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Chief Joseph Scenic Byway

Leaving Cody, WY this morning we got on Hwy. 120 going west and north so that we could connect with the Chief Joseph Scenic Byway (Hwy 296). Driving the mountains of NC is great preparation for this incredible experience! We  S – curved our way up to 8,000 feet while being wowed by the rock formations of the Absaroka Mountains towering above us and green pasture land in rolling hills around us. An occasional U curve gave us a view of the highway above us and eventually we wound up at Dead Indian Pass on top. Here we found a moving tribute to the Nez Perce Indian tribe and their Chief Joseph.

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Memorial to the Nez Pence Indians

The Nez Perce tribe was once one of the largest in North America. In the 1830’s they numbered around 6,000 and ranged from Idaho to southeastern Washington. Their name was given to them by French Canadian fishermen who noted that some of them wore “nose pendants” requiring a “pierced nose” (Nez Perce). They called themselves Niimiipuu meaning “the people”.  Dead Indian Pass is associated with the fight of the Nez Perce Indians against the soldiers of the 7th Cavalry in 1877. Chief Joseph led 700 men, women and children and 2,000 horses through Yellowstone Park into the Absaroka Mountains fleeing from the soldiers. They were looking for a route to the Great Plains. Anticipating that the Nez Perce would attempt to break out of the mountains onto the Plains, the Army stationed General Samuel D. Sturgis and 600 cavalry near the base of the mountains to intercept them. But Sturgis had discounted Clark’s Fork (Yellowstone River) as a route out of the mountains because the Fork passed through a narrow canyon with vertical walls. Descending from Dead Indian Pass, the Nez Perce tricked the Army into thinking they were going south by milling their horses in a circle to kick up visible dust. They then sneaked back north and traversed the steep sided slit in the rock, dropping almost vertically for 1,000 feet. Even though it was only a temporary respite, it was clearly a brilliant maneuver against the Army. Eventually the Cavalry caught up with the Nez Perce and Chief Joseph giving an impassioned speech said, “I will fight no more.”


Views from Dead Indians Pass

The beauty of Dead Indian Pass was sobered by understanding the fight that we waged against the Native Americans ultimately taking their lands in bloody conflict.


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One herd of bison in the Lamar Valley

From Dead Indian Pass we descended to the little town of Cooke, Montana and from there back to Yellowstone through the Silver Gate at the northeast corner of the Park. Herds of bison were grazing as we passed through the Lamar Valley. We encountered one big boy/girl along the road but as we drove up for a closer picture it let us know in no uncertain terms that “picture time” was over. An angry grunting sound sent us on our way!

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Driving through the north gate we said good-bye to Yellowstone but not before getting someone to take our picture at the Yellowstone sign. We had a late lunch at Rosie’s Bistro and some of our group got new shoes at a local shoe store!  A lovely young woman helped us there. She has a boyfriend in Goldsboro, NC. I named her Hannah Montana! Tomorrow we will begin our exploration of Montana but for tonight we have given ourselves over to resting at a 1920’s style hotel in Gardiner, MT.


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