Before spending ten days visiting Yellowstone National we were in Red Lodge Montana at a KOA just off Route 212 which becomes the Beartooth Highway. Charles Kuralt called it the most scenic highway in the USA and after spending a day driving its amazing curves, steep hills and snow banked summits we agree!
Some have driven through in their RVs and motorhome – we decide against that preferring to drive the Grand Cherokee Overland which was built for just this type of drive. The twenty degree temperature drop was just one if the surprises during the ride. But we definitely recommend doing this – it’s breathtaking and remarkable for the landscape, adventurous folks enjoying the remaining 30 foot snow pack , and the view from more than a mile high down in to the basins and valleys that blossom green at the foot of winter white slopes in late June.
We did not expect twenty foot snow banks along the road as well as sharing the experience with skiers, snowboarders and snowmobile enthusiasts out in full force. The snow apparently dies not melt until late July and this year the snow pack was deep and resilient.
It’s a treacherous ride in places so do follow the road sign and drive with care and caution. Do stop and get out to walk the slopes to get a better view and enjoy the July snow. It was fun to see families who had never seen snow reveling in the cold crisp piles. As originally New Englanders we did not need to feel or touch it but we did appreciate others folks enjoyment. We stopped for lunch in Cook City – an old mining town that has adjusted to its tourist stays and has a few good restaurants – we had a terrific lunch at the Bistro and then headed back to Red Lodge via Chief Joseph Highway – named for the brave and renown Nez Perce chief who led his people on a tragic trek across three states to avoid being sent to a reservation. We became familiar with these amazing people and his story last year during our Lewis and Clark Expedition Tour. Their attempted escape ended tragically in what is now Big Hole MT where the last battlefield is preserved along with a reverent memorial program designed by the Tribe’s 20th century members. This tribe was very important to Captains Lewis and Clark during their search for the water route to the Pacific. They were supportive and helpful to the explorers but their efforts were not rewarded some 60 years later when their ancestor lands were taken by the white Europeans who came to settle out west. This Highway is reputed to be one of the routes taken by the fleeing native people during their escape. It was also beautiful drive but not nearly as treacherous, giving us a different view of lush green valleys and full flowing river beds due to the melting snow up high.
Red Lodge is a funky – artsy, counter culture mountain town with lots of shops, eating spots and places for visitors to stay. We visited a few galleries, a candy emporium as well as a used stuff / antique store and its small gun shop while strolling the main drag one beautiful sunny day. Lunch was delicious margaritas and Mexican fare at “Bogarts” a Mexican themed Restaurant with Humphrey Bogart photos and memorabilia. The day we arrived we actually had a thunderstorm that produced pea sized hail at our campground but golf ball sized in town.
The highlight of our gallery visits was one to a furniture store where the lamps, chairs, tables and even a desk and four poster bed were sculpted from amazing tree trucks especially juniper. It was gorgeous art period! I found a coffee table to lust over and who knows maybe I’ll get one some day. Out of respect for the artist we took no photos except for the one of a moose out front of the store. Check out Rocky Fork Juniper Furniture by Lee Kern – his work is magnificent.