Climbing Over Beartooth Pass
We drove across the bottom of Montana from Billings to Silver Lake, the tiny, tiny town where we stayed at the northeastern tip of Yellowstone. The drive was filled with picturesque fields dotted with cows, and beautiful large log homes on sprawling ranches. There is clearly more money in Montana. We stopped in Red Lodge to grab some lunch and a brew at the Red Lodge Ale House (little picture below) on our way and regretted, for a moment, not staying in that town. It was rugged-fancy, with upscale stores and swanky-looking hotels, all tucked into a mountain-lined backdrop. We had a delicious Hefeweizen and shared a panini with roast beef, provolone and a blue cheese spread (OMG, was it yummy) and continued what we thought would be another hour to our destination. I looked at my Google Map app on my iphone to plan for the next leg and noticed that the road looked like a major zigzag coming up. Hmmm, I thought. I showed it to Kerry who thought that maybe there was a problem with the application. We headed out….and up.
The climb on the Beartooth Highway started almost right away and the switchbacks took us up, up, up, climbing to the dizzyingly-steep elevation of 12,000 feet. Kerry was white-knuckled as she clutched the wheel around every sharp turn and the many parts of the steep road without a guard rail. Out the windows was an amazing view of the Custer, Gallatin, and Shoshone National forests from a rare and beautiful high perspective, if you dared to look. The highest snow-capped peaks, which seemed so distant at the start of the drive, crept closer and closer. At a few points we passed bikers, on this skinny road, and I marveled at their nerves of steel (and the thighs they must have to get up this grade!!)
Towards the top, we noticed that they gerry-rigged the posts on either side of the road, to double their height. We realized that this is because the snow plows use the posts to find the road to plow.
We were talking to a local in Silver Gate and he said that the plowing happens in May (!!) At the top of the mountain, there were rolling green fields, dotted with stones, that reminded me of Ireland.
We got out to get a picture and couldn’t even open the doors without a struggle, because of the wind. Oh, and the temperature had dropped like 30 degrees and it was FREEZING out there. The photo-taking was very brief.
The terrain mellowed a little on the other side, with lots of switchbacks, but the grade was less steep. There were beautiful mountain lakes everywhere and snow snuggled beside the grass on the shady parts. When we got to the bottom of the pass and entered Yellowstone, we pulled over by a stream to catch our breath and let our stomachs settle. The altitude was making us both a little woozy, but we were exhilarated by what we saw.