Sunday, June 12, 2011

Beartooth Highway

We had an absolutely amazing drive yesterday!
Yesterday the lovely and artsy ski-resort town of Red Lodge Montana celebrated the 75th anniversary of the Beartooth Highway.
With the promise of parades and store sales and a free community bar-b-que and a beautiful drive from Belfry to Red Lodge and a whole community celebration we eagerly made our way up there on a partially sunny and partially cloudy warm Saturday morning.
I took pictures along the drive, and then more pictures up in Red Lodge.
While sitting eating burgers and pork sandwiches and baked beans and coleslaw and home made chocolate chip cookies at the community bar-b-que LC asked me if I wanted to continue driving on the Beartooth Highway instead of heading straight home.
The Beartooth is a scenic 68 mile stretch of highway between Red Lodge and Cooke City that passes up through mountains close to 11,000 feet high.
Normally the Beartooth is open about 200 days a year, and it normally opens around Memorial Day weekend.
This year it did not open in time for Memorial Day.
With the extraordinary amount of snow this region has received this past winter Beartooth road crews were redirected to the East Gate of Yellowstone which has also been closed longer than usual.
Once the East Gate was finally opened crews were sent back to work on the Beartooth and this stretch of highway did indeed open this past week.
I knew that it was a rugged and beautiful highway but I had no idea just how beautiful and rugged.
Information about the Beartooth:
LC asked me to post snow pictures first so this blog will be a bit out of order.
I expected snow.
I had no idea there was THIS much snow.............
After leaving Red Lodge we headed through beautiful high mountain passes and unbelievably majestic canyons and switchbacks that saw us climbing from about 6000 feet in town to eventually 11,000 feet.
We began our drive surrounded by fast flowing streams and pine trees.
As we continued to climb the amount of snow in the mountains gradually began to increase and the number of trees began to decrease.
Eventually we found ourselves in an environment of only rock.  There was no vegetation at all.  And with obvious signs of previous multiple rock slides, in addition to the huge amount of snow we found ourselves in, it suddenly was not surprising that this stretch of beautiful highway is open only half of each year.
As the switchbacks became more intense and as we continued to climb still more we soon found ourselves in this.............
It was the middle of June and it was freezing.
High winds.  Cold temperatures.
More snow than I would have ever imagined in what will soon be summer.
LC and I laughed at what we were seeing in front of us.  
Neither of us had ever experienced anything like this and we loved this great and unexpected winter adventure.............
During our foray into winter we came across many people who were still enjoying activities that I would not have expected to see in mid-June.
Downhill and cross country skiing, ski-para-sailing, tobogganing, snow mobiling, and snow boarding............
There were no signs of life up here what-so-ever.
No trees.  No other vegetation.  No animals.
A wonderfully exceptionally rugged and beautiful environment that was completely inhospitable............
The snow banks varied in height from only a few feet to well over 20 feet...........
There were very few places to pull off the highway to stop and take pictures.
After driving this place yesterday I can imagine that road crews are kept constantly busy simply keeping the highway-proper open to traffic.
Huge - absolutely huge - amounts of snow to contend with at this elevation, and the constant threat and realization of rock slides at slightly lower elevations.
We missed a few pull-offs that were almost invisible in the snowbanks - many times we were already past them by the time we realized that they were even there.
A wonderful huge adventure in an almost other-wordly environment............
After a long and slow climb through the snow on multiple switchbacks we finally peaked and began our long slow decent on the back side of the mountains.
The pine trees began to reappear, peaking up through untold feet of deep and new snow.
Although the Beartooth is now open all websites warn travelers that it can again be closed at any time.
We had winter clothing with us (and needed it) but we saw many people along the way who had pulled over and were taking pictures of this winter in summer, all dressed in t-shirts and shorts. 
Although I did not expect to see...........THIS.........LC and I both knew, even when we were just heading up to Red Lodge, that we would be up in the mountains, so brought winter clothing with us.
It was absolutely freezing up there.
Freezing temperatures made even colder with the strong winds.
Some of this snow may melt over the next few months but there will be snow up there all summer long...........
Winding road, high snowbanks, no shoulders.
A one-of-a-kind amazing journey..............
Still in deep snow but this was the first sign of civilization we had seen in a couple of hours.
A small mountain convenience store located in the middle of nowhere.
We stopped briefly to stretch our legs and let Jamie do the same.
My puppy had been very quiet throughout our entire mountain drive, as if wondering where the world had gone.
No animals.  No trees.  No streams or lakes or birds............
Except for one hardy pup...........
Snowploughs at rest for a while................
This drive was completely unexpected.
Knowing that the highway was closed because of snow and then actually seeing this place were two different things.
It was fun.  It was beautiful.  I was magical in its beauty and was like an entirely other world.
More pictures of the day to follow..............

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