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Clark’s Fork of the Yellowstone River Canyon

September 5, 2020

September 3, 2020

Covid gets me down.  Emotionally, I mean, not physically.  Not directly.  I want to be physically active and emotionally connected with friendlies.  Gunther is a good dog, but I miss people.

My dear friend Mark called, the guy in Warm Springs State Mental Hospital last year about this time.  He’s doing okay at home, but is staying in.  He’s high risk of Covid.  He’s 71.  He has emphysema from a lifetime of cigarettes, although he quit.  His depression seems to be under control too.  Meds plus a counselor.  He said he’s been watching a lot of old dvds he gets from the library.  Movies, television series.  Like I said, he’s doing okay.

The isolation makes me feel half crazy and we—P. and I— bicker.  No singing for me, or I should say v. little.  Also no alcohol.  We watch dvds too, and hike around Billings.  To stay healthy.

A couple days ago we drove our conversion van to Clark’s Fork Canyon.  We’d been thinking about going there after a friend went.  I’d not heard of it before, but I heard it was fantastic.

At first I confused Clark’s Fork river with the Clark Fork of the Columbia that runs through Missoula.  However, they are not much related, except in being named after the 1803 explorer.  

The Clark’s Fork of the Yellowstone flows east out of Yellowstone Park past Cooke City.  From there it flows through Sunlight Basin out of the mountains to the prairie.  After that it swings north and runs to Montana near the arid towns:  Belfry, then Bridger, then Fromberg, Edgar, Rockvale, Laurel, and joins the Yellowstone River.  It’s a modest size.

A friend told me about how the Clark’s Fork river carved a deep canyon through the Beartooth Mountains.  I saw some photos and a few descriptions of “Chug Water Formation” and the like, so I knew I had to see it too.  Even though I wasn’t sure where it was.

We drove from Billings to Laurel, then south past Belfry toward Cody.  The road to Cody is familiar because we’ve seen Heart Butte off to the left.  You can see Index and Pilot Mountains to the right.

As we cruised south toward Cody we imagined we would head west through one of the big canyons we could see in the Beartooths.  

Sure enough, eventually we came to a highway intersection with US 296 advertising a route to Cooke City.  The route has been designated the Chief Joseph Highway because Chief Joseph led the Nez Perce tribe through what is now Yellowstone Park through Wyoming back to Montana, then north toward Canada, eluding the US army,  Its hard to collect my feelings.  I can’t imagine the stamina, the intimate knowledge of the country.

We did want to visit the Clark’s Fork canyon, though.

The US Forest Service has public campgrounds at each end of the Chief Joseph Highway.  The one closest has the unfortunate name of “Dead Indian Campground.”  I always feel offended.

I expect my grandchildren to eventually have the “Dead Indian” name changed to “Racist Name Campground.”  We will all sleep better for it, I’m confident.

Anyhow, P. and I stayed at the Racist Name, which will be open just one more week, according to a grandmotherly white-haired, but hearty woman, who is the camp host.  She told us how to find the trailhead for a “good long hike into the canyon.”  She said it was a couple miles hike in, although she admitted she hadn’t hiked it yet.  She said to look for a pullout at the bottom of the switchback highway.

We ended up enjoying the hike, but there were no signs along the highway to mark the way!  Just a highway pullout about a mile east of the campground.

The next morning Gunther and we humans packed up some apples and water.  A couple apples apiece.  The trailhead had a Forest Service parking area and some signage that you couldn’t see from the highway.  We started walking about 10am.  

My internist recently prescribed me a water purifier system, a Greyl.  I figured I’d get some water from the Clark’s Fork later.  He also had recently increased me to four blood pressure medications:  metoprolol, amlodipine, hydrochlorothiazide, and olmesartan.  Also tamsulosin, a prostate medication that can also reduce blood pressure.  

The result was I carried a heavy water purification device while under the influence of all those medicines to reduce my blood pressure.  I felt tired and light-headed, but P. and G. and I walked 3.7 miles down canyon, but high up on the rocky plateau overlooking the river, hundreds of feet below.

Why, you might ask, is it a good idea to be on so many blood pressure meds?  

Current medical guidelines call for treatment to obtain a goal of average blood pressure less than 120/80.  My son called it “chasing numbers.”  He’s right, of course.  The numbers are surrogate goals.  The real goal is a happy healthy life.  

In my case the goal was a successful hike to the river and back without getting sick.

We didn’t reach the river, but I got a photograph.  A man we met said the river was at the bottom of a steep switch back trail hundreds of feet long.  We’ll get there another time when we bring lunch and water.

We walked a long dusty hot 3.7 miles back to the van.  We ate sandwiches and drank milk.  Gunther curled up on his bed.

We drove to the west end of the Chief Joseph Highway to Hunter’s Peak Campground where we paid $7.50 to park our van across a road from some guy from Texas who looked to me like a serial murderer.  I kept an eye on him.

Each night P. and I played Scrabble (R) and she beat me both times.  

We had no cell phone reception until we reached Red Lodge at the bottom of the Beartooth Pass.

We stopped at Red Lodge Pizza for a hamburger and a chicken salad.  I gave Gunther several French fries.

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  1. Blaine Ackley permalink

    Thank you for the introduction to the Clark’s Fork canyon of the Yellowstone River. What a majestic place for the three of you to find peace and solace in these troubled times.
    No offense intended, Dan, but the guy from Texas was probably afraid that the unibomber had escaped from prison so he stayed away from you.
    I can’t believe that you couldn’t beat Penny in Scrabble at least once but then again, Penny is a force of nature who cannot be overlooked ever.
    Keep on the sunny side, Dan, each day is a gift just waiting to be opened.
    The pictures are breathtaking. Thanks for sharing them with us.

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