Great riding down the Madison River to Ennis, MT

Wednesday July 15, 2009, 79 miles (127 km) – Total so far: 3,198 miles (5,147 km)

I stepped out this morning to get some hot cocoa, and there was a fog as thick as pea soup all over West Yellowstone.  We took out time getting ready, so it was almost 7:30 when we started — late in the day, for a ride of this length!  I rode behind Virginia with my “slow vehicle” reflector and a blinky on the strap.  Pea soup for 8 miles, then we saw the sun.  When I wiped my glasses off, it may have been clear for a few minutes before I noticed; there were droplets of water all over the lenses.  The road ahead opened up, and it was some nice countryside ahead.  Notice also the nice shoulders — we can ride on those!

North of West Yellowstone: sunshine!

Two miles up the road, we turned west, and the fog closed back in a bit as we hit Hebgen Lake.  The fog cleared as we got down toward the dam, and there was some spectacular scenery down there!

Hebgen Lake

Canyon below Hebgen Dam

Nice steep drop below the dam, and a couple miles of quiet river.  There were a few fishermen, but not too many on this stretch.

River below Hebgen Dam

Below this quiet stretch was Quake Lake.  This lake was formed by a magnitude 7.5 earthquake in 1959, which caused a landslide which blocked the Madison River.  The whole side of the mountain just slid down into and across the river, covering the road, some campgrounds, and blocking the river.  28 people died.  The Corps of Engineers cut a channel part way down through the rubble; for some reason, they cut this channel right below the slide, so the slope hasn’t been relieved.

Landslide that dammed Quake Lake (slide on the left). Also notice the standing dead trees 40 years later.

Another thrilling downhill from the top of the slide/dam, and poof!  Out of the canyon, and the valley broadens to miles across; I can’t even guess how wide it is.  The picture shows the valley, with Raynolds Pass (one of the lowest across the Continental Divide) center right.  Wonder why we (and the road) don’t go that way?

Madison River valley below Quake Lake

At this point we just followed the Madison down.  There weren’t any towns on the route, although there were a number of lodges for fishermen.  This is one of the premier centers of trout and fly fishing in the U.S.  I don’t know about the insects, but the fisherman hatch was tremendous!  We stopped for a snack at Lyon Bridge, and there were three boats trying to figure out how to fish the river around each other at the rest area.  Couldn’t drink the water, as there’s too much fluoride in it.  (A local said West Yellowstone has the same “problem,” and everybody there has been drinking it all their lives.  Some have darkened teeth as a result, but no other harm has been noticed.)  One of the lodges had a cell tower thinly disguised as a lodgepole pine.  Can you tell which tree is not like the others?

One of these trees is not like the others...

The rest of the ride was more of the same, beautiful valley, a few fishermen on the river, and oh yes, the commercial truck traffic picked up shortly after we left the canyon.  Virginia was a bit spooked when a coyote decided to cross the road right in front of her.  I was startled to look up from checking the map and odometer to find a pronghorn just across the fence, bounding along and then turning away.

Virginia managed to get a flat, and noticed it right when a string of trucks and SUVs passed us.  She couldn’t yell loud enough, so she flagged down a car who passed the word up to me.  (She only rode 74 miles today.  Pfui!)  When I got back with the pump, she had an audience.  Apparently there’s nothing more interesting than the spectator sport of watching bikers fix a flat.  After we fixed it and went across the road for another snack, the spectators dispersed.

Isn't there anything out here more interesting than a flat tire?

Finally made it into Ennis.  A sign on the outskirts proclaims, “Ennis, MT; Population 840 humans, 11,000,000 trout.”  Something’s fishy here.  I think they’re padding the trout numbers with some of the 50 miles of river above (or maybe below) town, or maybe even the hatchery.  But the river does call a fisherman — cool, clear, gravel bottom visible from the bridge into town.

Madison River from bridge into Ennis

The weather was just about perfect today.  Cool, mostly clear (after the fog burned off).  There was a bit of wind. It started off as a tailwind, then quartering, swinging around to a headwind for a few miles, then quartering headwind.  There was only one bad gust, but that one was nasty.  It surprised me, slowed me drastically, and wrenched the front wheel to the right.  Almost sprained the two little fingers on my left hand, but it’s going to be all right.  It’s supposed to warm up the next few days, so water’s going to become an issue, but this was one heckuva day to ride a bike!


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