Beartooth Hwy to Chief Joseph Scenic Hwy in NW Wyoming

Crazy Creek Campground, Wyoming
View from our campsite in Crazy Creek Campground

Leaving Yellowstone National Park from the northeast gate we drive through Cooke City and find Crazy Creek campground in the Shoshone National Forest. A remote and scenic campground about half full when we arrive in the late afternoon, we are thrilled to get a campsite with a view of the surrounding mountains.

Crazy Creek campground, Wyoming
Early morning journaling and sketching

Randy and Pam from Kentucky are volunteer hosts for the campground and walk over to greet us as we begin to set up camp. After hearing reports of grizzly bear attacks closer to Yellowstone, we are relieved to hear that no bears have been sighted in this area. They show us how to be bear-safe in camp.

While we set up camp, the gentle sound of crazy creek provides a soothing background as the sky darkens, and the sun sets over Index Peak. Jay builds a fire and we retire early with the comforting flickering glow of the fire lulling us to sleep.

We wake to sunshine after a chilly night-time low of 38 degrees… burrrr.

Ground squirrel in Crazy Creek campground, Wyoming
Ground squirrel at Crazy Creek campsite

Jay sets up a breakfast area in the sun and we dine on cereal with nuts and fresh blueberries, warming our almond milk with hot water to ease the chill. As we sit munching our warm cereal we observe first one, then two, then three little ground squirrels basking in the sun on the rocks and then tunneling through the grass looking for seed. We are fascinated as we witness one pull over a stalk of grass to munch on the dry seed. Sketching ensues, while Jay does yoga in the warmth of the rising sun.

Soon we are packing up and leaving this idyllic site. But more beauty is in store as we travel along the Beartooth Hwy and connect with the Chief Joseph Scenic Hwy. This is Beartooth and Absaroka mountain country. We descend to the distant Wyoming plains through steep switchbacks, surrounded by stunningly scenic mountains. From Crazy Creek, we venture east along the beautiful Chief Joseph Scenic Highway (Rt 296) to the Cody area.

Mesa along the Chief Joseph scenic highway, Wyoming
Traveling along Chief Joseph scenic highway in Wyoming

The Chief Joseph Scenic Byway is named after the Native American chief of the Nez Perce Tribe. In 1855, the Nez Perce signed a treaty establishing a reservation with the understanding that they would retain control over most of their territory. But in 1860, gold was discovered on their land creating pressure from Euro-Americans to change the reservation boundaries. In 1877, in what came to be known as the Battle of the Big Hole, the US cavalry attacked the Nez Perce tribe as they camped on the North Fork of the Big Hole River, Montana. The Calvary were trying to force the tribe onto a reservation so that gold miners and ranchers could take the Nez Perce lands.

After the attack, Chief Joseph led his people on an arduous 1,170 mile trek that came to be known as the Nez Perce Trail. Their journey wound south into Idaho, east through Yellowstone, and then north toward the Canadian border. Though Chief Joseph and 800 members of his tribe evaded capture, the exhausted tribe eventually surrendered after the six-day Battle of the Bear Paw in north-eastern Montana. The tribe was stopped just 40 miles from the Canadian border.

Nex Perce Trail
The Nez Perce Trail

In his speech of surrender, Chief Joseph expressed dignity and defeat with his famous words, “Hear me, my chiefs, I am tired; my heart is sick and sad. From where the sun now stands, I will fight no more forever.” The Nez Perce tribe was forced onto reservations in Oklahoma and Washington despite promises to allow them back on their lands. Yellowstone’s Nez Perce Creek is named for this valiant attempt at freedom.

I Will Fight No More Forever: Chief Joseph and the Nez Perce War by Merrill D. Beal is a vivid account of the flight of the Nez Perce as they struggled to survive, and includes unpublished letters and diaries by eyewitnesses, and interviews with decedents.

Chief Joseph scenic highway, Wyoming
Chief Joseph scenic highway, Wyoming


Yellowstone National Park

We enter Yellowstone National Park through the western gate, and we are immediately entranced. Wild elk graze beside a pristine creek. This park is nature’s church. It is a holy place that is sacred to all who visit. Though the park is visited by millions, there is no sign of litter that abounds in many tourist destinations. Visitors know they are guests in this spectacular natural place.

Yellowstone National Park volcanic pool
Yellowstone National Park volcanic pool

Yellowstone is America’s first national park. Located mostly in Wyoming, with edges that peak in to Montana and Idaho, it has inspired the creation of parks throughout the world. Named by indians that inhabited the region, the yellow stone mountains that rise throughout the park cradle wondrous sights.

Formed by an upwelling of magma, a mountain-rimmed caldera provides curious hints of the tremendous heat below. Though the Old Faithful geyser is the iconic symbol of the park, there are many other signature signs of the Yellowstone’s volcanic legacy – mud pots, bubbling mineral pools, steaming mineral springs surrounded by rainbow colored calcium deposits, built up over millennia…

The National Park Service says it well:

Yellowstone National Park volcanic geyser
Yellowstone National Park volcanic geyser

“Rather than to preserve bears, wolves, bison or its myriad of streams, valleys and mountains, Yellowstone was designated as a National Park in 1872 to preserve and protect its more than 10,000 unique thermal features, the largest collection on the planet, spread throughout the park’s 2.2 million acres.”

“With half of the earth’s geothermal features, Yellowstone holds the planet’s most diverse and intact collection of geysers, hot springs, mudpots, and fumaroles. Its more than 300 geysers make up two thirds of all those found on earth. Combine this with more than 10,000 thermal features comprised of brilliantly colored hot springs, bubbling mudpots, and steaming fumaroles, and you have a place like no other. Geyserland, fairyland, wonderland–through the years, all have been used to describe the natural wonder and magic of this unique park that contains more geothermal features than any other place on earth.”

Yellowstone National Park volcanic mud
Yellowstone National Park volcanic mud pot

Hearing that temperatures are dipping into the 30’s at night, we decide to book a room at the Old Faithful Inn. Built in the winter of 1903 -1904, the Inn is one of a few remaining log hotels in the country. Designed by the architect Robert Reamer (also designed the Martin Woldson Theater in Spokane) who wanted the asymmetry of the building to reflect the chaos of nature, the Old Faithful Inn is an outstanding work of rustic architecture. The building is a rustic log and wood-frame structure of huge proportions – almost 700 feet in length and seven stories high. Entering into the lobby we feel like we are stepping back in time. Our room is in a section built in the 1920s – probably remodeled since then – simple, clean and comfortable. The Inn has a full service restaurant where we dine for dinner and breakfast.

Old Faithful Inn touring car
Vintage touring car outside the Old Faithful Inn
Old Faithful Inn
Old Faithful Inn - view from the lobby
Old Faithful Inn lobby door
Old Faithful Inn lobby door

Next day we enjoy a hike up to Trout Lake in the northeast section of the park. A steep 1/2 mile trail leads to the beautiful lake. As we step across a stream feeding the lake, a large trout glides through the crystal clear water, glistening in the high country sun.

Trout Lake in Yellowstone National Park
Trout Lake in Yellowstone National Park

Here are some of the best rated trail guides for Yellowstone and the Grand Teton range:

Yellowstone National Park buffalo
Our close encounter with a buffalo as we drive to the northeast exit of the park