Columbus, MT? - 8/3
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Gravel Lot Our Campsite Road Closed Rafting? Traffic More Traffic

Although we had a few drinks and left our normal contribution in the casino last night, we were good and in bed by 10:00 pm.  Thus we were on the road by 8:00 am and had 505 miles to travel to our planned stop in Columbus, MT.

It was another uneventful ride through southeastern Idaho.  We arrived in West Yellowstone around 2:00 pm and turned north on US-191 with about 180 miles to go.  US-191 is a narrow two lane road that winds through some beautiful country along the western edge of Yellowstone National Park.  After traveling about 50 miles, I noticed a couple of cars coming the other direction were flashing their lights.  Now I can't really see the boat or the back half of the trailer so I begin to wonder if something is wrong with one or the other.  I looked but I couldn't see anything out of the ordinary and there was no where to pull over and check so I continued on.  After rounding the next corner, I learned the reason for the flashing lights.

The traffic was stopped completely.  People had shut off their engines.  Some were out walking dogs.  Others were talking with neighboring drivers.  And occasionally, some one would wander off into the bushes.  A few were already giving up and turning around.  But with our long rig, turning around wasn't an option.  And what good would it do anyway?  There's no where else to go.  So we wait.

After about 15 minutes a fire truck passed by and continued up the road.  A driver a few cars ahead said he heard on the radio that there had been an accident between a mini van and a big rig and it would take at least an hour to clear.  So we waited.

An hour and a half passed by.  More were giving up and turning around.  A pilot car driver who had turned around from further up the road was informing drivers that the accident was fatal, confirmed the mini van vs. truck part of it, and said the truck trailer was completely across the road and it was closed in both directions.  Expected time to clear was 8 to 10 hours.  I didn't bother to ask if that was from the time of the accident or from the current time.  It didn't matter.  We were done for the day 130 miles short of our goal.

Fortunately for us, we were right next to a large gravel lot that served as access for the utility company to work on the nearby power poles.  Although marked as private property and no trespassing, I decided to park there for the night.  Denise was a little skeptical but I convinced her that risk was minimal.  It was an extreme circumstance and I'm sure no one is going to bother us for camping in the lot.  As I was setting up the trailer, a sheriff car passed by.  Denise felt better when he didn't stop and tell us we had to leave.

In this canyon we were unable to get cell phone or satellite TV service.  Thus we spent the evening enjoying cocktails by the side of the road.  It was pretty quiet since the was hardly any traffic.  A few cars here and there which we figured were either locals or visitors staying in the various cabins and campgrounds along the highway.  At one point we saw a mini van on the back of a flat bed tow truck.  The entire front end was smashed all the way into the second seat.  We're sure that who ever was in the front seats did not survive.  Other passengers are questionable.

Finally around 8:30 pm, we saw traffic again and it was quickly backed up just like it was for us at 3:00 pm.  I walked out to the road and asked one motorist what he knew.  He said the story was a bad accident with 1 to 2 hour delays.  It appeared they had half the highway open and were letting one side go and then the other.

We thought about getting out the barbeque and selling hamburgers, hot dogs, beer, margaritas, cocktails, and bathroom usage.  We figured we could charge about double the going rate at fairs, ballgames, etc. and could make a quick thousand bucks but decided the sheriff probably wouldn't find that humorous.

We watched the traffic for the next hour or so until it finally faded.  Then we went to bed ourselves.  After all, we need a good nights sleep and an early start if we are to make up the 130 miles we didn't complete today.  At least the truck is running good and the tires are holding up.

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