Feats of an Avid Cyclist: Frank Lenz’s 1892 Ride Through Yellowstone


By Janet Chapple — 

[Editor’s Note: The following is a commentary on and an account of Frank D. Lenz’s ride through Yellowstone Park in 1892 during his attempt at an around the world bicycle tour. It has been reprinted in its entirety from Through Early Yellowstone: Adventuring by Bicycle, Covered Wagon, Foot, Horseback, and Skis (Granite Peak Publications, 2016), pp. 163-177. Janet Chapple, author of Yellowstone Treasures, compiled the accounts, historical photos, and watercolors in the anthology during a decade of research for her guidebook. If you are interested purchasing the book, visit YellowstoneTreasures.com]

Through Early Yellowstone: Adventuring by Bicycle, Covered Wagon, Foot, Horseback, and Skis (Granite Peak Publications, 2016) by Janet Chapple, available from YellowstoneTreasures.com

“Rapid transit of some kind . . . will reverse the present order of having to ride in a continuous cloud of dust over a road so rutted and cut up by ten thousand wheels that if you have a weak spot in any part of the vertebral column the jerks will find it out.” — YNP guide George L. Henderson, Yellowstone Park: Past, Present, and Future, 1891, p. 12.

Frank Lenz’s account of cycling through Yellowstone in 1892 is only a small part of his extensive report of a planned solo world bicycle tour. Installments of his report appeared in Outing magazine every month from August 1892 through July 1896.1

Lenz set out on his trip on June 4, 1892, leaving from New York City, where, as he wrote, people “crowded around me in such numbers that I found it impossible to mount my wheel, much less make the start.”2 Before reaching Yellowstone in late August, he had cycled some 1,700 miles. When possible, he followed wagon roads or railroad tracks—even bumping over the ties at times. In North Dakota’s Badlands, cactus needles punctured both his tires. Nearing Montana, he was invited to spend a day at the Eaton Brothers’ ranch,3 where he rode a horse but did not enjoy the jolting, apparently finding bicycle riding to be smoother.

Frank D. Lenz and his safety bicycle. (Courtesy of Archives and Special Collections, Mansfield Library, University of Montana: 11926)

A few days later Lenz rode along the Yellowstone River toward Yellowstone Park. He passed through the town of Billings, still one of the starting points for tours of Yellowstone—and dear to the heart of this anthologist, who lived her first eighteen years there.

It is not surprising that Lenz makes quite a few errors of geography while whizzing through the park in five days, since he could not have had time to take many notes. He did not allow himself to tarry in the geyser basins, and his tour included only the road segments from Gardiner to Norris and what is now called the Southern Loop of the Grand Loop Road. The present segments between Canyon and Tower junctions and between Tower and Mammoth Hot Springs were not yet completed.

Lenz was not the first man to tour Yellowstone by bicycle. W. O. Owen and two other members of the Laramie Bicycle Club claimed that honor in an account appearing in the June 1891 issue of Outing and reproduced in Paul Schullery’s collection, Old Yellowstone Days.

Lenz must have been in superb physical shape, since he mentions several times the abysmal condition of the roads and acknowledges late in his account that the ride through Yellowstone was not a pleasant one. He writes of two places with elevation changes of around one thousand feet but mentions only that one is “a continuous up-grade and the road very dusty” and the other has “heavy sand and continual up-grade.” Another cyclist, Lyman B. Glover, detailed his complaints about Yellowstone’s roads in 1896:

The mountain road laid with obsidian sand, filled in with powdered geyserite, plowed into impassable furrows by the wheels of the stagecoach and the hunter’s outfit, is a proposition calculated to make the stoutest heart quail. Upon such a footing the cyclist can neither ride up nor down hill. The shifting obsidian sand skews his wheel about and the gaping precipice at the side contents him to walk laboriously up or down the steep incline, happy if a firmer interval of bench land permits the luxury of riding for a little while.4

If Lenz made rather a large number of factual errors in his telegraphed reports, it is not surprising. He could not have carried many maps or guidebooks nor could he connect to the Internet!

Frank Lenz entered history—or at least the part now preserved in the New York Times archives—when, as captain of the Allegheny Cyclers of Pittsburgh, he cycled to New Orleans in 1891. The next year, he headed west alone, launched on what was to become more than 14,000 miles of a world tour “a-wheel,” with Outing magazine and the Victor Bicycle Company sponsoring his tour.5 Lenz managed to send reports from telegraph stations, even from remotest China and Persia, and Outing continued publishing his story just as he had sent it.

By autumn 1896 Lenz was missing in Asiatic Turkey, but Outing’s publisher kept up hopeful reports through January 1897, implying that Lenz would soon report further. The New York Times became interested in what had happened to him and printed reports over a period of eighteen months that varied in their details as to place, nationality, and number of assailants. One story had it that “he had been seen by two Turkish soldiers riding along an Armenian road on his machine, and a dispute arose between them as to whether the strange object was man or devil. To settle the controversy they fired at the cyclist and he fell from his wheel.” Another: “The natives thought his wheel was of silver, and murdered him and broke up his bicycle and divided the different parts.” It was finally determined that Lenz was indeed murdered in rural Turkey. Compared to his tragic end, his difficulties riding through Montana and Yellowstone were minor!

Lenz’s World Tour Awheel (1893, by Frank D. Lenz, born Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, 1868, died Turkey, 1896)

Original in Outing magazine, volumes 20, 21, 1892-1893.

From Miles City to Yellowstone Park

I struck the Valley of the Yellowstone at Glendon.6 Had not this valley become famous as the gateway to the wonders of our great National Park, it would to all time be memorable for its associations. The arena in which was worked out what was probably the last act in the great drama that brought the land of the red man under the developing influences of civilization, the battlefields and resting-places of Custer and many of his gallant band, the region which Sitting Bull fired, like Moscow,7 but failed to hold, must ever touch the chords of sentiment and patriotism. Nor, indeed, does the fame of the Valley of the Yellowstone rest either upon the great marvel-land to which it leads or its historic associations; for it bears, in the great railroad which threads its sinuous course, the towns which dot its river, and the myriad cattle which it sustains, evidences of the enterprise and industry of our nation.

Who would think, standing beneath the shadow of the handsome court-house of Miles City, surrounded by its schools, bank and hotels, that a few years ago all its great surrounding pastures and rich valleys were the home of the once countless buffalo, and that from the ashes of the destruction of that traffic Miles City should rise, phoenix-like, to become probably the greatest cattle center in the world. It is named after General Miles, whose brilliant campaign in 1877 against the Nez Percés opened up so much of the valley to settlement. He built Fort Keogh, about two miles and a half west of here. I visited the Fort in company with Claude U. Potter as escort. It is the most important post in the Northwest, is delightfully situated, and affords ample accommodation to about one thousand officers and men. An excellent brass band furnishes music, and on certain evenings in the week gives concerts.

Miles City, like all Western cities however remote, has its bicycle club. Fifteen wheelmen, most entertaining, make a thoroughly sociable club.

On the morning of August 17th I had my wheel nicely cleaned to continue the journey West along the banks of Yellowstone River. The wind was blowing with terrific force, and when I reached the ferry, where I intended to cross, the wife of the ferryman informed me that the wind was too strong to risk the boat across. I sat down and patiently waited for an hour for the wind to subside. At last a lull came on, and I was soon shoving my machine up a steep and deep gravel road to the top of the hill on the north bank; once the top reached, the wind fairly whistled from the west. The headwind I rode against for thirty-eight miles at Leamington, Canada, along the north shore of Lake Erie, was steady, but to-day’s wind came in tremendous puffs, carrying me clear off the road, and my eyes kept filling with dust. Many miles of this would surely exhaust any wheelman.

The first ranch that hove in sight I stopped at, tired out, only ten miles west of Miles City [italics original]. The occupant was a bachelor, cooking, sleeping and living in one room. But E. C. Stoneing was a hospitable man, and had lived here for years. He was formerly a government scout and courier, and at one time was companion to Buffalo Bill. Many interesting stories he told as the wind blew outside, until sundown. The old fellow kindly gave me his bed, while he slept on the floor. The coarse straw in the mattress and pillow kept working through the muslin during the night, annoying me not a little, but I was also kept awake by the coyotes howling dismally without.

Arising early, I partook that morning of a plain breakfast, prepared by the old man, and then started west at 7:30. The air was cool and calm. The road continues following in sight of the Yellowstone River. The hard wind the day before had blown the dust and sand off the road. The bearing of the wheel now being cleaned, it seemed to run easily. I quickly passed ranches, with herds of horses and cattle, which usually stampeded off at sight of me. By noon I reached Cold Spring Sheep Ranch, and by sundown Rancher P. O., eighty miles for the day. The road was mostly level and good riding—only three hills in the entire stretch. Up these the roads followed the gravel beds of dried-up streams, which made it impossible to ride.

The road next day improved to Junction City, a small village on the Yellowstone. Here I ferried across the river to the Crow Indian reservation, as usual waiting an hour for the ferryman. The Crows are good-natured Indians, and have always been the best of friends with the whites. They ford the Yellowstone on their horses, and daily come to settlements on the north side of the river. Some of them make good farmers, raising cattle and horses in large numbers. I met an old buck and his squaw, who motioned to me to stop, to enable them to examine the wheel more closely; and I don’t know what feature of it astonished them most. The spring fork saddle, the adjustable gearing and the brake specially interested the buck, and I shall never forget the blank astonishment of these red people when I took out the pump and proceeded to pump up. “The Victor” fairly raised the phlegm of the buck, and that is an achievement indeed; it takes something akin to the marvelous to do that.

The road now follows along the N. P. R. R. [Northern Pacific Railroad] through the reservation, sometimes running inside the fence, along the track; at other times through some fenced ranges, making it quite frequently necessary to let down poles and open gates. At Bull Mountain the road winds along some cliffs, one of the most picturesque spots on the Yellowstone River. The hills or buttes are now sparsely covered with small pines, showing that the long prairie would soon end.

From Bull Mountain to Pompey’s Pillar is another flat stretch. Pompey’s Pillar, a mass of yellow sandstone rising abruptly to a height of 400 feet, and with its base covering nearly an acre of ground, has quite an interesting history. Capt. Meriwether Lewis and Capt. Wm. Clark, U.S.A., on their three years’ exploration of this territory for the government in 1804–1807, then known as the “Louisiana purchase,” because it was acquired of Napoleon Bonaparte by payment of $15,000,000, stopped here. Their colored cook, named Pompey, died while at this point and was buried on the top of this rock, which, curiously enough, is covered with quite a deep soil. This rock has a very striking appearance, looking at a distance like a huge pillar. The inscription and date (July 25, 1806) still remain.8

The sun was just setting as I wheeled up to the Huntley section-house for the night. The road next morning started up a hill four miles long. From the top I had a splendid view of the valley. A spur of the Rockies could be faintly seen in the distance, fifty miles away. A short distance farther the road joins the Fort Custer trail to Billings, a town just ten years old and containing already a population of 3,000 souls. It is a supply town for a radius of about 100 miles, including valuable mines, and is quite a wool market.

From Billings west the road is on the north side of the Yellowstone again. The scenery now is all grandeur and beauty, such as we hope to get in wheeling through Switzerland. Through Laurel Park City, to within four miles of Stillwater, is level bottom, making excellent wheeling, although somewhat dusty—or rather it would be excellent wheeling were it not for bridgeless irrigating ditches, which frequently cross the road and necessitate dismounting. Near Stillwater the road turns up a ravine, and a mile’s walk up a steep hill and a terribly steep ride down the other side over layers of rock prepared my appetite for a good supper.

Laurel and Park City are two separate towns west of Billings.

Next day I reached Big Timber, at the confluence of Big Boulder and Big Lumber Creeks with the Yellowstone. Continuing along the Yellowstone River, the valley road is excellent to Merrill. To keep the valley it is necessary to cross over the river on the railroad bridge to Reed’s Point section-house. From here Crazy Mountains can be distinctly seen in the distance, thirty miles away, the tops partly covered with snow. They became more and more distinct from Greycliff to Big Timber on the Boulder River. This stream is well named. Round boulders of every size simply cover everything, including the town itself. But there is a wheelman even there. After riding 1,200 miles of dreary prairie this is like entering a new country. Mountains are visible within twenty miles of here—west and north and south. The riding next day to Livingston, through the valley of the gate of the mountains, was very good. In some places there were many loose stones, however, and within four miles of Livingston it was very stony until the Yellowstone was crossed into town. Livingston, although only ten years old, is a very thriving town. It is situated at the base of the mountains, 4,600 feet above the sea-level.

Big Boulder and Big Lumber Creeks: The Boulder River enters the Yellowstone from the south, and Big Timber Creek enters it from the north at the town of Big Timber, Montana.

The Gate of the Mountains. Painted for Outing by Albert Hencke. Page 287, Outing Magazine, Vol. 21, 1893

Two wheelmen accompanied me from Livingston to the first cañon. The wind was blowing through here at a tremendous rate against us. I had so far been riding my wheel geared to fifty-four inches, but I had my wheel arranged to gear down to forty-five inches for mountainous country. The strong wind compelled me to change it. Bidding the Livingston wheelmen good-by, I continued on a good road down the valley through the mountains along the Yellowstone River. Several ranchmen have settled in this happy valley [Paradise Valley], where the soil is good for raising crops and cattle, and the mountain scenery changes at every bend in the river. Emigrant is a small hamlet twenty-four miles from Livingston, where the hungry wheelman can satisfy the inner man. The long dry seasons thoroughly dry up the road, and in some places the dust lies two to four inches thick.

Continuing on comes another cañon, much narrower than the first ones, called “Yankee Jim Cañon,” after an old Indian fighter, scout, guide and hunter who settled in the valley in 1871.9 Yankee Jim is an interesting character—very enterprising. He constructed a wagon-road through this rocky path and for years collected toll from everybody passing into the park. He still has the gates across the road, and collects toll; for many people go through the park in camping outfits, spending two and three weeks there. Wheelmen are exempt from this toll. The old fellow informed me he thought it hard labor “working them damn’d old velocipedes all day.” He turned out to be a congenial companion for the night. His stories of frontier life would fill a good-sized volume. He is a bachelor and a splendid cook.

Yankee Jim Cañon. Painted for Outing by Albert Hencke. Page 288, Outing Magazine, Vol. 21, 1893

Nature has endowed many countries with fair scenes; but we have in the Yellowstone—as it were, snatched pure and undefiled from the hand of the Creator—one of His very gems, and mean to preserve it in all its pristine loveliness.

All around the teeming multitude is transfiguring the earth, turning it to man’s use, and in too many cases marring its features; but “Yellowstone,” by the fiat of the nation, is to remain to us a thing of beauty and a joy forever.

It has nothing more than a figurative relation to a gem, however, for its area would make a respectable kingdom in some parts of the world, and its attractiveness, not to say productiveness would provide a princely revenue. It taxes the memory to recall—even in the works of those somewhat fervid and overwrought inventors of marvels, the early travelers—any other portion of the world presenting a greater diversity of character than do the rivers and mountains, torrents and waterfalls, hills and valleys of the Yellowstone.

The verdure of abundant nature and the blanched and alkali-withered desert blend their effects into a phantasmagoria of unequaled grandeur and unexcelled attraction to the cyclist, if he have the good sense to provide himself with a pneumatic, and the good fortune to have in it as honest and trusty a friend as my “Victor” has proved to me. It has often been remarked that between the cyclist and his wheel a more than sentimental friendship springs up. Of a verity I can indorse this, so far as the wheel that has borne my burden and cheered my pilgrimage is concerned. It has been a steadfast friend indeed, and that in direst need too. What other wheel could have withstood the wear and tear to which I have subjected my safety pneumatic “Victor?” These journeys over railroad ties and prairie grass have put it to a crucial test, and, as was my purpose, the question whether the pneumatic safety will stand the strain of a wheelman’s world tour over rough and rugged wayside is forever and most favorably settled now.10

Yellowstone Park

Eureka! I have girdled the great wonderland of our continent, and put behind me the greatest temptation to deviate from my onward track. I would by no means have missed it, though it has cost me five precious days. There are many wonderlands in store for me in Asia and in Europe, but will there be any quite like this one in the Rockies? Think of an area of fifty-five miles in width from east to west, and sixty-five miles in length from north to south, covering about 3,575 square miles, laid out as a national park! How “little Rhody” [Rhode Island] and “peach Delaware” must swell into pride when told that the Yellowstone Park reminds [one] of them. When compared in size to any of the States, these two are usually cited as being together just large enough to be comfortably accommodated within the “park.” It should be added, however, that such a disposition of the two States would leave still a margin of over 200 square miles for a national playground. But, aside from its selection as a national playground, the Yellowstone would be noteworthy, for from the slopes of these highlands spring the rills which grow into the mightiest rivers of the United States. The springs of the Missouri-Mississippi system, as well as those of the Columbia and the Colorado, take life here, and “from the summit of Mount Washburn, the highest point of observation embraced by the park, may be seen the grim and towering walls which partition a complex of waters, forcing the flow either eastward, by way of the Gulf of Mexico, into the Atlantic, or westward into the Pacific Ocean.”11

The tourists coming into the park from Livingston take the branch road to Cinnabar. There they are compelled to enter the stage-coach for an eight-mile ride to the Mammoth Hot Springs Hotel [a climb of nearly a thousand feet]. Of course I did nothing of the sort. My “Victor” was a good enough vehicle for me, though, I confess, it proved a pretty hard pull. It is almost a continuous up-grade and the road very dusty. Writing of dusty roads brings back the strange impressions the various travelers made upon me. I could easily distinguish by their dusty clothing and begrimed and sunburned faces those who had “made” the park from the tidily dressed and fair-complexioned new arrivals. It does not take a very long stay within these natural pleasure precincts to change one to a backwoodsman. As for myself, I must have been a sight when I dismounted at the hotel. My face and nose and ears were not only brown but peeling off, and my trusty wheel bore signs of many a gallant league’s work over the alkali roads.

I topped my first day by a ride over the hill through the forest and up a terrible steep and dusty grade through the Golden Gate [another thousand-foot climb], where the west branch of the Gardiner River [Glen Creek] falls over a series of moss-grown cascades with sinuous courses, creating the exquisitely formed and splendidly colored Minerva Terrace by its magic alchemy.12 The roadway through the “Golden Gate” is very appropriately named. Though less than a mile in length, I was told that it cost Uncle Sam $15,000 to build it.

After leaving the Golden Gate gorge the road continues along the top of the mountain, and its even surface is a great relief after the tremendous pull up from the Mammoth Hotel to the famous Obsidian Cliff or Glass Mountain, which rises, basalt-like, in almost vertical columns, from the eastern shores of Beaver Lake to a height of from 150 to 250 feet, and is probably unequaled in the world. The volcanic glass glistens like jet, but is quite opaque. Sometimes it is variegated with streaks of red and yellow. The material lends itself to the formation of a perfect road-bed. It successfully resists drills and giant powder, and only disintegrates under a process of heating by fire and then rapidly cools. No wonder that its fame and use spread wide among the aborigines, for the continent does not produce another natural substance capable of such an edge as flaked obsidian. The sacrificial knives o£ the Aztec priests, and other tools, were made from it.

My rendezvous for the night was to be Norris Geyser Basin,13 a short ride for a day for me; but then there had been so much to see en route, and after arrival there would still be the geysers to see. This was to be my initiation into the mysteries of the great geyser system which Yellowstone marks as its own, at once its pride and its terror. Who can stand upon the trembling earth, with evidences all around of the mighty buried forces of nature scarce slumbering skin-deep beneath one’s feet, without a sense of the mighty powers of imprisoned chaos?

Next morning I started down the road which winds through the Elk and Johnson parks,14 and thence through the four miles of Gibbon Cañon, a narrow, rocky defile, with scarce width sufficient for road and river. The wild grandeur of this rocky chasm is, like so much else in this wonder-working district, difficult of portrayal. On one side the cliffs rise with precipice abruptness a thousand feet, on the other they are clothed with the somber pine to their tops. Here the air is filled with the fumes from subterranean caldrons, not too pleasant in aroma; there the crystal water, fresh from the snow-clad heights, pours through the hundred obstructions in its way, with swish and swirl, and glint of many colors.

Fortunately the road is all down-grade and very good for nine miles to the Fire Hole River, which one must perforce ford.15 After that there is, by way of compensation, a succession of steep and dusty hills, almost impassable for a wheel in some places, until the Lower Geyser Basin, the midway basin, and the Upper Geyser Basin successively arrest your attention and claim your too short hours.

In the Lower Geyser Basin alone there are nearly 700 hot springs, and nigh a score of the greater giants that lay claim to the higher distinction of geysers, whilst collectively those of the three basins seem to defy computation. Suffice to note the more important in their order—the “Excelsior,” of the midway basin, the sleeping monster who, when he wakes, sends forth a voice that can be heard for miles, and a volume of water that turns the adjacent river into a seething torrent, with boiling water from his raging maw.

I did not stop to see this myself, but passed onward to the Oblong Geyser, not so much because of its power, but because its formation permits a closer and better inspection than usual of the masses of crystal which, in liquid form, are ever being ejected from this or the other hundred mouths direct from nature’s laboratory. Wondrous in delicacy, color and formation are these gems, laces and fairy frost-work, if such a term can be applied to creations in which fire plays the principal part.

Ejected: Geyserite eggs, knobs, and biscuits are actually aggregated from silicon dioxide precipitated from the hot spring waters.

“Old Faithful” holds the post of honor in point of popularity, somewhat probably from its position in contiguity to one of the hotels, but mainly from the reliability of the exhibition of his powers; for day and night through all the year round, at intervals of about an hour, he raises his graceful column, to be wind-wafted with feather-like grace, a height of 150 feet.

From the lower to the upper basin, some nine miles, the road is level enough, but I found it sandy and dusty. Here a fellow wheelman, who had rashly partaken of a drink of the pellucid but treacherous water, with results more enduring than pleasant, left me to return to Billings, his home. It is a venture, and a dangerous one, to drink from any stream in this neighborhood.

The next morning I started for fair Shoshone Lake and over the divide to Yellowstone Lake, following the course of Fire Hole River a short distance; but even in that short way had to ford the stream three times, not a very pleasant experience, for, though its name is fire, its waters are icy cold. Once more clear of the water, the road turns up a newly made ravine,16 fairly good riding in at the start, but after the first eight miles it grew from bad to worse, and the best-natured wheel in the world would have refused to move over the heavy sand and continual up-grade which lasted to within four and a half miles of the lake, where the road improves again and is good as far as the lunch station on the lake side.

This lunch station [at West Thumb] is presided over by a jolly Irishman, who keeps the guests thoroughly amused by his humor and his yarns.

The Irishman Larry Mathews managed various lunch stations in the park over many years and is mentioned frequently as a convivial host.

It is curious to see, right on the borders of the lake, bubbling hot springs; indeed in one case the cone of the geyser is within the lake and the hot water within is only separated from the cold water without by the thinnest of partitions. I had of necessity to forego much that I should very much liked to have seen. I would gladly have gone over into the Red Mountain Range and followed the Lewis [River] from the lake downward over Sherman’s trail;17 but time has its limitations, and I could not even afford the lesser excursion southward round the West Bay Thumb of Yellowstone Lake.

I had lingered already longer than I could well afford, and had yet before me the Grand Cañon, which was sure to overpower the scruples of conscience and chain me a votary. True, I could have taken from here a steamer to the Lower Lake Hotel, as do most explorers, even those who have hitherto enjoyed the less toilsome stage, but that was foreign to my mission. Though most of the wheelmen who have hitherto done the park have availed themselves of the steamer at this stage, it was denied to me, for I would not ride by water wherever possible for a wheel to carry me—or, if needs be, be pushed—and I knew that where the stage went, and often where it did not go, there the Victor would carry me. I do not blame the wheelmen—indeed, after my experience, I think in the ordinary course of a pleasure trip they are to be commended for their wisdom, for the ride will tire even the most hardened.

After lunch I continued on round the lake for a good twenty miles to the hotel, and it took me nearly four hours to do it. Here I again set my face north, and next morning started down the valley with the intention of reaching the falls, eighteen miles off, and thence facing westward, back to Norris Geyser Basin and out again, by Yankee Jim’s, to resume my greater journey.

The road from the outlet down the valley is, as roads in the late summer go, not a very bad one, though in some places very sandy and, need I say, dusty. However, it was infinitely better than those over which I had toiled for the past two days, and I was congratulating myself upon having passed through the most uncomfortable portion of my trip when I espied it raining on the opposite side of the river, and soon the icy-cold spray reached me. When within half a mile of a government engineer’s camp, what was my surprise to see the rain change into snow. As it blew up quite strong, I made for the cook’s tent for shelter, and here for three hours I thawed out my fingers and feet, which were nearly frozen. The thermometer dropped from 60° to 39° in three hours. The snow continued to fall until the grass and trees were thickly covered. Anxious to reach the hotel but four miles away, I started out, but stopped at two camps to warm up before reaching there. This was a nice state of affairs—snow-bound in the Yellowstone Park, and yet in the valley, 3,000 feet below, all was warm and dry. Some one has said of Yellowstone Park that “nature puts forth all her powers, and her moods are ever changing from ‘grave to gay, from lively to severe.’”18 I had the full opportunity of approving this writer. Surely, if my trip through the park was not a pleasant one, it was at least a memorable one, and I had seen nature changing from “lively to severe.”

Next morning the sky slowly cleared, but as it was impossible to start with the wheel in this mud, I had ample time to overhaul my machine, which again was the center of attraction to the guests. I also improved the time to make a visit to the Great Falls and Grand Cañon of the Yellowstone. The best point of view for the falls is Lookout Point, a rugged precipice extending out in the cañon; but Inspiration Point, about two miles below, affords another splendid view of the cañon, both up and down. The wonders of the Grand Cañon have been told by abler pens than mine. The truth is, language fails to do it justice.

The falls are two in number, the upper and lower; the former some hundred feet or more, and the latter 350 feet. It is not, however, either in the depth of the falls or the volume of the water which passes over them that their charm exists, but in the wonderful setting in which nature has placed them, every form of rock, every color in nature’s palette, every hue of foliage, every play of light and shade, every variety of grouping, every effect which it seems possible for sun, air, water and earth to produce, is spread with lavish hand, and placed and posed with an artistic effect that almost bespeaks design. Yet the hand of man is conspicuous only by its absence here; nature, reveling in her own strength and drawing on her own resources, has planned the vista and spread the canvas; the emblazoned walls, the tessellated floor, the canopy of matchless blue, all are hers, and never can we be too grateful to those who, in a decade often scoffed at as prosaic, utilitarian, and uneducated in matters merely esthetic, could provide the funds and the protection which alike were needed to save this masterpiece of nature from the destroying vandal, the vulgar advertiser, and the pot-hunting man of the world.

“Alone in this great sanctuary of nature.” Painted for Outing by Albert Hencke. Page 379, Outing Magazine, Vol. 21, 1893

While photographing the falls from Lookout Point, my cap went over the precipice sixty feet below on a ledge of rock. It was a dangerous task, but I climbed down and succeeded in getting it and returning alive. An old tourist standing above actually sat down overcome by the sight of seeing me climbing up. A misstep and I would have been precipitated 1,500 feet below into the Yellowstone River rushing through the cañon.

The next morning everything was covered by a heavy frost, the thermometer was below freezing-point, and there was a dense fog everywhere. I was determined, however, to get off that day, if possible, and although the frozen dirt road was rather rough riding it had no terrors to the rider of a pneumatic.

As far as Norris Geyser Basin it was mostly down grade, and I progressed fairly well (thirteen miles in two hours). Then the sun shone warmly; the road, improved by the snow and rain of the two days before, dried up, and I briskly wheeled off the twenty miles to the Hot Springs, the end of the circuit. My cyclometer showed just 139 miles around the park.

I should not advise wheelmen visiting the park to make the entire circuit, as from Norris Basin to the Upper Basin, and across to the lake and thence up the cañon, it is mostly poor wheeling. Work is being pushed with all possible speed, but it will be some time before this stretch can be called a good road. But those desiring to see, at least, the most important portions of the park, can wheel from Mammoth Hot Springs to the Norris Geyser Basin, over twenty miles of fairly good road, thence cross to the Grand Cañon and Great Falls thirteen miles farther, and by returning over the same route can make a pleasant and not too fatiguing tour. Adding in the sixteen miles from Cinnabar to the Mammoth Hot Springs and return, this would make a total of eighty-two miles, and to all wheelmen in search of a holiday amid the fairest and most wonderful of nature’s handiwork I say, Take your pneumatic and see the Yellowstone Park awheel as I did.

Manifold as are the beauties and attractions of the Yellowstone, as seen by the every-day tourist and written of in the most accessible books of travel, it is startling, but true, that two-thirds of its area is practically unknown. Here and there an occasional enthusiast with time on his hands and the needy hardihood [robustness], some mountain climber, lone fisherman, hunter or geologist have penetrated its remoter waterways and mountains, but their stories do not reach far beyond the camp-fire and the hotel corridor, unless indeed, as is sometimes happily the case, they make their way into the pages of OUTING, like the story of Mr. Owen and his companions awheel there, and Mr. Guptill’s graphic narrative.*

[Footnote in the original: *In Outing, July 1890 and June 1891.]19 The latter, I remember, says that in the northeastern portions of the park, where I did not go, there are vast areas strewn with the fossilized remains of animal and vegetable life, and huge trunks and fragments of petrified trees, many still standing erect, preserving much of their old form and outline, deep down among the roots of which may be found clustering deposits of the most brilliant and beautiful crystallizations, varying in color from delicate shades of pink to deep cherry, while colorless amethyst and yellow quartz lie scattered in profusion. Then, again, between the Passamaria fork of the Big Horn [now called the North Fork of the Shoshone River] and the east fork of the Yellowstone [the Lamar River] is the celebrated Hoodoo Region, or Goblin Land, designations which in nowise belie the character and appearance of the locality—a region in which volcanic action and erosion have seemingly striven to outvie each other in the production of fantastic forms and shapes. To the superstitious Indian it was the abode of evil spirits; to the white man, roused from his slumbers by the weird mutterings of the voiceless air, the region presented an enigma solved by the term “Hoodoo.”

In an annual report, Supt. Norris (1877–82) mentioned his exploration of the Hoodoos. He wrote that prospector Adam Miller and two companions discovered and named Hoodoo or Goblin Land in 1870 and continued:

“In shape they are unlike any elsewhere known, being a cross between the usual spire and steeple form, and the slender-based, and flat, tottering, table-topped sandstone monuments near the Garden of the Gods, in Colorado; and while lacking the symmetry and beauty of these, surpass both in wild, weird fascination. . . .” (Norris, Report for 1880, 6–8).

The story of a slightly later trip to the Hoodoos by E. V. Wilcox appears on page XXX.

From Yellowstone Park to Bearmouth20

Even such marvelous attractions of superb scenery and weird phenomena as fairly riot in mine Uncle Sam’s unrivaled national playground, cannot hold, magnetic though they be, a lone wheelman who has yet full three-fourths of the world to girdle. Regretfully, therefore, I was compelled to bind myself by most solemn covenant to start once more upon my long pursuit of the sun westward.

There were many charming and curious features which I had not seen; but no traveler, unless his travels are to end in that wonderland, can hope to see all of the marvels of Yellowstone Park, and I know from my brief experience that I might dally an entire year and then go on unsatisfied. So I prepared my faithful steel courser for another stage forthwith. There was a choice of routes northward out of the park. A new one would surely have revealed much to repay the venture, but my run south over the Valley Road had proved its excellence for wheeling, and, as it is unquestionably the best route, I decided to travel north by it, though really re-covering the line already traveled.

The fifty-one-mile run back to old “Yankee Jim’s” was accomplished comfortably and without special incident. The old boy appeared really pleased to see me again, and when we got settled down for a chat he fired off story after story, all savoring strongly of the strange, free, breezy West.

Next morning I bade him final farewell, and went on through the Yellowstone Valley. Imposing panoramas of peak and crag were disclosed as I wheeled steadily forward—scenes that pen cannot describe nor brush portray; for eyes, and eyes alone, can rightly convey to the spirit of these mountain pictures. Passing the grand bulk of Emigrant Peak, I noticed with pleasure that the grim old sentinel had received a shining silver helmet of new-fallen snow, and so I bore away another delightful memory of him. . . .


  1. Lenz, “Lenz’s World Tour Awheel,” Outing 21, nos. 4 and 5, 286–90; 378–83.
  2. Lenz, “Lenz’s World Tour Awheel,” Outing 20, no. 6, 482.
  3. From 1879 through 1903, the Eaton family ran a horse and cattle ranch near Medora, North Dakota, and soon began to take in paying guests. They moved the ranch to its location near Sheridan, Wyoming, in 1904 and became well known for taking horseback parties from there to Yellowstone.
  4. Quoted from “Cycling through Yellowstone Park,” in Whittlesey and Watry, Ho! for Wonderland, 174.
  5. See David V. Herlihy, The Lost Cyclist (2010), for the complete story of Lenz’s adventure and the stories of other nineteenth-century world-circling cyclists.
  6. Lenz entered eastern Montana Territory near Glendive. Barely settled in 1880, it grew to a fair-sized town in 1881, when the Northern Pacific tracks reached it.
  7. Lenz refers to Chief Sitting Bull of the Hunkpapa Lakota Sioux tribe, who was a spiritual and political leader (not a warrior) at the time of Custer’s 1876 defeat in southeastern Montana. This battle, formerly called Custer’s Last Stand, is now called the Battle of the Little Bighorn. The “firing” of Moscow refers to the famous fire of 1571, when a Turkish khan set the city ablaze, and tens of thousands of people died.
  8. Lenz (or his editor) had the wrong story about Pompey’s Pillar. William Clark named the huge, unique rock along the Yellowstone River near Huntley for the son of the expedition’s only woman, Sacajawea. Clark called the boy Pomp or Pompy (DeVoto, Journals of Lewis and Clark, 451). The only black man on the Lewis and Clark Expedition was York, Clark’s slave.
  9. James George (“Yankee Jim”) took over and improved an existing road through what was then called the Second Canyon of the Yellowstone, making it passable for wagons. He lived and collected tolls there from 1874 until about 1910. He is described as a loquacious old character in many early travel accounts.
  10. The safety bicycle, with two equal-sized wheels, had by 1890 become more popular than the ordinary or penny-farthing bicycle, which had a large wheel in front and a smaller one in back—a dangerous vehicle. Pneumatic tires had been used on bicycles for only a few years when Lenz made his tour.
  11. This quote is not credited but came from Henry Jacob Winser’s guidebook The Yellowstone National Park, 5.
  12. Here Lenz seems to be confusing the cold water falling over Rustic Falls of Glen Creek with the hot spring water of a terrace that is nearly three miles north of the falls and originates from deep below the surface.
  13. When Lenz arrived at Norris Geyser Basin in summer of 1892, a temporary tent hotel had been erected to replace the Norris Hotel that had stood near the basin since 1887 but had burned down that May (Whittlesey, “History of the Norris Area,” 15–19). Lenz seems to have spent very little time visiting Norris Geyser Basin.
  14. The name Elk Park is still used, but “Johnson Park” is not. According to Whittlesey, it may be the same as Gibbon Meadows. The name was probably applied by Superintendent Norris for N. D. Johnson, whom he tried (unsuccessfully) to have appointed as U.S. Commissioner to help control crime—especially poaching—in the park.
  15. The road in 1892 left the Gibbon River and headed southwest, bypassing Madison Junction and the Firehole Canyon (both passed along today’s main road) before continuing south.
  16. The new 1892 road left the Firehole River and turned east up the steep Spring Creek grade to cross the continental divide and descend to Yellowstone Lake. Culpin, Road System, 231.
  17. Gen. William T. Sherman did visit Yellowstone (in 1877), but it was Gen. Philip H. Sheridan’s party who, on an 1882 visit, cut the trail from Jackson Hole to Yellowstone Lake. It became a road only in 1895.
  18. Winser, The Yellowstone National Park, 7.
  19. Owen was the first cyclist who recorded a trip through Yellowstone. The June 1891 issue of Outing contains Owen’s cycling report. The 1890 Outing article is a strong tribute to and plug for travel to the park, written by A. B. Guptill, an employee of Yellowstone photographer and concessionaire Frank J. Haynes.
  20. This conclusion of the Yellowstone section of Lenz’s world tour narrative appeared in Outing 21, no. 6 (March 1893), 444–45.


Excerpted from Through Early Yellowstone: Adventuring by Bicycle, Covered Wagon, Foot, Horseback, and Skis (Granite Peak Publications, 2016), pp. 163-177. Janet Chapple, author of Yellowstone Treasures, compiled the accounts, historical photos, and watercolors in the anthology during a decade of research for her guidebook.


  • Guptill, A. B. “Yellowstone,” Outing: An Illustrated Monthly Magazine of Recreation 16, no. 4, July 1890; 18, no. 3, June 1891.
  • Henderson, George L. Yellowstone Park: Past, Present, and Future, Facts for the Consideration of the Committee on Territories for 1891, and Future Committees. Washington, DC: Gibson Brothers, 1891.
  • Herlihy, David V. The Lost Cyclist: The Epic Tale of an American Adventurer and His Mysterious Disappearance. New York: Houghton Miflin Harcourt, 2010.
  • Lenz, Frank D. “Lenz’s World Tour Awheel,” Parts 1, 4, 5, and 6. Outing: An Illustrated Monthly Magazine of Recreation 20, no. 6 (September 1892): 482; Outing 21, no. 4 (January 1893): 286–90; 21, no. 5 (February 1893): 378–83; 21, no. 6 (March 1893): 444–45.
  • Owen, W. O. “The First Bicycle Tour of the Yellowstone National Park,” Outing: An Illustrated Monthly Magazine of Recreation 18, no. 3 (June 1891), 191–95.
  • Whittlesey, Lee, H. “A Post-1872 History of the Norris Area: Cultural Sites Past and Present,” National Park Service, unpublished document, Yellowstone Heritage and Research Center Library, Yellowstone National Park, Wyoming, 2005, with additions 2007).
  • ——— Yellowstone Place Names, 1st ed., Helena, MT: Montana Historical Society Press, 1988; 2nd ed., Gardiner, MT: Wonderland Publishing, 2006.
  • Whittlesey, Lee H., and Elizabeth Watry. Ho! For Wonderland: Travelers’ Accounts of Yellowstone, 1872–1914. Albuquerque, NM: University of New Mexico Press, 2009.
  • Winser, Henry Jacob. The Yellowstone National Park: A Manual for Tourists. New York: G. D. Putnam’s Sons, 1883.

From the Notes on the Illustrations:

Albert Hencke (1865–1936) contributed three paintings to the Lenz Outing articles about Yellowstone. He was born and studied art in St. Louis, Missouri, then studied in California and New York City. He was a book and magazine illustrator, known especially for children’s paintings and pen-and-ink drawings.

(Visited 1,172 times, 1 visits today)