Tuesday, July 1, 2014 OMG! This is a day I will remember for a long time! We woke up to 54 degree temps and partly cloudy skies. We dressed in jeans and hiking boots for warmth as we would be up in the higher elevations today. We were driving the Beartooth Highway –68 miles of jaw-dropping views, wildlife, multiple mountain waterfalls, lakes, and streams to oogle at every turn. It ascends 5,500 verticle feet between Red Lodge (El. 5,555 ft.) at the top of Beartooth Pass (El. 10,947 ft.) and then drops 3, 300 ft. to Cooke City (El. 7,600 ft.). You pass through 3 levels of ecosystems–forests, mountain meadows, and alpine tundra. There’s no other word, but spectacular to describe it. We left the campground at 8:45 to start our road trip today. The drive through Red Lodge was quiet this Tuesday morning. The river was ripping along the road out of town.
We entered the Beartooth Mountain and the beginning of the Beartooth Scenic Byway.
The rock formations emerged from the hillsides.
We got our first glimpse of the glaciers in the higher elevations from below. Soon we would see them up close.
The snow was melting and filling the rivers to overflowing.
Slowly, we climbed and had a breathtaking view around every tight switchback. In the passenger’s seat, I was on the outer edge of the cliff for a lot of the ride going up and there were times I just couldn’t look. It was definitely a white knuckle drive at times. Thank goodness for guardrails!
There are sections along the highway where the Park Service plastered cement on the hillside to hold back the erosion and rock slides.
Can you believe we saw this guy biking? YES! I said BIKING up the mountain!
At our first scenic overlook, we asked a Norwegian lady who was serving as a tour guide and driver for some Norwegian tourists to take our picture. She lives in Norway part of the year and works in Montana part of the year. What a life!
Maybe we should have hired someone to do the driving for us? Oh, too late now! We’ll just have to keep going. Next, was a view of Hellroaring Plateau (10,000 ft.).
The road was narrow with plenty of switchbacks, but there were also a lot of turnouts if you wanted to pull off and get a better look or just catch your breath. Vista Point Rest Area was a nice spot to get out and stretch our legs.
We had only begun the drive, but our hearts were beating fast and we had much more road to drive.
It was beautiful view looking out on the mountains and valley below.
Way across the canyon, Bob saw this stick figure made out of white rocks. Man, I love the zoom on this camera! This was so far away!
Here’s a view of the road we’ve already traveled.
Bob was having a little trouble with his vertigo, so he didn’t want to go all the way out to the end of the ledge.
As we continued to climb on the highway, there were opportunities to stop and look back at where we’d been. Amazing!
These steel mesh fences were used in certain places to prevent rock slides on the highway. They were pretty serious looking.
There were waterfalls everywhere–from small trickles to full gushers! Many times we couldn’t stop because we were on the wrong side of the road or there was no place to safely stop.
We stopped to look at a yellow-bellied marmot who had popped out of his hole.
Auggie caught sight of him from the car and kept a sharp lookout from his own window in the backseat.
We paused to give Auggie his first walk in the snow.
He didn’t like it very much!
By now, we were up at the 45th parallel–halfway between the North Pole and the equator.
We were up in the tundra and leaving Montana to enter into Wyoming.
There was still plenty of snow in those higher elevations.
Across the way we could see Beartooth Basin Ski Area (El. 10,737).
Notice the red lines on the left (poma-lift) and the tiny specks which are the skiers. This is one of North America’s oldest alpine ski training area. The ski hill sits adjacent to the magnificent Gardner Lake.
We waited to see what these skiers were going to do.
The one guy put on his skies and hooked up the orange parachute and flew down the mountain hardly touching his skies to the snow. They were amazing to watch!
I don’t know when this road was opened to travel in the spring (usually Memorial Day), but the snow was still very deep.
We kept wondering how some of them got up to the top until we saw this! It was quite a mean machine!
We spent a bit of time here just observing and of course, throwing a few snowballs. Our next overlook gave us a great view of The Bear Tooth–an 11,000 ft. granite spire. This spire was carved by glaciers and is the namesake of the Beartooth Mountains.
I had to do my Julie Andrews-Sound of Music impersonation.
This glacial lake was still frozen at this high altitude. There are 950 alpine lakes in the Beartooth Mountains.
The higher we got, the deeper the snow was.
As we passed some of the snowbanks, we noticed people had written their names in them. I did the same.
This rock outcropping was very distinctive.
We noticed a slight haze over some parts of the mountains and later we found out in the news that it was smoke from the wildfires in Canada getting blown into Montana. We reached the summit at 10,947 ft. and started our way down. Traffic was pretty light in the morning, but increased as the day went on. The temperature was 45 degrees.
Island Lake is a popular fishing and camping destination. It was gorgeous!
This sign brought us back to reality for sure.
The Top of the World Store was a welcome sight for a restroom break and a chance for everyone, including Auggie to stretch their legs.
Index and Pilot Peaks (11,000 ft.) appeared around a bend and 20 miles away across a broad valley. They are volcanic remnants that began forming 50 million years ago.
We entered Montana again as we descended into Cooke City. By this time, the sun had come out and it was quite warm.
Cooke City was founded as a mining camp and keeps its western feel as a cowboy town.
We checked out the Miner’s Saloon in town for something to eat. It was a cool place, but not what we were looking for.
Then we headed to the Buns and Beds for lunch.
We picked up deli sandwiches that we ate in town and then turned around and started on the road back. We wanted to catch all the waterfalls that we had to bypass. Our first waterfall was a huge cascade of rushing water. We had to take a short walk up the hill to view it.
A photographer was set up there and she let us know that a grizzly bear was sighted YESTERDAY a mile up the path from where we were standing.
Needless to say, we didn’t linger long. Our next stop was Lake Creek Falls.
Gallons of water plummeted over the rocks!
On our way back to the car, we noticed some goat tracks and this. There must have been one in the area recently.
This was our third waterfall. I would hike anywhere to see a waterfall.
Really? There’s no way that any sane person would drive that speed on the road!
We got great views of the road below us.
We knew we were close to Red Lodge when we saw this rock formation outside of town.
We stopped in town to get shirts to say that we completed the drive on the Beartooth Highway.
Leaving town, we saw this deer grazing in someone’s yard. What are the chances?
That was the second of two deer, 1 mountain goat, 2 marmots, and one mountain bluebird that we saw earlier today. I’ll have to look for the moose and elk in Yellowstone. A bunch of people were stopped along the side of the road, which is a sure sign there is wildlife in the area. Of course, we had to stop too. We asked what they were all looking at and they said “a bear”, but by the time we got there, it had disappeared into the woods. Darn! We got back to the campground at 3:30 and relaxed in the sun before dinner. Auggie did too.
It took us 3 hours to get up the mountain and over to Cooke City, which included stops. It took us only 2 hours to get back. I took 180 pictures today. (Thank goodness for digital cameras.) We treated ourselves with a delicious steak dinner that Bob cooked on the grill for completing the Beartooth Highway!
The scenery was stunning! What a day we had!!!