s plan (Friday 16th) was to ride into Cody Wyoming, then north towards the Beartooth Highway. However, I wanted to ride a 4-wheel drive route known as the Morrison Trail up and over to the Beartooth.
We set out with that intent….first on the highway towards Cody.

But after a wrong turn, we decided to ride the Chief Joseph Scenic Highway instead, connect to the Beartooth Highway and ride up the switchbacks, and then turn around and come back down the Beartooth (riding it both ways).

Chief Joseph Highway did not disappoint. Here we are at the top, checking out the side knobbies on our tires seeing how worn they were after leaning the big bikes as far into the corners as we dared.

Down more switchbacks, and a stop to enjoy some of the views.

It’s a long way down.

We eventually connected to the Beartooth Highway but with threatening skies, we donned the rain gear and started up the highway. This was one of the main reasons we had chosen this route, and I was excited to see what it had to offer considering that it was ranked last year as the #1 motorcycling highway in the nation.

We first encountered long delays in construction, and then once through, we wound ourselves up the switchbacks and into the clouds, rain, and sleet. When we got to the Beartooth Summit, this is what it looked like.

Everyone was cold, visibility was about 50 feet in front of you, and we just weren’t feeling it. We all agreed to turn around and put it on the list as a “do again” for another time.

On our way down, we dropped out of the clouds and could see again. Time for a quick snack break.

Charles enjoys another Scooby snack.

We would need the rain gear.

With clouds like this in the direction of Cooke City Montana and the North East entrance to Yellowstone where we were headed.

We stopped in Cooke City for a late lunch and just as we sat down in the café to eat it really started to rain.

While sitting there, we see a guy peering through the window. Turns out it was our friend Paul who also couldn’t stand the idea of not joining us for our ride. He had ridden solo the night before all the way to West Yellowstone. It turns out he had ridden the Beartooth Highway all the way to Red Lodge Montana and back. We had just missed him, but he joined us for lunch and for the rest of the day’s riding, as well as Saturday’s.

Made it to West Yellowstone where it started raining again.

At this point, we were about 25 miles away from our family cabin in Island Park Idaho. The rain was really coming down, and we could either ride two-lane highway in the rain, or take the backway on a “smooth gravel road” that I’m very familiar with since we spend time up there every summer.

I needed some dirt in my diet for the day, so we took off out of West Yellowstone, and headed up the trail that parallels the South Fork of the Madison River.

It looks like snow, but that was just the flash on the rain drops.

We were getting wet, but I was having an impromptu Rally session on my 950 and loving it. It was the first time I’d ridden the thing like a dirt bike and I was having a riot sending the back end sideways in corners throwing huge roost everywhere. So much for the brand new tire I put on…..this bike will eat tires.

The trail follows the old railroad grade and crosses the Continental Divide into Idaho and Island Park. This turned into another one of those little impromptu moments of the trip and everyone was having a blast navigating the deep gravelly two-track ATV route. On a dirt bike, you just loft the front end over multiple whoops…but on a fully loaded adventure bike, it’s a full-on rodeo trying to ride this stuff.

When we got to the bottom, we started bench racing about all the close calls we had experienced.

Josh was so happy to be back in the dirt.

It was then we realized that Paul had left a yard sale all over the trail behind him…..losing his big dry bag and not even realizing it.

Good thing Brent was behind him to pick up his trash.

At this point, it was dark, we were soaked, and we were still about 10 miles from the cabin. We grabbed a bunch of groceries for the evening (everyone was starved so we bought waaay too much food), and then I took everyone the “backway” to our cabin. What is normally a good gravel road turned out to be huge puddles, rain ruts, and near zero visibility in the driving rain.

Jason had a good yard sale dumping the big 950 in a muddy corner, but in the end we all made it.

The humble little family cabin never felt so luxurious. The idea of pitching a tent in these conditions made us all grateful for a tin roof over our heads and an old belly stove to dry out our gear.

We stoked it to 85 degrees and thawed out and had the best night’s rest of the entire trip.

The next morning we woke to clearing skies and this.

It was now Saturday, we were 250 miles away from home on Highway and Interstate, but the plan was to ride primarily dirt all the way home so it would be a much longer day.

Chad still hadn’t completely dried out from the night before. This was his feeble attempt at keeping his feet dry. It didn’t last long.

We headed out around the west end of Island Park Reservoir.

Once again, I was giggling like a little kid under my helmet absolutely loving the 950. The roads in this area have a lot of small pea gravel on them and in the summer they are super slippery with the hard pack road base underneath them. However, with the previous night’s heavy rains, it made for primo traction. Big open ranch roads, perfect traction, and big sweeping corners, had me up over the front fender, outside peg weighted, and back-end sideways……so much fun. I had my 5 minute Dakar rally session and then settled down knowing I had a long day ahead of me. The dirt biker/racer in me just has to get out of my system sometimes.

Remember that Monte Carlo sheepskin seat cover I told you about? This is what it looks like wet. Baaaah ah ah ah ah.

More great backroads with no dust and perfect conditions.

Did I mention I love maps?

Eventually we started to drop down off the mountain north of St. Anthony Idaho, and west of Ashton Idaho.

Love this picture of Josh. It just kind of captures the essence of the ride.

Conditions were great, but we encountered one little section that was pretty soupy, especially on the big bikes. “Yard Sale, Sheepskin Lovin” Jason managed to take another soil sample.

Paul was the only one who witnessed it but he didn’t get a picture. Since Paul is new to the adventure riding scene we instructed him on the proper protocols of Yard Sales. Take pictures first, then ask if he is OK and help him up.

We eventually dropped out into St. Anthony and took a quick break by the Snake River.

Backroads to Teton and Rexburg for lunch, and then south on backroads towards Ririe Idaho where we would pick up the good dirt roads again.
Charles just couldn’t contain himself, and had to try his hand on this freshly harvested field.

More farmland.

And eventually out to the Snake River just north of Ririe.

From there it was south past Ririe Reservoir. At first it looked like this.

But then dropped into this really cool canyon.

Heading southeast over the foothills and back towards the mountains.

We then hooked on to the Skyline Ridge Road north of Brockman Guard Station. This turned into another of those little impromptu moments on the ride, where we were all just totally having a blast. The road was right along the ridge in the pines trees and just flowed real nice.

The 950 still did not disappoint.

We continued our route South past the Grays Lake wildlife refuge and further south on Diamond Creek Road heading towards Montpelier Idaho again.

This section of forest proved to be awesome. I want to go back and do some more exploration in this area.

We eventually made it Montpelier. We only had another hour or so of daylight, and had another 100 miles to get home. We hit the highway around the north end of Bear Lake. Gas in Paris Idaho.

And then up St. Charles canyon (the dirt one….not the paved one to Minnetonka Cave). What a riot. It was late in the day but the conditions were so good we couldn’t help but have a blast zipping up this canyon with absolutely no traffic and perfect traction and no dust.

This popped us out right on the Beaver Creek road.

We were just up there about 3-4 weeks ago riding our dirt bikes on some of our favorite singletrack. We were back in familiar territory again.

We turned north up Beaver Creek road to Danish Pass, and then dropped down the west side towards Franklin Basin.

This is where we parted ways with Paul, as he would drop down to the Cub River area to his house, and we would continue south towards Logan.
In Nibley, Charles peeled off to his house, and then me and Josh, and Chad and Jason continued south to our homes in Harrisville. We didn’t want to ride the highway home, so we headed south through Paradise and Avon, and then over the dirt pass to our homes.

It was getting late and we’d been riding for over 12 hours. Does it show in Josh’s face?

Just before 10:00 p.m., we made it home safe and sound.

Despite being hungry and exhausted, I was seriously bummed that it was all over. What a great ride with good friends and one of my boys (just over 1,100 miles total). I can’t wait to do it again.

For those that are interested, a few years back I followed a similar route from Ogden to Island Park focused primarily on singletrack trails on our dirt-bikes. Here’s a link to that ride report.
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Old 09-20-2011, 10:34 AM   #2
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What a wonderful ride with your son and friends. Your storytelling is really good along with those amazing photo's. Long riding day's, but looks like you had fun.

I've been on many of the roads you've been on, and it wasn't that long ago that I stood on the same bridge as you, looking down at the river below. Good stuff.

Thanks so much for sharing your "Adventure".
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Old 09-20-2011, 10:39 AM   #3
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Why do I suddenly hate my desk so bad?

Nice RR and looks like you a great father/son time.
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Old 09-20-2011, 10:43 AM   #4
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When I first looked at this thread I was thinking, "what did he do with his KLR?". Awesome your son came with you, good times.
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Old 09-20-2011, 04:28 PM   #5
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I saw this first on MU and I'm glad you posted it here as well. This looks like a great trip and the type I would enjoy as well. Long days, lots of exploring, good pace, great friends, and something I hope to be able to enjoy myself one day, a ride with your son.

Please keep taking us (me!) along on these rides and make sure to check the nut on the 950 clutch basket...

Maybe one day we can be in the same set of pictures.

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Old 09-20-2011, 05:07 PM   #6
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Very nice! What a great ride. Thanks for sharing.
I'd rather live, than live forever...
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Old 09-20-2011, 08:31 PM   #7
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I guess the advantage of typing the ride report is you get to choose which pictures to use and which to leave out. For some reason Mike left this one of himself out of the report. This is Mike on Saturday morning making a fashion statement.
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Old 09-20-2011, 08:38 PM   #8
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Old 09-20-2011, 08:41 PM   #9
mknight OP
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Originally Posted by Skiwampus View Post
I guess the advantage of typing the ride report is you get to choose which pictures to use and which to leave out. For some reason Mike left this one of himself out of the report. This is Mike on Saturday morning making a fashion statement.
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Old 09-20-2011, 09:16 PM   #10
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Hey Mike

The other important thing I meant to point out is that your ride report reminded me why I bought the 950. I keep trying to chase guys on the small bikes around for 500 mile dirt days and while it is fun, it's frankly not nearly as much fun as it would be on my 450. The big bikes are unbeatable for days when you want to go somewhere but you're not sure how you are going to connect back or if you're even going to need to crank out 100 miles of slab before you get to where you need to meet someone or camp. They are not perfect, but for rides like yours they are just about perfect. Thanks again for sharing. I hope we can ride together soon.

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Old 09-22-2011, 03:01 PM   #11
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Beartooth and Chief Joseph: just not enough or adequate words

Thanks for the great RR

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Old 09-22-2011, 05:48 PM   #12
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Thanks for the preview. My wife and I are headed out that way next week. Would be great on my DR but the two of us will be in the truck.

Now if the weather will cooperate
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Old 09-23-2011, 03:30 PM   #13
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Great pics and RR !!!
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Old 11-10-2011, 08:36 PM   #14
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Favorite Quotes from Ride Report

Sheepskin Lovin on the Beartooth Highway
(A backroad journey through Utah, Wyoming, Montana, and Idaho)

"Part of the fun of adventure riding is reading about the history of the places you visit."

"we prefer primitive camping (read: no fees, no neighbors, and a big campfire)."

"Did I mention I love maps?"


Really cool ride report. Saw it the first time. Enjoyed it even more the second time. Thanks!

RedRockRider - WR250R, TW200, Versys, Vulcan 900 LT, Zuma 125

Southwest Utah: Dual Sport Riding from St. George
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Old 11-11-2011, 02:37 AM   #15
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Thanks for sharing. Making memories with your son will last forever, you are very fortunate.
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