We are back in this beautiful state – Billings for a few days at a cool KOA with a delightful miniature golf course – where I beat Rick with three holes in one! Billings is hardly scenic as it is surrounded by oil refineries and oil is the smell in the air at all times. While we understand the value of these industries, it’s important to remember the environmental & ecological impact of stripping coal and oil from the earth. Regardless of your perspective one wonders why there are not more solar panel projects or wind farms here – where the wide open plains and the strong winds are widespread.
Next stop for us is Red Lodge, Montana – off Rte 212 just east of Yellowstone. We were greeted with a big thunderstorm and pea size hail our first evening but surrounded by scenic farm land and tall peaks. As we drove into the area there were wildflowers decorating the roadside – but the orange poppies were spectacular – like a welcome greeting or hello hug.
First day we drove the Jeep Grand Cherokee high into the mountains following the famous Beartooth Highway that just reopened for spring. It’s a winding corkscrew of a road thru the high mountains and contrasting valleys that leads you to the east side of Yellowstone National Park. Picturesque is an understatement.
It is according to Charles Kuralt ” one of the truly most scenic highways in the USA ” and we agree even though there was still a 30 ft of snow wall along the highest points.
An amazing vista along with an occasional white knuckles section – can’t imagine doing this in a motor coach although people passed us in small ones. This drive was a wonderful experience that we are very glad we did.
Skiers and snow boarders can be found near the top – still enjoying the over 30 ft of granulated sugar snow on the basin slopes. There’s a historical rope tow at the Basin area giving a small assist for those brave souls. We watched for a while and shared their exuberance of their almost flying rides down the slopes.
We made it to The Top of the World gift and sundries shop for some munchies and a photo op – then on to Cooke City just outside the Park East Entrance. Waterfalls powering down mountain slopes tell you how high the snow pack was this winter and it’s a spring sight to witness. In realty photos tell the story best of this beautiful drive so here are several to wet your appetite for this amazing drive.
Our return drive was along the Chief Joseph Highway which commemorates the trip this famous chief took his Nez Perce tribe when in the late 1880’s, he unsuccessfully tried to escape the US Army. He eventually surrendered after terrible cold weather affected his people but his loyalty, grace and courage will always be remembered. This return trip was not as elevated but it was still beautiful.
Red Lodge is a tiny scenic cowboy town of 2300 with lots of shops, galleries and fun places to poke around in. There are several terrific restaurants and we enjoyed one – Bogart’s with a Mexican theme and photos of the wonderful iconic actor and his costars on the walls as well as great Margaritas and authentic food.
We enjoyed a walk thru the local candy emporium and an interesting antique shop that had everything from classic lamps to old license plates with a classic gun shop room in the back – complete with pearl handled revolvers and leather tooled holsters.
In an expansive gallery of several large rooms we saw wonderful local artwork ranging from sculptures to beaded work and large delightful oil paintings. The proprietor gave us some further tips about the area and Yellowstone – I had to try very hard not to buy any number of items there.
Near our campground we found a special furniture store – Rocky Fork Juniper Furniture – where an artist/ wood sculptor – Lee Kern – has a workshop where lovely juniper trees and logs became lamps, chairs, tables and even a huge four poster bed under the spell of his vision. We fell in love with his work and pieces – maybe someday one of them may grace our home.
Don’t miss this tiny town of Red Lodge if you are traveling this way – it’s funky, timeless and the people are very welcoming and warm. Just another reason to love visiting Montana.
Yellowstone – here we come!