Ecojustice Blog – Special Update Posted on August 12, 2011 (updated: August 12, 2011)

Ghost towns and Yellowstone: Week 6 of Gavin’s Ride for Ecojustice

We rejoin Gavin’s Ride for Ecojustice for Days 38 to 44 and get the scoop on three towns that got left behind in America’s pursuit of progress.

Day 38 to 44: Monday July 18 – Sunday July 24
Forsyth, Montana to Bridge Bay, Yellowstone National Park, Wyoming
Distance Travelled: 534.43 km

Tri-city ghosts. We biked into the small town of Forsyth, Montana, where we met up with Emily, one of Jenna’s closest friends. Emily took us on a drive north on some of the most deserted road we had seen so far. No homes, no people, the occasional cow, rolling yellow hills, a twisting road and a cooking sun. The road runs for some hundred miles between Forsyth and Roundup, Montana. There are three towns on the road in between: Vananda, Ingomar and Sumatra. The combined population of the three towns is about eight people. Sumatra and Vananda are now both ghost towns. We spent some time in Vananda, where a distinguished-looking three-story brick building stood out on the bright yellow hotplate of fields, surrounded by a couple disintegrating wood houses and a gutted school bus.

Vananda was founded slightly off the railway in the early 1900s and prospered for a decade or two due to unusually heavy rains. But drought, the great depression and the need for water to be shipped in by rail due to non-potable well water crippled the town by the 1930s. Then Emily took us to Ingomar, which is home to the amazing Jersey Lily, a saloon steeped in history and located in exactly the middle of nowhere, surviving on its reputation. Originally a bank built in the 1920s or 30s, the wooden building is now a hanging gallery for deer heads, old newspaper articles, greying photos and assorted bizarre things. The clientele, most of them sitting around playing cards, seem like they were planted there when the saloon opened and have spent a good part of their lives growing roots into the floorboards.

Charred forests and snow: We crossed into Yellowstone on Sunday and immediately began a 10 km climb to the top of Sylvan’s Pass and Avalanche Peak, which sit about 3,000 metres above sea level. The ride was incredible but surreal, since most of the forest in the region was destroyed by wildfires in 1988, leaving the trees dead, bare and black. At the top of the pass there was snow on the side of the road. Making a snowball in July, after having biked from the scorching prairies 3 km into the sky, was one of the more satisfying feelings of the trip. Then a long downhill to the giant Lake Yellowstone, which is bright blue, surrounded by mountains and freezing cold. We saw a wild buffalo just off the shore. Our campground had a nightly amphitheatre presentation, where I learned that, at 63 species, Yellowstone boasts the largest concentration of mammals in the lower 48 American states.

We’ll return next Friday with more tales from Gavin’s ride, including his and Jenna’s encounter with a coyote and their exploration of Yellowstone National Park.

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