According to Destination Red Lodge, Beartooth Highway is “the most beautiful roadway in America.” Maybe “roadway” is the operative term here, being used in a very specific way, because I sure do enjoy Highway 101 along the Pacific Coast, and The Going to the Sun Road in Glacier Nat. Park, and even Skyline Drive along the Blue Ridge Mountains. What have aI missed?
But I’ll give this route high status with those incredible drives.
It winds up directly from the town of Red Lodge, curving sharply in switchbacks so you can see cars below you and above, parallel to you. It climbs 1,500 feet in only 7 miles, and then, in 70, meets Yellowstone’s northeast entrance. (You can tell I actually looked up the details this time.)
We drove about 40 miles up and west on it, then drove back one afternoon, and it was a real treat even just from the car. I can see why all those motorcyclists come here each year.
Early on, we peered down one slope of the mountains and thought we saw the trailer glinting in the sunlight far below at Rock Creek.
We drove above Glacier Lake that we’d been so proud to hike to a few days ago (I couldn’t get a good picture; here’s a very pretty lake instead).
We stopped at Beartooth Pass at 11,000 feet, and Tracy climbed a huge rock pile to get a 365-degree view of the world.
(I stayed back and took his picture, here and at the very top. A couple was climbing the pile with their baby and toddler, and I swear if they hadn’t been so cheerful I’d guess it was a human sacrifice about to happen. Between parents hiking perilous trails with their small children in cowboy boots and idiots riding ATVs with babies in their laps, I’d had enough close calls with child death on this trip.)
We drove after the peak, loving the way these mountains form gentle plateaus, all at about the same elevation, so at the top you get grassy fields and lakes, and if you ignore the snow and don’t look down any cliffs, it seems like you’re down at sea level in any old field. It’s lovely.
On the way down through Wyoming, we stopped at a series of small lakes to go for a hike. Our real motivation was to get Banjo to go swimming so she’d clean off her legs; she’s been wallowing in the dirt at the campground. Mission accomplished.
She enjoyed smelling the air up in the mountains, but more relieved to get back to the campsite; she watched out the window as we wound our way up and down the passes with an anxious look.
Suddenly our canyon home seemed downright safe and civilized.
Saying Goodbye to a Special Place
We would have stayed along Rock Creek longer, but our waste tanks were full before the weekend, so we had a choice: 1) hitch up, go into town and dump, go back into the canyon and park again with the great luck we started with on the canyon’s edge, or 2) hitch up, pull out, and hit the road.
We would have stayed and hiked more and spent time in the town of Red Lodge more (beer wasn’t bad at the brewery), but it’s time to hit the road.
I don’t want to forget the two deer that stalked Tracy each night on his walk with Banjo: his face when he got back in the trailer each time was full of fear. Poor guy. Of all the animals in the woods, he’s threatened by deer.
And the beer in the Yellowstone Wildlife Refuge that eats grapes off the vine as delicately as Banjo eats huckleberries off the bush.
The crow that says, “Ola” perfectly.
Goodbye Beartooth Mountains! Montana, we have more to see here.