Our northernmost point in 2018 – Montana

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Once in a while I like to look back and reminisce about where we were in our travels on certain dates, holidays or occasions.  Then I quiz my darling husband to see if he can remember, which he hates because he rarely answers correctly.  My memory is much better than his, and he admits that’s true 🙂

While writing this post I quizzed him on what was the farthest point north we were during each of the previous 6 years.  He failed miserably, but I remembered and decided to list them below. And if you like you can click on each link and see what we did on those stops and reminisce with me.

2012 – Fairbanks, Alaska

2013 – Prince Edward Island, Canada

2014 – Upper Peninsula, Michigan

2015 – Winnipeg, Manitoba

2016 – Edmonton, Alberta

2017 – Corrales, New Mexico

Our northernmost visit during 2018 is Missoula, MT.  To get there, we crisscrossed from Wallowa, OR along beautiful Rattlesnake Grade, which straddles the Oregon/Washington border.  I enjoyed taking pictures of the awesome views as Steve carefully guided Betsy along SR 129, a steep road that hugged tightly to verticle hillsides and wrapped around multiple gullies and ridges in 25 mph speed zones.

SR 129 twists back and forth for miles to traverse the elevation change of Rattlesnake Grade

We climbed back out of the canyon from where we started down way back there

Orofino, Idaho

Sticking to our rule of driving 200 miles or less per day, we touched 3 states on this drive – Oregon, Washington, and Idaho – before my handsome captain burned out from all the mountain driving.  We had booked two nights at Clearwater River RV Park as our rest stop.  The small town of Orofino is nestled in a valley bordered on one side by the historic Clearwater River (Lewis and Clark Trail) and the other by a 54-mile-long lake created by the Dworshak Dam.  And what a dam it is!

Ahhh, the river rushing by right behind our site was sooooo soothing!

We immediately noticed that Dworshak Dam wasn’t like the others we’ve toured.  It’s a straight-axis concrete gravity dam standing 717′ tall with a crest length crossing of 3,287′.  It’s the largest of its type ever constructed by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, a flood risk management project that was completed in 1973 after seven years of construction.

Dworshak Dam

Dworshak Dam is the highest straight-axis concrete gravity dam in North America

Steve and I were the only tourists on the first guided tour of the day.  We were taken down to a galley which runs about 3/4 of a mile through the entire dam.  Have you ever looked down a hallway that’s 3/4 of a mile long?  It’s an amazing experience, I’ll tell you that!

After walking only halfway down that galley we were guided to an excellent diorama that showed how the dam was built, then we went to the top of the structure for the walk back to the visitor center.  We learned that the COE also built a nearby National Fish Hatchery to offset the loss of natural spawning grounds for Chinook Salmon and Steelhead caused by the dam’s construction.

Missoula, Montana

Entering Missoula, we saw the unmistakable letter “M’ on the slopes of a mountain near the university.  I immediately blurted out that we had to hike to “the Mona Liza M”.  So, on a Monday, Mona Liza hiked to her M in Missoula, Montana!  The hike was short but strenuous, as we climbed 11 switchbacks while gaining 620′ of elevation.

We continued a ways above the “M” for great views of Missoula and the surrounding area

University of Montana

Looking down at the oval at the University of Montana

After the hike, we walked around the campus and looked up at where we had gotten our morning exercise:

Looking back up at the “M”” from the University of Montana oval

We love supporting local farmer’s markets, and Missoula had three of them.  Visiting the Clark Fork Market, I grabbed some pastries and delicious huckleberries to keep my sweet tooth appeased:

Hidden away in Missoula’s surrounding mountains are plenty of hiking opportunities, and we managed to tackle two of them.  We followed Ravine Creek Trail #34 from Lolo National Forest and Sawmill-Curry Gulch Loop Trail in the Rattlesnake Wilderness Area.  They were moderate hikes between 6-7 miles, and we enjoyed them both.

We were happy that we crossed paths with Donald and Gail of Winecoasters Blog, meeting up with them at Highlander Brew Co. for hours of RV’ing and travel stories.  We’re planning to get together with them again in Florida next January.  Thanks for the yummy pizza, we owe you one!

Steve with Donald and Gail

Arlee, Montana

One morning I visited a Buddhist garden of peace called the Garden of 1,000 Buddhas.  Located about 29 miles north of Missoula, it’s dedicated as an International Peace Center, open to all faiths to come and experience peace, enjoy the Montana outdoors, and learn about Tibetan Buddhism.  Click here to learn more about this interesting place.

The garden is a 750′ circular monument that sits on ten acres of rich natural land

The statuary is arranged in the formation of a “wheel of dharma”, meant to represent the “Noble Eightfold Path” which encompasses the eternal cycle of life, death, and rebirth.  I followed a path in a clockwise direction to find peace along the way.  Unfortunately, “lawnmower man” was at work that day and he shattered my experience of peace and tranquility.  But I did find a variety of statues, ponds and vibrant flowers that created a nice contrast to the white buddhas and stupas with their inspirational quotations.

1000 Buddhas statute

Some of the 1,000 Buddha statutes

Somebody has to pose with the Old Man 🙂

Anaconda, Montana

Not far from Butte, our next stop was highlighted by a massive smelter stack on the side of a mountain.  At 585′, the old Anaconda Copper Company smelter stack, completed in 1919, is one of the tallest free-standing brick structures in the world.

The top of the stack is 60′ across, big enough to drive a Jeep around in circles as was done for a commercial

On our first full day, we took a nice 6-mile hike at nearby Lost Creek State Park.  We trekked along a 3,000′ deep canyon with gray limestone cliffs and pink and white granite formations.

Not wanting to miss out on the brewery-rich environment here, we followed our hike with some excellent brews at Smelter City Brewing.  The beers were excellent, and the retro-rebuilt bar made it one of our favorites in a long time.  We just wished they served food, because after that hike I ate about 5 bowls of popcorn!

Philipsburg, Montana

Following a suggestion from the pourer at the brewery, we drove the Pintler Scenic Highway from Anaconda the next day to check out the restored mining town of Philipsburg.  The Hwy 1 scenic byway follows the northern shoreline of Georgetown Lake, a beautiful and busy mountain lake tucked away at the base of the Anaconda Range.

We loved the quaint little town of Philipsburg

Philipsburg is listed in the National Register of Historic Places as a best-preserved late 19th century mining town.  Silver, Sapphire and Manganese mining led to its boom and growth, but now the economy is based on agriculture, logging and tourism.

Butte, Montana

We passed through Butte on our way to a hike at Thompson Park, and when we saw the town up on the hill we were intrigued.  We wanted to learn more, and what better way to do that than take a narrated trolley tour?   Butte was and still is a mining town.  In the late 1800s, it was deemed “the richest hill on earth”, thanks to the mining of gold, silver, and copper.  But it was copper that put this town on the map, as it produced a fourth of the world’s copper after three men emerged as “copper kings”.  Evidence of the massive mining operations remains, with many headframes standing over the tops of the 10,000 miles of underground excavations.

Butte, Montana

Obviously a major mining town, several shaft headframes dot the landscape

The town of Butte at the height of mining in the 1890s, note the many headframes

Unfortunately, Butte has more recently become infamous due to the unintended creation of a toxic lake known as the Berkeley Pit.  The closure of Kelly Mine, a former copper open-cast mine, gave rise to a “lake” that turned into a nasty toxic and highly acidic cocktail of heavy metal and hazardous chemicals.  In 1995, and again in 2016, thousands of Snow Geese died when they made a stopover at the pit on their southward migration.

The pit now has a 24-hour birdwatch program to prevent birds from landing in the water. Click here for an interesting article about their bird deterring efforts.   Along with the upper Clark Fork River headwaters at Butte, the pit has been declared a superfund site due to its highly contaminated groundwater, surface water and soil.

Berkeley Pit

Entrance to the tunnel that leads to the Berkeley Pit overlook

Berkeley Pit

The Berkeley Pit is a mile long and a half-mile wide, and over 1,780′ deep.  What a mess!

At the World Museum of Mining, we enjoyed touring and exploring a town’s mining legacy through a mock-up of a Wild West frontier mining town of the 1880’s.  Built around the original 100′ tall headframe of the former Orphan Girl Mine, the various displays showed the technological and social history of mining focused on dozens of mines in the Butte area.  Steve enjoyed this tour a bit more than I did – it must be a guy thing!

On the guided underground mine tour we were told about a fiery disaster in one mine that killed 166 miners in 1917.  We also learned that thousands of mules played a major role in getting ore from the mines, living and working underground their entire lives.

Unrelated to mining, we saw the Our Lady of the Rockies statue standing 3,500′ above Butte on the Continental Divide.

The 90′ tall Our Lady of the Rockies statue stands watch over Butte

We found Butte to be a very interesting city, well worth spending some time to poke around in.  While we wouldn’t want to live there, its history and unique mining history make it an interesting and worthwhile stop.

Final sunset for us in Montana – so long!

That wraps up our visit to quaint and historic towns in beautiful Montana!

 

Next up:  Back to Idaho!



 

The rest of our scenic hikes – Glacier NP, MT

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Two Medicine Lake
Big Horn Sheep

Howdy folks, welcome to my trail!

Although we’ve spent three weeks at Glacier National Park, we hiked only a few of its 734 miles of trails.  This place offers many outdoor activities, but exploring on foot remains our preferred method.

This is my 4th post about the park, and I hope folks remain interested in seeing the incredible views, wildlife and wildflowers there.

If you missed those previous posts, click here for enchanting waterfalls, here for picturesque lakes and here for receding glaciers.

Logan Pass

Showing off my bear spray

Highland Trail (at Logan’s Pass)

One of the top hikes at GNP is the moderately-difficult Highland Trail.  If you can do only one hike, this might be the one.  It’s rather long at 7.6 miles one way, but there’s a nice turnaround spot at Haystack Butte or anywhere else along the way if you’re just looking for a short trek that displays the best that the park has to offer.

The trail follows the Continental Divide below the sawtoothed Garden Wall and gains 1,300′ (and losses 3,700′ if you go all the way to the Loop at Granite Park Chalet).  The first 7.6 miles from Logan’s Pass to the chalet filled our eyes and camera cards with the incredible beauty of this place.  We trekked past streams, creeks, avalanche chutes, alpine meadows, wildflowers galore and several Bighorn Sheep.

The final 4 miles on the Loop Trail from the chalet is a steep downhill knee-rattling hike through burned forests to the Loop Shuttle Stop.  But what a hike it was!

Highline Trail

The start of the trail near Logan’s Pass

Livingstone Pass

The sun slowly creeping up on the Livingston Range

Highline Trail

Looking down at Going-to-the Sun Road on the west side of the park

Alpine Meadows

Oh the flowers, the flowers!

Highline Trail

Granite park Chalet

Historic Granite Park Chalet ahead

Garden Wall

This spur trail leads to the Garden Wall overlooking Grinnell and Salamander Glaciers.  It’s another strenuous trail off the Highline Trail, and we didn’t add it to this long journey

Heavens Peak

Heavens Peak was visible on our descent

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Loop trail

The hillsides on the steep descent were brimming with scarlet red Indian Paintbrush

For this hike, we parked at Logan’s Pass at 7AM, hiked the trail 11.6 miles one way over the Highline and Loop trails, then caught the shuttle at the Loop Shuttle Stop to get back to the visitor center at Logan’s Pass.  It was a long and fantastic hike.

Big Horn Sheep

This guy was not shy at all, and for once I was the one running away when he got too close!

Scenic Point (Two Medicine Lake area)

On paper, this one scared us a bit.  A 2,300′ elevation gain over 3.9 miles to the top?  Honey, hand me the Advil!  In reality the incline was constant over the whole ascent, with none of the knee-killing super-steep ascents I had feared.

Foal

Morning stroll for the foals as we drove to our hike

Ferocious local horses on Highway 49

Lots of horsepower along Hwy 49

This trail gradually leaves the woods behind and just as we crested a ridge some barren patches of dead trees came into view.  The chalk-white trees were a result of Whitebark Pine Blister Rust, a fungal disease that was accidentally introduced from Europe around 1900. According to a park brochure, nearly half of the original Whitebark Pine population here is already dead.  It’s estimated that more than 75% of the remaining trees are infected with the disease as well, and they will die within the next 20 years.  Very sad, and major scientific work is being done to squash the epidemic.

Ghost Pine Trees

Ghostly Pine Trees

Ghost Pine Trees

Dancers on a hill

Two Medicine Lake is out of the main area of the park, and much quieter – we encountered only a few people on the way back down.

Two Medicine Lake

Two Medicine Lake

Apgar Lookout (west side of the park)

The day we tackled this 7.1-mile out and back trail, rain was forecast to arrive at 11AM.  To get ahead of it we began early and picked up the trailhead at the southwest corner of the park.  It climbed to a two-story wood frame lookout tower at the summit that was built in 1929.

Although no longer in use, the fire tower is considered an historical structure, and is listed on the National Register of Historic Places.  For the most part this trail is exposed, as the area was ravaged by the 2003 Reynolds fire that gutted 13% of the park’s total area.

Apgar Lookout

At the summit, we had a so-so view of Lake McDonald and some of the distant peaks of Glacier NP.  We enjoyed our perch for only a short time, as we could feel the weather change and hear thunder in the distance.  Even though it rained on us a bit on the way back to the car, we got a great workout hustling down the mountain.

A couple of feathered friends gave us “the eye” as we made our way along:

Apgar Lookout

New growth – things are looking good after the Reynolds Fire of 2003

Danny On Trail

This trail is actually outside of Glacier NP and on the nearby Whitefish Mountain Ski Resort.  What makes it interesting is that it offers options to ride the ski lift down after a 4-mile hike up to the summit, or up first to hike back down.  We had originally intended to hike up and down, but an appointment for Betsy forced us to pick one – and of course we chose to hike up and ride the lift back down.

Danny on Trail

I finally succumbed and got hiking poles, thanks to my knee injury

Danny on Trail

Another mile to the summit, then an easy cruise back down on the lift

Danny On Trail

Whitefish Lake and Mountain Resort seen from the ski lift

After all the crazy roads Betsy has been on, we finally got a big rock hit on a nice stretch of Montana highway.  It cracked about 6″, and we called a repair guy to come out and try to stop it from progressing.

The crack is near the bottom of the windshield, so it’s not in our field of view as we drive.  If we make it in and out of Canada with no further damage, we’ll reassess and determine whether to replace the windshield.

Betsy windshield

Betsy’s windshield repair – hoping for the best!

Socialize and Patronize

John and Sharon of On the Road of Retirement had arrived in the area, so a meet-up was in order.  We had lots of catching up to do, since we last saw them when we met in Florida in January of 2014.  It appears our paths will be criss-crossing this coming winter, and we’re looking forward to more get-togethers with them.

John and Sharon

After 2 1/2 years we meet again with John and Sharon for beer and good munchies

We had a blast shopping at the local stands and markets around Hungry Horse and Columbia Falls, getting all the goodies we’ll need for the next part of our journey:

While on the west side we camped at Mountain Meadows RV Park (Steve’s review here).

Although both sides of Glacier NP offered tons of outdoor fun, we preferred hanging out on the east side, where we enjoyed less crowding and more choices of hiking trails.

And yes, we took a break from all of those scenic hikes:

Mountain Meadows RV Park

Mountain Meadows RV Park was quite to our liking

Our three weeks of exploration at Glacier NP was memorable.  It’s definitely near the top of our list of favorite National Parks!

 

Next Up:  Crossing borders again



A Hike to Receding Glaciers – Glacier National Park, MT

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Many Glacier Hotel

According to the U.S. Geological Surveyglacial recession is well underway with many completely gone.  The retreat of these alpine glaciers reflects recent changes in climate as they respond to altered temperatures and precipitation. It’s been estimated that approximately 150 glaciers existed in Glacier National Park in 1850, and most were still present in 1910 when the park was established.  In 2010, only about 25 glaciers larger than 25 acres remained in the park.

A computer-based climate model predicts some of the park’s largest glaciers will vanish by 2030 (Hall and Fagre, 2003). This is only one model prediction, but if true the park’s glaciers could disappear completely in the next couple of decades.  However, glacier disappearance may occur even earlier, as many are retreating faster than their predicted rates.

Grinnell Glacier 1910

This 1910 photo shows Grinnell Glacier poised at the top of the waterfalls in the foreground, joined with Salamander Glacier in the background

Grinnell Glacier 2016

As of our hike in July, the wall of ice is gone and Grinnell Glacier is no longer visible from a distance.  Salamander Glacier, now separate, lies along the wall below the ridgeline

One glacier that’s receding at an ever-quickening pace is Grinnell Glacier.  Because of its relatively easy access it’s also one of the most popular destination hikes in the Many Glacier region.

The glacier was named after George Bird Grinnell, who is credited with coining Glacier NP as the “Crown of the Continent.”  He was influential in establishing it as a national park in 1910, and he certainly made his mark on the Many Glacier Valley.  The area has two lakes, a glacier, a mountain and an arete (Grinnell Point) bearing his name.

We started this hike super-early so we could enjoy at least part of it in solitude.  There’s an option to take two boat trips across Swiftcurrent Lake and Lake Josephine to shorten the trek significantly, but the boats didn’t start until 8:30AM.  So we walked the 2.5 miles around both lakes to the starting point of the trail to the summit.

Being here so early, we were rewarded with stillness on the water, and took advantage to capture some reflection shots:

Many Glacier Hotel

Historic Many Glacier Hotel built in a Swiss Alpine theme

Mount Gould

Mount Gould in the center and the Garden Wall to the left

Grinnell Point

Steve stepped up with an interesting capture of Grinnell Point

It was so quiet that we just stood for a while, enjoying the silence and basking in the morning glory.  What a beautiful way to start the day!

Swift current Lake

Swiftcurrent Lake

There was a fork on the trail that allowed us to walk around the lakes either to the north or to the south.  We chose the South Shore Trail, deciding we’d take the north trail back.  The first mile of beautiful wooded area looked like prime bear territory, and we were super-vigilant since we were clearly the first ones on the trail that day.

Grinnell Glacier Trail

We made lots of noise to alert any bears in the area.  Steve said my singing even made him want to run away!

Josephine Lake

Our first glimpse of Salamander Glacier and the surrounding mountains reflecting beautifully on Josephine Lake

After two miles of meandering along the lakes, the trail began to elevate.  For the next 3.5 miles we climbed gradually and gained 1,600′.  This was a long and strenuous hike, with the toughest part being the last half mile of switchbacks up to the summit – after already completing 5.5 miles of huffing and puffing to get there.  But the scenery, wildflowers, waterfalls and lake views on this trek were among the best we’ve every seen, and we stopped frequently to enjoy and capture them.

Without describing the trail in detail, let me share the breathtaking scenery that just kept getting better as we climbed:

Lake Josephine

The first load of boat riders arrives at Lake Josephine at 9:15AM.  Many of these folks took the short 1.1-mile walk to Grinnell Lake instead of hiking up to the glaciers

Lake Josephine

Grinnell Glacier Trail

No bear sightings, but a snake crossed our path

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Grinnell Glacier Trail

Hanging gardens

Bear Grass

Bears don’t eat their namesake flower – Bear Grass

Grinnell Point

Looking up at Grinnell Point

Grinnell Lake

Grinnell Lake sits at the bottom of Angel Wing mountain. Its incredible turquoise color comes from the way light is dispersed by “glacial flour” – rock ground into a fine powder by glaciers

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Grinnell Glacier Trail

Alpine meadows with multi-colored wildflowers in bloom

Grinnell Glacier Trail

This section of trail hangs on a narrow ledge with steep drop-offs.  There were several small waterfalls crossing the trail that we had to navigate, too

Even though we started our hike early, dozens of photo stops delayed our arrival at the summit, and a few folks passed us along the way.  We didn’t get there until about 11:00AM.

And there it was, after a few final steep switchbacks along a boulder-strewn moraine, all three glaciers that sits just below the continental dive were now visible; Gem Glacier, a small rounded glacier, Salamander Glacier that we had seen earlier from the valley floor, and Grinnell Glacier.

Gem Glacier

Gem Glacier is a small rounded glacier perched on the upper left wall of the Continental Divide

Grinnell Glacier

The USGS reports that Grinnell Glacier lost nearly 40% of its total acreage between 1966 and 2005

Grinnell Glacier

Tired but happy hikers with Salamander Glacier at the upper left.  Time for a well-deserved break and  lunch!

Grinnell Valley

Viewing Many Glacier Valley

Glacial action

Glaciers left deep scratch marks on the rocks here

Grinnell Glaciers

Terrace-like ridges caused by glacial movement

When we began our descent around noon, people were swarming up the path and it took seemingly forever to get back down.  After logging 12.2 miles and 7 hours of hiking, we were exhausted and couldn’t wait to get home for a shower and a healthy dinner.  What a great day!

Grinnell Glacier

Looking down from the summit at hikers resting before the final stretch

The three lakes we had passed could be seen from the summit.  Streams from the melting glaciers above feed them, and all three display the characteristic turquoise color of glacial lakes.

Three lakes

A grand view of Grinnell Lake, Lake Josephine, and Sherburne Lake in the distance

This hike may be too long and strenuous for some folks, and dealing with all of the people (especially during the busy summer season) is not fun and requires patience.  But we’re so glad we made this scenic and unforgettable hike!

Grinnell Glacier Trail

This is my new all-time favorite trail!

As the overall trends show, glaciers in the park are quickly receding.  So be sure to get here and see them while you still can!

 

Next Up:  The rest of our scenic hikes at Glacier National Park



 

 

Picturesque Lakes – Glacier National Park

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As you might imagine, Glacier NP has an enormous snowmelt every spring and summer. Water cascades down the mountains and creates hundreds of beautiful waterfalls, some captured in my previous post.  Then the glacial water continues down the cliff walls to fill picturesque lakes.

Of the over 700 lakes within the park, 131 are named.  According to the NPS, Glacier’s water can be considered the headwaters for the entire continent.  From Triple Divide Peak, a droplet can theoretically split three ways and eventually make it to the Pacific, Atlantic or Hudson Bay watersheds.

Lake McDonald

Lake McDonald viewed from Apgar Village, with craggy mountain peaks as the backdrop

Having hiked to some enchanting waterfalls, our interest moved to the lakes that receive the meltwater.  Two of the park’s big lakes are accessible from Going-to-the-Sun Road, and are therefore very popular.  The hub of activity on the west side is Lake McDonald, the largest of the many glacially-carved lakes.

Lake McDonald

Lake McDonald looking south from Lake McDonald Lodge. Note the multi-colored rocks

On the east side is St. Mary Lake – the park’s second largest – which provides incredible views of the mountains bordering it.  The boat tour we took was at St. Mary Lake, that post is here.

Saint Mary Lake

St. Mary Lake viewed from Going-to-the-Sun Road.  There’s tiny Wild Goose island out in the lake

Smaller lakes in the backcountry require hiking to reach, and we picked a few to head up to.

Fish Lake (west)

The 3-mile trail leading to Fish Lake begins a steep ascent almost immediately, passing through old growth forests of red cedar, western larch and hemlock to a dense spruce-fir forest at higher elevations.  We didn’t like that this trail is also used for horseback riding excursions, but at least we got up there before those smelly creatures did.

We saw day-old bear scat on the trail, which kept us very “bear alert” all the way to the lake. This 8-acre lake is lined with lily pads and surrounded by dense forest.  The quiet setting (we were all alone) made it a good choice for our breakfast, as we arrived before 8:30AM.

Fish Lake Trail

Bear Scat

Yup, a bear was there

Fish Lake

Breakfast with a view at Fish Lake, which is filled with lilies and surrounded by dense forest

Avalanche Lake (west)

This was a great trek that reminded us of many trails we’ve hiked in the pacific northwest. The first segment is on a raised boardwalk, called The Trail of Cedars, as it passes through a forest of ancient western hemlock and red cedar.  These huge old-growth trees created a wonderful canopy for us to walk under, as we moved parallel to a rushing creek.

A moderate hike of about 5 miles roundtrip, the lake with several dramatic waterfalls feeding it was our reward.  The large number of people we encountered on our way back to the car was testimony to how popular this trail is.  Highly recommended, but be sure to start early!

Trail of the Cedar

Ancient trees that were still young when Thomas Jefferson crafted the Declaration of Independence

Avalanche Gorge

Lower Avalanche Gorge, one of the highlights along this trail

Avalanche Lake

Multiple waterfalls feed the lake

Avalanche Lake

Avalanche Lake sits at the base of 8,694′ Bearhat Mountain, which rises almost 4,800′ higher

Avalanche Lake

Another view of the pristine lake

Hidden Lake (east)

For good reason, Hidden Lake is one of the most popular destinations in the park.  The trail features views of alpine meadows and rugged peaks.  As always, starting early was the best way to enjoy solitude – at least for a while.

The trail started at the west side of the Logan Pass visitor center, with a 500′ ascent on a raised boardwalk built into the mountain.  That got the blood pumping pretty good right away.  Then it was a fairly easy walk to the platform that overlooks the lake at the 1.5-mile mark.  The majority of folks stop there to enjoy outstanding panoramic views of the lake and surrounding mountains, but they don’t continue the challenge down the mountain to the lake.

Hidden Lake Trail

Snow still lingers well into July

But we continued to the lake, tackling the strenuous 780′ descent/ascent over the next 1.2 miles to the shoreline.  At just under 6 miles round trip, this was a great hike on which we encountered Hoary Marmots, Mountain Goats and a swath of vibrant wildflowers.

Mountain Goat

On the way to the lake, this friendly guy gave us a good morning greeting!

Hoary Marmot

A Hoary Marmot playing in the meadow stopped to say hello

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What a wonderful palette of wildflowers we’ve been blessed with all this summer!

Hidden Lake

Hidden Lake at the base of Bearheart Mountain

Hidden Lake

Colored rocks glimmer from under the water

Hidden Lake

You will huff and you will puff when you climb away from this lake!

As expected, on our way back the trail from the visitor center to the overlook platform was swamped with people.  The parking lot was total chaos as cars circled around looking for a spot.  We were told the parking lot at Logan Pass fills up as early as 8:00AM, so remember that if you drive here during the busy months!

Mountain Goat

Another mountain goat ignores the paparazzi

Hidden Lake

Crowds on the trail picking up

The lakes in Glacier National Park are stunning, with the towering mountains rising up right at their shorelines.  Their waters are absolutely clear, and not surprisingly also cold even in late summer.  Although we’ve seen only a few of the 700+ lakes here, we have no doubt they all have one thing in common – incredible scenery in an unspoiled environment.

Hidden Lake

I had to save my favorite picture of pristine Hidden Lake for last

So far we’ve hiked to cascading waterfalls and picturesque lakes.  Next up is a hike to one of the few remaining glaciers that’s a source of the beautiful water here.

Next up:  Hiking to a receding glacier



 

Waterfalls and Mountains – Glacier National Park

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Glacier National Park

A visit to Montana’s Glacier National Park had been on our wishlist since long before we began our RV adventure.  Now into our fifth year of full timing, we finally arrived.  Having been here for more than a week now, we can attest to the park’s beauty as awe-inspiring, stunning and dramatic.

Glacier National Park

Glacier National Park east entrance

Within its 1 million acres, Glacier NP is comprised of high alpine meadows, glacially-carved mountain peaks and valleys, hundreds of lakes, cascading waterfalls, glaciers, rolling foothills and unparalleled vistas.  I initially thought the park was named for its existing glaciers, but actually it’s for the work done by earlier glaciers at the conclusion of the last ice age.

Those glaciers left scoured dip valleys, sharp ridges, carved rugged mountains and deep lakes.  Of the 150 or so glaciers known to have existed in the mid-19th century, only about 25 remain.  Global warming models predict that by 2030 – or even sooner – they will be gone as well.

Going to the Sun Mountain

Going-to-the-Sun Mountain, the namesake of the Going-to-the-Sun Road

Jackson Glacier

Jackson Glacier is one of the 25 remaining glaciers

Many hikes begin at trailheads along the Going-to-the-Sun Road, the only highway that crosses the park from east to west.  An engineering marvel and National Historic Landmark, the road spans 50 miles and crests at the Continental Divide at Logan Pass (6,646′).

Free shuttles run on the east-west route, with Logan Pass as the transfer point to proceed to either side.  Coming in for a quick visit, folks would probably want to take shuttles or drive their own car (start EARLY) to best see the park in a hurry.

Of course, staying a while and hiking as many of the wonderful trails as possible is really the way to go!

Triple Arches

Triple arches on Going-to-the-Sun Road blend a man-made structure into the surrounding environment

Going to the Sun Road at Sun Rift Gorge

Going-to-the-Sun Road at Sunrift Gorge

St. Mary Area Waterfalls hike

We were camped right outside the east entrance to the park, at Johnson’s of St. Mary RV Park (Steve’s review here).  With dozens of trails to choose from, we decided to warm up with the St. Mary Area Waterfalls hike.  Armed with our latest hiking accessory – bear spray – we tried the park’s shuttle service from the east entrance visitor center at 7AM.  We got off at popular St. Mary Falls and noticed several cars already parked in the small lot.

We followed the moderate trail that descends 200′ to St. Mary Falls and then climbs 250′ to Virginia Falls.  This area was involved in the July, 2015 Reynolds Creek Fire that burned 4,800 acres.  It wiped out all of the trees, but the area is recovering rapidly as evidenced by new growth and the incredible variety of wildflowers – most notably the Alpine Fireweed – blooming in abundance.

Saint Marys Falls Trail

We hiked through burnt stands of fir, spruce and cedar which graced the west end of St. Mary Lake

Alpine Fireweed

Alpine Fireweed

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Saint Mary Falls

St. Mary Falls gushes through a rocky channel, thundering down 50′ feet over two tiers

Unnamed Falls

Unnamed Falls, a quite impressive cascade that drops in a series of four separate tiers

Virginia Falls

Virginia Falls tumbles 100′ down a string of tiers

Since we didn’t even break a sweat on this short 3-mile trek, we added a segment of another trail that continued along the cliffs to descend toward St. Mary Lake.

St Mary's Lake

St. Mary Lake glimmers behind this colorful, but ailing, tree

Eventually we reached a small boat dock (which we actually docked at later in the day) then turned left to Baring Falls, only a couple hundred yards away.

Barring Falls

Baring Falls drops about 25′

From here we climbed back up to the road to end our hike at 5.6 miles, then took the shuttle from Sunrift Gorge back toward the visitor center.

Baring Creek Bridge

Archway of the Sunrift Gorge Bridge

Sun rift Gorge

Sunrift Gorge is a straight steep canyon cut through the bedrock just 200′ off the main road. All of these waterfalls feed into St. Mary Lake, the second largest in the park

Rising Sun Boat Tour

We thought this day in the park was over, but our shuttle driver was very persuasive when she told us it was a perfect day for a boat tour on the lake, if we could get a seat.  When she stopped at the Rising Sun Boat Tour stop, Steve jumped off and got tickets ($26 each), then we had lunch as we waited for our tour.

Rising Sun Boat dock

A family-owned business, the boat tours have been offered at four locations in the park (Many Glacier, Lake McDonald, St. Mary Lake and Two Medicine) since 1938.  The 1.5-hour narrated tour at St Mary’s Lake features classic wooden boats.

Little Chief

Our boat “Little Chief” at Baring Dock, where folks were allowed to check out the falls we had hiked past earlier.  Note the scarred trees in the background

Instead of describing the tour, I’ll let my photos tell the story of of the immense mountains and lake scenery we viewed during our relaxing ride.

St Mary Lake

Diseased trees displaying orange and brown contrasting colors

Wild goose island

Iconic Wild Goose Island, a little spot the initial glacier failed to carve out of the deep lake

Wild Goose Island

A different perspective – Wild Goose Island seen from Going-to-the-Sun Road

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Glacier National Park

Heavy Runner on the far right and Reynolds Mountain to its left

Fullisade Mtn

Fusillade Mountain on the right and Gunsight Mountain on the left

Baring Dock

Crystal clear St. Mary Lake with Dusty Star Mountain in the background

Little Chief Mountain

Little Chief Mountain on the left and About-to-be-a-Dog Mountain on the right

Baring waterfall

A waterfall cascading from Sexton Glacier to Sunrift Gorge, running under the Going-to-the-Sun bridge, through Baring Falls and into the lake

Divide Mountain

Divide Mountain marking the border between the Blackfeet Indian Nation and Glacier NP

East Glacier NP shuttle

The shuttles on the east side of the park run only every 45 minutes – far too long between shuttles when the park is busy.  After the boat tour we waited 40 minutes for the next shuttle, which zoomed right by because it was full.  Now we were getting very unhappy.

We started walking toward the visitor center and our car, but it was a daunting 5-mile walk along the busy highway with no shoulders.  I suggested we wait at the next shuttle stop just up the road, but it went to Logan Pass – the opposite direction.  Steve agreed with me that it was better to take a trip up to Logan Pass and back and see the scenery, than to sit around and stew for another 45 minutes hoping for a shuttle with space.

Rising Sun Dock

An unhappy camper waits for the woefully understaffed shuttle service

It turned out to be a good move.  Enjoying our first scenic views of Logan Pass, we ended up back at our car an hour later.  This is terrible shuttle service – these shuttles should be running every 15-20 minutes like on the west side of the park!  We never took the east side shuttle again, instead driving our car early in the mornings to guarantee parking for our hikes.

And these hikes were just for starters!

 

Next up:  Picturesque glacial lakes



 

Dams, Waterfalls and Prairies – Great Falls, MT

Comments 20 Standard

The city of Great Falls is named after a series of 5 waterfalls flowing downstream on the Missouri River, running through the heart of town.  Within this 15-mile stretch of the river exists an overall elevation change of over 500′.  This dramatic drop in the river gave the Corps of Discovery, led by Lewis and Clark, a hard time on their historical westward expedition in July, 1805.

Great Falls of the Missouri

Going overland around the falls was such a challenge that it took them a month to move everything upstream above the last waterfall – a scant 18-mile journey.  This area is considered the Great Falls portage, the midpoint of their westward journey that symbolizes the most grueling stretch of the expedition to this point.

Portage of the Great Falls Diorama

A diorama of the portage of the Great Falls

We delved into the Portage at Great Falls at the Lewis and Clark National Historic Interpretive Center, viewing the exhibits that chronicle the entire route of the Corps of Discovery.  We watched a 30-minute video that brought to life the experiences of that historic expedition.  It reminded us that we’ve intersected and visited many sections of the Lewis and Clark Trail as we’ve zig-zagged along during our travels .

Missouri River

Missouri River cutting through the city of Great Falls

The 5 waterfalls (Colter, Black Eagle, Ryan, Rainbow and Crooked Falls) made the city of Great Falls “the Electric City”, as each one (except Colter, which is submerged now) sported a hydroelectric dam.  Lewis and Clark could never imagine that the obstacles stalling their journey could turn into projects that would meet the region’s energy needs.

Corp of Discovery

A new member of the Corps of Discovery points to Black Eagle Dam (he’s the one with no rust on him – yet)

Lewis and Clark Trail

On June 13, 1805, Lewis set out in search of the falls of the Missouri River, which the Mandan Indians had alerted him to.  Within one day he not only discovered the Great Falls, but went on to find four more.  On our visit we saw the same waterfalls, similar in appearance except for the dams constructed behind them.

 

Great Falls of Missouri

Great Falls as first seen by Lewis in June, 1805

Great Falls of Missouri

Today the Great Falls of Missouri is the Ryan Dam Great Falls

Ryan Falls Dam

Close-up of the falls below Ryan Dam

The second fall Lewis saw was what he called Crooked Falls:

Crooked Falls Dam

Crooked Falls

During the expedition he saw another, saying: “here the river pitches over a shelving rock, with an edge as regular and straight as if formed by art, without a niche or break in it; the water descends in one even and uninterrupted sheet…”

Rainbow Falls Dam

Rainbow Falls Dam

Rainbow Falls Dam

Close up view of Rainbow Falls

Two miles above Rainbow Falls, Lewis came upon the fifth cataract, 26′ high and nearly 600 yards wide.  He called it simply “upper pitch”, and it was later renamed Black Eagle Falls.

Black Eagle Falls Dam

Black Eagles Falls Dam

Black Eagles Falls Dam

Rivers Edge TrailFollowing the Rivers Edge Trail along the both sides of the Missouri River provided us not only with scenic views of the river, dams and waterfalls, but also a variety of wildlife, grasslands and other attractions.  It traverses the Lewis and Clark National Historic Interpretive Center, the Giant Springs State Park and a protected river frontage lined with commercial and business development.  This is one of those times when we really missed our bikes 😦

Northshore Trail

Verifying our location on the North Shore Trail along the river

Walking along, we came across the historic Giant Springs landmark, also discovered by the Lewis and Clark Expedition in 1805.  It’s one of the largest freshwater springs in the country. I jumped when a rattlesnake rattled next to the path as I walked by, but by the time Steve got there to save me it was gone.  No picture of that snake!

Giant Springs of Montana

Giant Springs, as its name implies, is huge and flows at a rate of 156 million gallons of water per day, at a constant temperature of 54º.  This is really beautiful and shouldn’t be missed!

Great Springs

Giant Springs is crystal clear, and submerged emerald green vegetation shimmers in the sun

Giant Springs feeds into Roe River, which is only 201′ long and was once listed in the Guinness Book of World Records as the world’s shortest river.

Roe River

One of the world’s shortest rivers feeds into the longest river in the U.S. the Missouri River

And here’s just a few of the many wildlife along the river.

Great Horned Owl

Great Horned Owl winked at me then went back to sleep

Weasel

Weasel!

White Pelicans

White Pelicans

Bullocks Oriole

Bullocks Oriole

 

Rivers Edge Trail

 

Rivers Edge Trail, Great Falls Montana

Art under the bridge

Just minutes from Great Falls is the First Peoples Buffalo Jump State Park, an archaeological site.  Long before the arrival of Lewis and Clark, native people used this site for at least a thousand years.  The term “first people” refers to the indigenous peoples in the area and is preferred over terms like Native American and Indian.

First Buffalo Jump State Park

There are more than 300 buffalo kill sites in Montana, and First People’s Buffalo Jump is one of only three protected buffalo jumps in the state.  It consists of a mile-long sandstone cliff; there are remnants of drive lines on top of the cliff that hold up to 18′ of compacted buffalo remains below.

First Peoples Buffalo Jump State Park

Looking up at the mile-long sandstone cliff where the buffalo were driven to their death – very sad

Here we followed the 3-mile loop from the visitor center to the jump.  With a trail guide in hand, we learned about the first people, the prairie and the buffalo jump story.

Buffalo jumps were a way to kill large numbers of the animals at one time without many of the risks associated with a close-proximity ambush.  Once the animals were driven over the cliff and incapacitated, they would be slaughtered.  Their meat, hides, and bones would be used by the hunters to feed and clothe their families, and to make various tools and weapons.

Buffalo Jump

Steve stands where the poor buffalo were driven over the cliffs

The visitor center had exhibits of archaeological evidence showing this place as a well-used hunting and food processing area for hundreds of years.  The kind of bones and artifacts at the foot of the cliff confirm that the bison were killed and at least partially butchered where they fell.

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While there are no more bison roaming around here, we can only imagine what the stampede might have been like.  We did see a few critters during our walk, though:

First Peoples Buffalo Jump

And that concludes our one-week stay at Great Falls, Montana!

 

Next up:  Breathtaking Glacier National Park



 

Out and about in Red Lodge, Montana

Comments 15 Standard

At an elevation of 5,555′, Red Lodge is set against some of Montana’s highest mountain peaks.  According to tradition, a band of Crow Indians left the main triage and moved west into the foothills of the Beartooth Range many years ago.  They painted their council tepee with red-clay, and this old-time artistry resulted in the name Red Lodge.

Red Lodge Montana

Red Lodge, Montana

Although it’s a destination town as well as a home base for lots year-round activities, Red Lodge retains a laid back atmosphere, and we really liked that.  It’s also a gateway to Yellowstone National Park by way of beautiful Beartooth Scenic Highway, which we had driven just a few days previously.  It’s a quaint historic western town with a bustling main street surrounded by unspoiled beauty.

Broadway Street, Red Lodge Montana

Broadway Street, Red Lodge Montana

We always try to patronize small town businesses.  Here we bought scones at Wild Table and beer at Red Lodge Ales Brewing Co. (although we weren’t crazy about their beers), grabbed a few things at the natural foods store and got some hiking items at another small shop.

We learned that our friends Dave and Faye were not too far from Red Lodge, and we were happy to meet up with them for beer and pizza, and lots of exciting discussion about their upcoming Canada/Alaska adventure.  We’re so envious!

Dave and Faye

Safe travels to Alaska, Dave and Faye

We had fickle weather while here, thunderstorms and hail several afternoons and a storm that shut down the Beartooth Scenic Byway for a couple of days.  Fortunately we had already completed that drive.

On one of those bad weather afternoons, a wind microburst shook Betsy as we heard large tree branches breaking all around us.  Betsy got some scratches on one side, but we felt very fortunate one of those large branches didn’t fall on the roof and cause major damage.

Several of our neighbors came over and we all pitched in to cut up the branches with chain saws and move them into large piles.  It was really a mess that took park personnel a couple of days to clean up.

Perry's Campground

We lucked out – this branch could have caused a lot of damage.  In 20 minutes it was cut up and moved, thanks to good folks pitching in to help!

Our favorite entertainment here involved cute little piglets seven miles south of Red Lodge. For one evening we became small-time gamblers, doling out $10 to bet on “racing” pigs. Turns out the Bear Creek Saloon hosts these races, and also serves one of the best steak dinners we’ve had in quite a while.  After “pigging out” ourselves, we were excited to learn more about the races.

We learned that after a lengthy legal battle their Pig Racing was eventually made legal in House Bill 433 in 1993.  We’re glad, because we had a blast and got a lot of laughs – although our little piggy didn’t win.  The races are dubbed Bear Creek Downs, with proceeds funding local scholarships.  Good stuff, and be sure not to miss this attraction if it’s happening when you’re here.

Pig Races

And their off!

Bear Creek Downs

Coming down the back stretch our red piggy was looking good, but the blue one in front hogged the whole track!

The piglets are all between 5–6 weeks old and are “retired” at 10–12 weeks old.  They’re well-fed and taken care of, and they actually seem to enjoy the race and the attention of everyone urging them on.

Pig Races

Heading to the gates to duke it out.  A face only a mother could love!

Next we were culturally entertained.  We learned about a recently-opened music and art center founded by philanthropists and artists Cathy and Peter Halstead.  We’re not art exhibit types, but the location was intriguing and the price was right – FREE!  So we drove 40 miles on beautiful Hwy 78, which was by itself worth the trip.

The Tippet Rise Art Center is set on 11,500 acres, containing a working cattle and sheep ranch.  With the Beartooth Mountains rising from the west and golden prairies all around, it’s a nice backdrop for the unusual exhibits here.

Tippet Rise Art Center

Since the artwork is distributed throughout the vast and hilly landscape, the guided van tour took over 2 hours to complete.  Although we didn’t “get” the meaning of most of the exhibits, we enjoyed learning how they were created and constructed.

DayDreams by Patrick Dougherty

Daydreams by Patrick Dougherty – made from willows gathered from neighboring ranches and streams

Inverted Portal / Ensamble Studio

Inverted Portal by Ensamble Studio

Beethoven's Quartet / Mark di Suvero

Beethoven’s Quartet by Mark di Suvero

Tippet Rise Art Center

Foreground: Two Discs by Alexander Calder (on loan from the Hirshhorn Museum). Background: Olivier Barn by Alban Bassuet with Laura Viklund and Arup engineering

Tippet Rise Art Center

An unusual Port-a-potty blends in with the landscape

Our guide imparted that just as sculpture and architecture are designed to provoke surprisingly intimate connections with a vast terrain, the simplicity and small scale of the Olivier Barn’s music hall is designed to enfold listeners in the vastness of the musical encounter.  Whatever…

We were packed into very small vans for the tour, and it was difficult getting in and out of them repeatedly.  I realize it was FREE, but just saying that it might be better to pay a few bucks and get more comfortable transportation with some kind of PA so we could actually hear the driver.

Tippet Rise Art Center

Olivier Barn – a cozy all wood barn where concerts are held

And finally, hitting the trails – yeah!

Having been off the hiking trails for a month per doctors orders, I finally eased back into some treks here.  There are many trails near Red Lodge and along the Beartooth Scenic Highway, and for our first outing we chose Parkside Recreational Trail, an easy 3.8-mile gentle and mostly open terrain hike that led us to Greenough Lake.

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Greenough Lake

Greenough Lake

My knees are ready to go!

I think the knee is ready for action!

Since I didn’t feel any pain after that easy jaunt, we went out for a longer trek on the Lake Fort Trail.  We followed it along the creek on a moderate uphill grade in the forest.  Since this was an out and back trail we turned around after 3 miles and stopped for lunch along the creek.

Lake Fork Trail

We spied a waterfall high above on the mountain

We spied a waterfall high above on the mountain

Rock Creek

We love hiking along rushing water

Rock Creek

Lunch with a view, complemented by an awesome soundtrack

While heading back to the car I heard a loud noise and turned to find a young American Dipper demanding food from its hardworking mama.  It was fascinating to watch mama bird bobbing up and down the creek, getting food and stuffing it into the noisy young one’s mouth.  It made my day!

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Our last hike here was on the Face of the Mountain Trail.  At 5.6 miles it was a little shorter than the previous day’s hike, but more difficult with a 1,700′ elevation gain all the way up.

After driving a 3-mile dirt road that was chewed up badly in some spots (our trusty CRV pulled through again), we came to the trailhead on the right.

Face of the mountain trail

The gravel road crosses private land and residences

The first 1.25 miles of the ascent passed through private land consisting of sagebrush, but we were already beginning to get some nice views on the way up.

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The remainder of the hike was on public lands through a mix of sagebrush and forested sections.

Face of the Mountain Trail

From the ridge the view is as far as your eyes can see

We really enjoyed the views of Red Lodge and beyond from atop the ridge on this cloudy but beautiful day.  Although the trail continued through the forest and up the mountain for several more miles, we completed our goal of reaching the ridge and started back. It was a good moderate hike, and the views from the top were worth the effort.

Face of Mountain Trail

The meadows and hillsides were adorned with all kinds of vibrant wildflowers set against thick sage brush.

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Red Lodge Montana

Red Lodge as viewed from our destination on the ridge

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I’m so glad to be back on the trails!

There were many more trails to explore, but it was time to move on.

 

Next Up:  Great Falls, Montana



 

An over-the-top experience – Beartooth Scenic Byway

Comments 31 Standard
Bearstooth

After gallivanting in and around scenic Cody, Wyoming for a week, we packed up and continued north into our 48th state, big sky country – Montana!

Welcome Sign Montana

Hello, state #48!

We chose our first stop at Red Lodge Montana, largely due to Hans and Lisa’s great review of the town and Perry’s Campground (Steve’s review here).  We’re having a good time here, and I’ll give the details in my next post.  But for now let’s take a drive on the famed Beartooth Highway, a National Scenic Byway and All-American Road – which several of you have told us is a must-do.  And you were right!

I was curious what makes a highway a National Scenic Byway and All-American Road.  We have driven many byways (17 out of 32) during our travels, but I didn’t pay much attention to the designation until now.

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According to the U.S. Department of Transportation, to be designated as a National Scenic Byway a road must possess at least one of six intrinsic qualities and be regionally significant: archeological, cultural, historic, natural, recreational, and scenic.  To receive an All-American Road designation, a road must possess multiple intrinsic qualities that are nationally significant and have one-of-a-kind features that do not exist elsewhere.  The road or highway must also be considered a “destination unto itself.”  That is, the road must provide an exceptional traveling experience so recognized by travelers that they would make a drive along the highway a primary reason for their trip.

Let’s see if the Beartooth Highway lives up to its designation.  And because it’s a scenic drive, this post is loaded with pictures.  Are you ready?  Then let’s go!

Bear tooth Highway

Beartooth Highway is a stunning 68-mile stretch of U.S. Highway 212

This section of U.S. Highway 212 runs between Red Lodge and Cooke City, Montana, with a large portion running through the northwest corner of Wyoming.  It’s the highest elevation highway in Wyoming (10,947 feet) and Montana (10,350 feet), and the highest elevation highway in the Northern Rockies.  So high it’s only open mid-May through mid-October. We began our drive from our campground located right on Hwy 212 just 3 miles south of Red Lodge.

Beartooth Highway

A steep and twisty climb up the mountains with several 180 degree turns

Bear tooth Highway

The highway workers here appear to also be rock climbers!

Rock Creek Canyon

Looking down Rock Creek Canyon from a 9,190′ scenic overlook

Passing through lush forest, we continued our steady ascent into the arctic-alpine section of the drive on the Beartooth Plateau.  At about 10,000′ the road climbed above the treeline and crossed the alpine tundra on the plateau.

At this point Steve was no longer a happy driver as I constantly asked him to stop so I could photograph the gorgeous, beautiful wildflowers – and they were just about everywhere!

Hell roaring Plateau

Wildflowers at Beartooth Highway

Wildflowers at Beartooth Highway

The fragile tundra was full of blooms with a plethora of blue, pink, white and yellow wildflowers as far as the eye could see.  To appreciate these tiny flowers I had to drop almost to my belly to get good pictures.

We continued on until we reached the highest point at West Summit, elevation 10,974′.

Bear tooth Plateau

Switchbacks to the summit

Glacial Circue

Even in July the glacial cirque had deep snow around it

Alpine Lake

One of many alpine lakes

Bearstooth

That spire jutting up like a fang?  Beartooth Peak – the namesake of the Beartooth Mountains

From here we had not only superb views of the highest peaks of the mountains, but also an excellent look at the distant North Absaroka Mountains in Wyoming.

West Summit, Beartooth Pass

The gusty winds up here just about blew me over!

Bear tooth Plateau

Bear tooth Pass

Construction of the 68-mile route began in 1931 and was completed in 1936.  Built at the cost of $2.5M, it ranks as one of the country’s major engineering feats.

Bear tooth Highway

We negotiated another series of switchbacks as we descended to the Wyoming section of the highway.

Bear tooth Highway

Island Lake and Beartooth Range

Fortunately the Clay Butte Fire Lookout Tower was open when we arrived.  It sits in windy isolation on a butte at 9811′, in the Wyoming section of the mountains.  A 3-mile drive up a gravel road ended at the structure, which was completed by the men of the CCC in 1942.

Clay Butte Fire Lookout Tower

The Clay Butte Fire Lookout Tower

The friendly volunteer demonstrated how firefighters once used the tower’s original Osborne Fire Finder to pinpoint a fire’s location after spotting it.  Although the instrument is no longer used, this tower is still in operation during fire season.

Clay Butte Fire Lookout tower

Clay Butte Lookout tower

All of the furniture had these insulators to protect folks from lightning strikes – scary!

Bear tooth Mountain Range

Snowcapped Beartooth Mountain Range

He also told us the history of Clay Butte Tower and how it has played a major role in fire detection and suppression in this area over the past 70+ years.

Clay Butte Fire Lookout Tower

While Steve continued to listen I walked around and found a few new friends:

Mountain Bluebird

Mountain Bluebird with a snack

Hoary Marmot

Hi there, Marmot

Pika

Another curious fellow

I admired a lavish array of wildflowers on the grounds and hillsides.  Beautiful!

Alpine forget-me not

Alpine forget-me-not

Yellow Columbine

Yellow Columbine

Absaroka Range

These cowboys had their horses loaded up for what appeared to be a long ride

Beartooth Butte was at the bottom of an inland sea millions of years ago, as evidenced by bands of sandstone on the formation.  Crystal-clear Beartooth Lake at the foot of the Butte is the largest in the area.

Bear tooth Lake

Beartooth Lake, where we enjoyed the view during lunch

Continuing south, we stopped at Lake Creek Falls where waters from the big snowmelt were rushing down the mountain:

Lake Creek Falls

Cascading water at Lake Creek Falls

Pilot and Index peaks seen at a different angle from the highway.  These peaks are very distinguishable from both Chief Joseph Scenic Byway and the Beartooth Highway.

Pilot and Index Peak

The 45th parallel is the latitude line that connects this spot along the highway with the prairies of South Dakota, the north woods of Maine, the wine country of France, the deserts of Mongolia and finally right back to this spot.

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We grabbed a quick snack in Cooke City as the clouds began to gather overhead.  On our way back I caught a glimpse of a Moose by the road, and even though it was beginning to rain I had to capture her pose.  She didn’t look too happy about it!

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It was a fantastic drive, and I think the high-alpine plateau was my favorite part – even though the wind was howling up there.  The spectacular views were among the best we’ve seen on our many driving adventures, and as usual my pictures cannot capture the immensity of it all.  We urge everyone to make this a destination drive, as it definitely lives up to its designation as an All-American Road!

 

Next up:  Out and About in Red Lodge, Montana