July, 2015: So far this has been my favorite day trip outside of Yellowstone. It got me away from the crowds and traffic jams within the park which had really begun to get on my nerves.
I got onto it (WY-296) from Cody. A sign near the start says “Vehicles over 40 feet long not advised on US 212 East.” When I first came across this, I figured they were talking about this Chief Joseph Highway, but actually US 212 East (also known as Beartooth Highway) crosses Chief Joseph Highway in about 46 miles, and the turn to the east from there is what is not recommended for larger vehicles due to hairpin curves and steep grades. But that’s definitely another road worth taking in a car, as I did on another day and will be doing a separate page on that in the future.
Early on, the road already looks promising and the mountains unbelievably huge. From what I could see and what I’ve read from others, while there are some steep grades (7%) and sharp curves, this road can be done in an RV and I saw no restrictions for it. However, I still like to do these kind of scenic roads in the car which gives more opportunity for stopping, not having to worry about the size of the pulloff.
The colors and shapes of the roadside rock formations were incredible.
The road here looks so small winding around the huge mountains.
One of my favorite vistas and how the land looks so slanted.
What an amazing road!
An overview of another section with different terrain
There is parking here and you can walk across this bridge to view the gorge below.
Looking down from here is not for the squeamish – I love this kind of stuff and it made me dizzy!
I took the Cooke City, Northeast Entrance back into Yellowstone and even though I was pretty tired by that point, I had to stop and gawk at this view for a while.
Further into the park, there was a “bear jam” with people lining the road with binoculars. Granted, he was way back from the road, so this is zoomed and cropped as much as possible, but this was the first grizzly bear I saw!
The Byway is named after the Native American chief of the Nez Perce Tribe and his brave but fruitless try for freedom. Rather than being stuck in a reservation when white settlers wanted their land, Chief Joseph and 1,000 of his tribe ran from the Cavalry. They were trying to make it to Canada (1,800 miles) and finally were forced to surrender only 30 miles from their destination. Despite promises to allow them back on their lands, the Nez Perce were forced onto reservations in Oklahoma and Washington. This Byway is one component of the Nez Perce National Historic Trail.
You can just hear his exhaustion of both body and spirit from his surrender speech: ‘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.’
A lot of overlooks have information on this flight and I tried to imagine what it was like for that forlorn tribe in its last desperate quest for freedom to live the way they chose on land their ancestors had roamed for centuries.
I also couldn’t help but think that it seems ridiculous to me that these kind of events are memorialized and lamented like it was so back in the dark ages that our government would never do anything like that again in these modern, more civilized times. Of course, we can see that is not the case since our government today is still trying to screw the Native Americans over by stealing even more of the pitiful amounts of land they were granted – not to mention all the previous broken promises and treaties. It appalled me to read this May 25, 2015 article, Selling Off Apache Holy Land, and I only hope this July 28 updated report about the Save Oak Flat Act is at least able to curb some of the greedy grab of this sacred land.
Flight of the Nez Perce (The North Coast Journal) – I appreciated this reporter’s account and how he “pondered the meaning of “humanity” as he walked the grassy slopes of White Bird battlefield.
Flight of the Nez Perce (Yellowstone.net)
Chief Joseph Scenic Highway (Wyoming Tourism.org)
Exploring Yellowstone by RV (RV Techmag-2011) – A nice overview with info about all entrances and travel between them. On Chief Joseph Highway: The initial grades, near the tee intersection, are numerous and you’ll be making the RV work. But they are navigable and they don’t have the steep precipices that can be unsettling to some. Once you get to Dead Indian Pass the roads are pretty flat. They also provide info on Beartooth and how they did it in a motorhome, but don’t recommend it.