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Close Encounters of the Moose Kind: A Motorcycle Trip Out West

(day three map)

The next morning, four ladies from my women's riding organization, Women in the Wind, met us in Red Lodge to join us on our ride for a bit. We headed out onto "Bear Tooth Pass," which has been called The Most Scenic Highway in America by Charles Kuralt, award-winning American journalist. It seems no matter what book of "Most Scenic Drives" I picked up, Bear Tooth Pass appeared in it! And each time, the words and photos fell short of capturing the essence of this magnificent place.

Sheer cliffs, deep canyons, and the ability to look over long vistas through the canyon were some of my favorite highlights of this region once I got past the obvious thrills of the twists and turns of the roads. My husband is not such a fan of doing switchbacks on the edges of cliffs that just drop off into oblivion - but, it did not stop him from zooming around those corners just as fast as the rest of the gang. All of us grinning from ear to ear as we would come to a stop at the most scenic points for photo shoots with the girls.

I simply could not imagine a more perfect place to shoot portraits. As each mile of asphalt rolled past, this road shot up my list of favorite roads to ride, right past Deal's Gap, right past Blue Ridge Parkway, to the very top of my list. If you forced me to find a negative about this road, I can only come up with two. One is that it is closed part of the year due to weather. The second is that I was unable to turn around and ride it a second time due to time restrictions. To be fair, that is not the road's fault... so the road only has one negative of being closed for the snow season.

I am not even going to try to describe the stunning views of Bear Tooth Pass. It is one of those "You gotta do it yourself" situations. Put it on your list- at the top! If you get the opportunity, but only have a few short days- do not pass GO- do not collect $200... fly directly to Red Lodge, Montana. Rent a bike and ride Bear Tooth Pass (then do what I wanted to do, turn around and ride it BACK the other direction!)

Now, had I turned around at the end of that ride, I would have missed my second moose sighting. A big Bull Moose gracefully bounding up the side of a hill as we entered Cooke City. He had the whole rack of impressive antlers and everything, I was in shock and never even fired off a single frame of film on this big guy. Never even stopping my bike to get a closer look, I just saved the memory like a little jewel. It is much harder to pull over to indulge in silly moose antics when you are in a big group on a busy road. Plus, this was the real deal, a male moose with the massive antlers above us, on a cliff type hill just struck me as not the time to stop for a better look.

Riding into Cooke City did indeed feel like riding onto the set of an old Western movie. My friend, Cynthia Black, knew exactly the right cafe to pull into, and greeted the owner with a hug in front of "Buns n Beds." Leo and Jan Gaertner of Cooke City Montana have cabins for rent and served up the best food I had on my entire trip- Smoked Pot Roast anyone? Their website lists the many other amenities they offer, but I was surprised not to see mention of the sweet puppies that seemed to be the cafe mascots. A doe-eyed beagle and a softly verbal Husky adopted our group and added a memorable and hilarious addition to our lunch experience. These smart canines picked out the one man in our group ( my husband) as the big softy to hit up for free leftovers. You have a table full of dieting females, and the dogs target is the man at the table? Go figure.

The girls headed over to the Chamber of Commerce to get the famous "I Rode Bear Tooth Pass" Patches and my husband and I hit the road toward Yellowstone once again. This time we would be riding the East side of the Grand Loop.

We wandered off the main road a bit and followed a road that led us to a front and center view of Lake Yellowstone. This massive lake is framed by the Grand Tetons but with the wind blowing as hard as it was that day, I felt more like I was at the ocean. Waves literally crashed on the rocky shores, and one look could not take in the view. You had to keep turning your head and body to see the far reaches of this body of water and all the natural treats it had to share.

We made a stop to catch a viewing of Old Faithful doing her Geyser-thing. We had pulled into the parking lot only 5 minutes after she finished her last show, and sincerely considered skipping the 90 minute wait to see this American icon of geysers. But it had been a long day, so we got a bite to eat, spread out the leathers under a shade tree, and just relaxed while we waited for the big show.

We ended that day at Flagg Ranch, which sat on the edge of the Snake River. Truly, our cabin sat on the EDGE of the river. Outside our door was a split rail fence overlooking a valley that separated us from the Teton Mountains. Signs were posted every 20 feet warning about bears and wildlife, and in this remote area I expect the wildlife outnumbered the tourists by a good number.

Although the cabin had no television, A/C, and not even cell phone reception, none was needed. I was captivated by the view and rudely wandered off with my camera while my husband unloaded our unusual little luggage cart. The luggage carts were similar to a backwards wheelbarrow that you pulled instead of pushed. With plenty of room for lots of bags, and easy to maneuver, they added to the Old West look as they sat around the parking lots looking like little wagons waiting for miniature horses to be hitched up.

Because we arrived perfectly at sunset, my wandering hike led me down into the valley closer and closer to the horizon to get different angles of the setting sun against the Tetons. I wound my way back up into the ranch through another path in the valley near a big amphitheater type pit for campfires and cookouts where I met a family and we compared wildlife viewings. Although neither of us had actually seen the bears that the signs warned us about, we joked about carrying hotdogs in our pockets and wandering the valleys at night in hopes of catching a peek at the big beasts.


ruffrider says:

Holy Moose! That is one sweet moose encounter! :) thanks for sharing your story!
Thu Jun 6, 2013 at 7:52 AM

BikerMeme says:

Ragan....thanks for your article. It brought back memories of the trip my husband & I took in 2009. We were 4 couples riding from Winnipeg, MB Canada. We rode through 8 states total....but my favorite part of the trip was riding through Yellowstone and the Bear Tooth hwy. Another beautiful ride was the Chief Joseph hwy. which we rode coming back from Red Lodge, Montana. This was a 2 week trip....and what beautiful scenery we took in. At the time I rode behind my husband. Since getting my license 3 years ago I want to do that same trip again....but this time on my own motorcycle. What a thrill that would be. Keep riding safe

Wed Feb 15, 2012 at 1:16 PM

UtahDave2 says:

The blue of Bear Lake (1st picture) is different from any other lake I have ever seen. The state has put in a big pullout / rest area where you took you picture. Great ride - good article. Thanks for reminding me to go that way again this summer.
Mon Mar 28, 2011 at 6:01 PM

jeannine57 says:

Best memories for sure. I turned 50 in '07 and decided I'd find out if I was too old to keep riding. Headed out from Visalia, CA in late July. I kept going through many of the roads you wrote about. Destination Sturgis. 2 weeks later and 5000 glorious miles added to my Dyna I felt younger than ever! You've inspired me to write about the next adventure. Thanks!
Thu Mar 18, 2010 at 10:10 AM

duhbaglady says:

Your story brought back good memories, in 07, I decided it was time to go west, had wanted to do this for long ---Being an alabama girl ,i knew it would be a long trip, so I start checking the miles , GOOD GOD !! 5 days to get where I wanted to go ? So, by July 08 I had gotten over the shock and went for it , me and my road king. There is truly no words or photos to describe it. So, when I got home , my friends wanted to know about the trip. I just had to say , I can't do it justice with a few words. Find out for yourself.
Sat Nov 21, 2009 at 6:20 PM


I am also a South Florida rider. I would love to ride this area during the summer. I have only ridden in the Blue Ridge. I am a little squimish of heights. How was the riding in this area, I kmow you said your husband was a little nervous...also, what about the wildlife, did they ever approach you while riding? I want to be able to ride these areas but I don't want to nervous.
Thanks for the info from anyone.
Sun Mar 15, 2009 at 2:47 PM

felon says:

Depends how big the trailer is. Either way it sure wouldn't be as fun as riding!!
Fri Jan 9, 2009 at 4:09 PM

pego says:

How hard would it be to do the "Bear Tooth Pass" with a trailer?
Tue Jan 6, 2009 at 11:33 AM

felon says:

JoeMc: We ran Hwy. 78 between Columbus and Red Lodge, didn't make it up to Roberts.
Fri Aug 29, 2008 at 4:01 PM

JoeMc says:

Hey Ragan, nice report. I have ridden some of the roads the roads you mention in '98 and your descripton and pics are excellent.
When you rode through Roberts MT did you happen to notice if Montana Mikes was still there?
Mon Aug 25, 2008 at 5:04 AM

Pete4750 says:

Leathers don't keep you warm enough out here in the mountain west. I'm surprised Eagle Rider didn't know that. The elevation is what gets you. I've had days with a 5,000 foot elevation change and a 50 degree temperature change. The only thing that works as far as protective clothing in this environment is high-tech fabric clothing with zip-in liners. Even then, there are times I wished I had an electric vest and gloves.
Mon Jun 16, 2008 at 6:15 PM

mjdegeiso says:

You know it seems like we all come across a moose one time or another. It is amazing how big they are. Great story.
Thu Jun 12, 2008 at 1:51 PM

SgtRock says:

What a neat trip. Makes me want to do the fly-ride thing.
Tue Apr 1, 2008 at 8:43 PM

Pusanguy says:

I was born and raised in Logan, Utah. I've been on those roads countless times. I spent 23 years trying to get out of that town and the next 15 trying to get back. I look forward to riding those roads each summer when I go back for vacation. The ride up Logan Canyon to Bear Lake and Garden City is a gorgeous ride along twisting alpine roads. I spent many days skipping high school and university classes to make the run to Bear Lake to have a raspberry shake at La Beau's diner in Garden City. Flaming George is also an absolutely breathtaking piece of country. I'm glad you enjoyed the ride.
Fri Mar 21, 2008 at 12:53 AM

felon says:

Female moose, they don't have horns.
Tue Feb 19, 2008 at 4:04 PM

lmartin780 says:

The west is great for riding. I've done a similar trip several times..... but I'm not too sure that was a moose. Hard to tell with it's head down, but that sure looks like an Elk.

Great pics either way! Larry
Wed Jan 30, 2008 at 9:59 AM

TQ says:

Way to go Ragan .....passing your article over to all the gals in our chapter...
Wed Jan 30, 2008 at 3:45 AM

Birdman says:

Great article, make's me want to book a plane and check it out!
Mon Jan 14, 2008 at 1:23 PM

lillypad1752 says:

Excellent,fun article!
Tue Oct 23, 2007 at 12:12 PM

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