Day 7. Pilgrim’s gonna pray, pray, pray, pray, pray and the horsey is gonna neigh, neigh, neigh, neigh, neigh… and we’re all gonna shake it off, shake it off…
by Hope Windle
Date: June 22 Thursday, 2017
Start/End: Pray MT / Yellowstone MT
Itinerary: Complete Nor-Pac railroad to Gardiner. Drive into Yellowstone National Park. Sightsee. Camp in Madison Junction Campground.
Actual: (Historic) Hot Springs in Pray, Montana: Chico Hot Springs Yellowstone Gateway Museum in Livingston -- offers a permanent exhibit highlighting transportation to Yellowstone including railroads.
Trail: abandoned section of Nor-Pac railroad (along Hwy 89 to Pray)
Trail Surface: gravel-dirt mix
Riders: Lisa, Cori, Hope, Maya, Lana, Galen, Bob & Dee + Ginny (guide)
Miles rode: ~18
The day began with the Pilgrim, who prayed for a stop at the Pray Road sign, in you guessed it, Pray, Montana. She was also able to neigh and pray with a furry friend.
After our Pray pilgrimage pit stop, Galen, our field-research maven, (every team needs a research maven!!) noted that we were near a very special place: Chico Hot Springs. Somewhere to soak our tired 4 ½ ft muscles. She knew, we all knew, we needed to do this.
Through barren hills and straw-covered valleys down into a verdant pocket, the Chico Hot Springs appeared like an Emerald City western resort. The parking lot was full. People were laughing and talking in languages from all over the world. Where did these folks all come from? We didn’t see anyone on the highway or outside of this valley, yet here we were among many people soaking, and watching other folks around the pool and in the historic hotel, talking and having fancy lunches. Thank goodness for Galen!
I assume pioneers crossing the country must have felt the need for a soak… after traipsing over mountains, dealing with heat stroke and wild animals, at last landing in small towns. Like in the movies, when a cowboy enters town and the next scene is in a bathtub upstairs, away from the brawling bar scene. That is what we did, except here we lay in a huge turquoise pool of steamy hot sulphur warmth. My body purred a loud thankyouthankyouthankyou.
After a shower and an elegant lunch of delicate greens and smoked trout and sweet potato fries...we started looking for the rise of railroad lines, to uncover the next leg of the trail. We needed to be detectives. Maya befriended a naturalist biker who told us about the trail from the abandoned railroad that had been here, the river and the wild animals that live in these parts.
Lana, Cori, and Galen pose for our album cover…Maybe the lead song would be “Scouting the Line” trying to discern the abandoned railroad route of the Northern Pacific spur into Yellowstone.
A subset of the team -- Lisa, Galen, Maya, Lana, and Bob (not pictured) -- suit up to ride guerrilla along the 18 miles of unconverted (to official trail) Northern Pacific Railroad, biking through grassy edge of foothills hugging the Yellowstone River, through the outskirts of Yellowstone Park, sans flags. Says Lisa: it was one of the most magical rides of the trip.
The team regroups at the grand north gate of Yellowstone State Park at the magic hour.
I have heard about Yellowstone my whole life. From Yogi Bear cartoons to Old Faithful photos to nature documentaries about bears and moose to Jeremiah Johnson, this park has a magic allure. Our whole group is giddy with anticipation of this land of natural wonder. Of nine 4 ½ ft team members, only three have been here before. Dee, our ever thoughtful AND practical member of the team, hands each of us a Yellowstone map bandanas...shall we ever get lost! We enter the Yellowstone zone, with a treasure map showing us the lay of the land.
As I gaze at my new map, I look out the window of the van to see that we are flanked by giant lines of cars also trying to get into the park. The North gate looks like a freeway toll plaza. This is not a good sign. We wait and wait and finally drive in…