We had attempted the drive over Beartooth Pass, from Montana into Wyoming, back in October 2014, but were disappointed to have to turn back due to early season heavy snow....not this time though....and what an adventure....!
June 2, 2018 - it was 1 October 2014 when we last attempted this pass. We were all camped up in Red Lodge and ready to go at first light but it snowed overnight and the pass was closed. We were disappointed but promised to come back one day and try again. So today is the day. Lunch was packed last night and we were on the road as soon as the sun hit it to melt any overnight frost. The temperature was only 36’F and we piled on extra clothes. A week ago I was in bathers swimming in Boysen lake!
The Blonde - the information guide we had picked up in Red Lodge had said..."Plan at least three hours of driving time on 68 miles of the Beartooth Highway. Be sure to pack a windbreaker and warm clothing for the trip!". The road from our National Forest campground on the side of the Shoshone River soon started climbing towards the north east entrance to Yellowstone. On the north bank of the river there was a fabulous looking campground in the Custer National Forest and I looked on enviably as we started climbing the switchback road and the views opened up.
Here we go onto the "Beartooth Scenic Byway"
There’s still plenty of snow all around but this Montana section of the road has been clear and open since before Memorial Day. The bigger snow drifts on the Wyoming side took longer to clear and the road was only officially opened yesterday all the way through. Or so we thought!
Beautiful location for a campground in the valley.
Some of the z-bends featured on the satnav...
At Vista Point and elevation 9,190 feet we hopped out and skated on ice to get to the lookout which gave us a view back down the valley and the 180’ switchbacks we’d just come up. The road is in great condition, wide enough on the corners to see oncoming traffic and take a swing round.
But it’s not overly steep for Little Henrietta she just sailed up - we wondered if Big Henry might have been a bit puffed though!
In the 1920’s, the automobile became the preferred mode of transportation for visitors to the area and the need to develop a road system into and out of Yellowstone galvanized community leaders to action to access Yellowstone National Park from Red Lodge. Tourism was still in its infancy but already being recognised as a potential money spinner and a future major employer.
The Blonde Photographer @ Rocky Creek Vista Point.
The majority of the Beartooth Highway was built between 1932 and 1936. The engineering aspects of the project were impressive, even by today’s standards. For example, the 4,000-foot descent into the Rock Creek Canyon (7.5 miles at over 6 percent grade) on a very steep sidehill slope required "creative field engineering". The project was completed on time and within budget; but at the cost of the lives of two workers. Considering the difficult terrain, short construction season, and harsh weather the progress was remarkable. The highway was officially dedicated on June 14, 1936, with a ceremony and caravan of supporters.
Little Henrietta posing with one of the snow clearing machines....
Serious gear required to clear the Beartooth Byway.
After Vista Point the road straightens and the scenery changes to rounded snow covered hills. Rounding a bend we pile into a line of parked vehicles. Up ahead is a barrier and it’s down! Road Closed!!! Nooooo....it can’t be. Not on our second attempt to drive this road! People are out of their cars and walking to the barrier to enquire. It seems that a blisteringly cold and wicked wind last night drifted some snow back over the road and the ploughs and blowers are working to clear it. Estimated time of opening? No one knows. But what eventuates keeps us entertained for the next 3 hours! We wouldn’t have missed it for the world!
Join the queue.... Little Henrietta waiting patiently for the road to clear
The Blonde - Most of the cars are full of skiers heading for the last remnants of snow - mainly the off-piste sort (well that’s what it was called in my skiing days!). Impatient to be taking advantage of this glorious day many decide to don their gear and walk to the snow, from the impromptu car park now set up at the top of the pass!
Da Boyz....ready to do their thang!
In search of snow....off they go!
In some cases it’s an hour away. Now, my ski boots would never have been comfortable or even engineered to walk such distances - technology has moved on. I heard words like “articulation”!! We watched the ute in front of us disgorge 5 skiers and I perved as they put on their gear....mmmmm eye candy!
Atticus bringing up the rear......
It was way too cold to venture outdoors for me just yet! But eventually I had to ‘fess up, get out and introduce myself with my camera and realise I had a bit of a story here. The boys worked at the nearby Sun Ski Resort which had planned to open today but the ski lifts had not yet been certified. Undaunted they were going to walk and then ski back on the northern slopes and their best friend elected to be skipper to go and pick them up. They went off over the hill calling to another stranded skier, Atticus to come join them.
Hey ho, hey ho...its off to ski we go.....
All around there was activity. On the southern slopes skiers were shuffling up the slopes and one ski-mobil was racing up and down and then became the ski lift dragging a skier behind. The dogs were not to be left out either. They were clearly all ski dogs and their energy was awesome. If not running up and down the slopes after owners, they were playing frisbee or just occupying themselves doing what comes naturally to a dog! There were chairs out, coolboxes and picnics. Music blared out and there was a constant procession up to and beyond the closed gate.
View from the top at midday...road open?
I decided to walk there too and see what was what. I could hear the snow blower beyond a curve and as always that curve encourages me on. I had the road to myself and I had the view. A mountain sheep, Marmots. birds and wildflowers. And then on that curve was an awesome sight of 3 frozen lakes. I had to get down to that rock for a closer look. Over the crash barrier and down to the point. I was gasping for oxygen - it’s almost 10,600’ here. But OMGosh - what a beautiful place to be.
The Bear...."It's June in the northern hemisphere...isn't it supposed to be Summer?"
By now I’m sure The Bear is wondering where I am. I’d seen the maintenance vehicle make a couple of trips and was sure the barrier was about to open. But no, I made it all the way back watching yet more and more people trekking across country with skis on their backs. It was 12.30pm before we got going again but we’d had fun and I had a hundred photos or more.
View from the top down to Beartooth Lake.
We crossed the State Line back into Wyoming and followed the Beartooth Highway pulling off at every opportunity for sensational views of snow drifts, mountains, winding switchback, tiny streams of melting ice with wildflowers pushing through.
Yay....finally crossed over and in Wyoming again!
Time to get some photos of those mad skiers!
The drift that was finally cleared......
Little Henrietta @ Beartooth Pass
Skiers at Gairdner were simply just mad. The slope wasn’t a slope. It was vertical! Completely bonkers. And it was perishingly cold here with a wind that cut like a knife.
Vertically challenged skiers!
We couldn’t pull into the Beartooth Pass Overlook pull off at 10,947 feet, the highest point along the highway. All those people behind us at the barrier had made a beeline for this spot as I had wanted to show the Bear the frozen lakes. The fang like Beartooth mountain will be another reason for us to come back again!
The Bear happy to see the snow blower had done a good job!
We drifted in to the Top of the World Store at 9,400 feet that was inundated with early visitors and the shelves of provisions had either already been raided or there hadn’t yet been time to get stocks in. The gifts and souvenirs were selling well though. We nosed around for a while and then decided to head out.
The T-shirt I was not allowed to buy!!
A quick stop at Beartooth Lake (8900’) and then it was time to find camping.
The Blonde Photographer @ Beartooth Lake
The Bear - we are very close to Yellowstone Park now so we are keen to secure a camp spot early so we could use the camp as a base to get into the park early tomorrow morning....the park campgrounds there were already showing as being full! We happened on Crazy Creek Campground with the massive falls of the Clark Fork River and Pilot Peak to photograph before bedtime. It would prove to be a great find and eventually we stayed here for 3 nights.
Pilot Peak (11,522ft) from our campsite @ Crazy Creek.
The Bear - nice campground with an equally nice campground host. We decided to take a lazy Sunday... a day to catch up. We hung around all day at Crazy Creek Campground. It gave us a chance to catch up on some photos, do some cooking and yoga time for The Blonde. I busied myself sorting and repacking again...more ideas of what should go where and then settled down for an afternoon read.. that turned into a "pop flop". Also some time to plot our course through Yellowstone for tomorrow and the next two days. Besides....there is always some entertainment to be found in campgrounds...lighting fires is just one such source.....
Just sometimes...the wood really is just too wet!! But hey... they kept the mozzies at bay!
Later in the afternoon we hiked up the side of the Crazy Creek Falls...an opportunity for The Blonde to get some more waterfall shots and also to stretch our legs after a "lazy day". Lots of bear activity up here...and lots of signs up to warn about this. But no sightings for us despite stories from the campground host who had seen two bears only the day before. We did see a small herd of elk and plenty of scat around to suggest there were bears in the vicinity....maybe tomorrow when we go back into Yellowstone!
The Blonde Photographer @ Crazy Creek Falls