Home Away From Home, Montana, Wyoming

Chief Joseph Scenic Byway and the Beartooth Highway – in One Day!

We started our morning headed for the Chief Joseph Scenic Byway and scenic it is. As we wound our way up to the peak we stopped often to take pictures that are beyond description and our pictures just can’t do the panorama views justice. As we stopped at one overlook we began chatting with some bikers, two from Australia and the rest from Nebraska. As we continued up the mountain we met them again and again.

The highest point was Dead Indian Hill, 8,000 feet above sea level. The views are incredible. We moved on down about 200 feet and again amazing scenery. Among the snow-capped mountains, we saw a flat plateau that looked like it had been carved and set down in the lower valley after cutting the top off. The temperature was 59 with high winds. It was cold! I would love to know what the wind chill was but we had no cell service so no way to find out. We saw a sign for “cattle crossing” and indeed we saw numerous cows along the roadside as we traveled. There were all tagged. It was a 7% downhill grade. Glad I was not in the RV although we met several trucks with tagalongs.

Jerry saw a graveled road leading off of the main highway so he took it. It actually led to a trail down to the canyon. It looked like it might have been a great trail to hike but since we didn’t have bear spray we opted not to do it. I think we’ll put the spray in the car and leave it. We had taken it out because we had been cautioned that it would explode if it got too hot.

Further down we stopped at another overlook where we could actually see the Clarks Fork River. There are three classes of rivers: recreational, scenic and wild. This was classified as a wild river and I can certainly see why. We tried to get some pictures but it was 300 feet down and fenced off so we couldn’t get too close. We did wander down a bit and as Jerry walked ahead of me I thought I heard the tell-tell sound of a rattlesnake. I tried to caution him but he couldn’t hear me and he didn’t appear to be in any danger. I stopped and took another route and the sound faded away. We have seen numerous warnings about bears but nothing about snakes.

As we continued down we saw signs indicating “open range” and “cattle on the road” and we soon found out why as we met cows several times. The road straightened out some and the curves were gentle, no drastic u-turns or switchbacks. We were still at 7000 plus feet though and only slowly descending. We passed by several ranches, some advertising “open”, possibly dude ranches. There was a rolling stream escorting us part of the way, a perfect place for our picnic lunch but inaccessible.

When the Chief Joseph Scenic Highway ended we turned to the Beartooth All-American Highway. Of the 838 things to see in Montana according to TripAdvisor, Beartooth Highway is number one and I can certainly see why.

Our first stop was at 8900 feet and we continued up in elevation and down in temperature! It was 58 degrees. Beartooth Highway reminded me of the Going to the Sun Road with its narrow roads and twists and turns. At one stop we saw a lovely waterfall cascading through the trees and suddenly we were at Beartooth Lake. We followed the signs to the camping and picnic area and there we had our picnic lunch. I wish I could say we sat on the side of the lake and had lunch but alas, it was cold and windy so again we ate in the car. We didn’t even have a good view as cars were parked in front of us. We did walk down to the lake but again it was so cold and windy we didn’t tarry long.

Up and up we continued to climb above the snow line and the tree line to over 11,000 feet and 49 degrees. The views were incredible and we stopped at nearly every overpass. Put on the coat, take off the coat, put on the coat. I hope I don’t ever take another trip no matter what season that I don’t bring my warm Patagonia jacket. What on earth was I thinking? I know – trying to conserve space and surely I wouldn’t want it in August. Wrong again! Jerry said that he could feel a difference in his breathing but I didn’t notice anything. I can’t imagine trying to hike at this altitude though. Suddenly we crossed a state line and were in Montana.

We continued on the highway and realized that we were 76 miles from Cody. We had a long way to go to get back to Cody but what a wonderful last day in the area. As we rode along we saw what looked like an abandoned mine. We later discovered that it was the Smith Mine which exploded in 1943. The Smith Mine Disaster was the worst coal mining disaster in Montana. Since it occurred on a Saturday there was a small crew, only 77 men working but only three survived. A rescue worker later died.

As we traveled back to Cody we could see the Beartooth Mountains in the distance, a memory of a grand and unexpected adventure.

When we got back to Cody we parked the car – we have had no trouble finding parking anywhere in the city – and walked up and down and in and out of the various stores. We tried to find some “Cody” t-shirts but after going to three stores, two of them twice, we decided that we couldn’t really find what we wanted. It was time for the “shootout” at the Irma hotel so we walk over to that. Since it was 30 minutes long Jerry paid the $4 for us to have seats. We were seated right next to a couple from Asheville. We chatted for a while exchanging ideas on where we had been and where we were going. She assured me that we could easily go from Cody to East Yellowstone and then through the park to West Yellowstone. While there Jerry talked with someone who had just left Yellowstone and he said it was very crowded and to expect long delays. That’s pretty much what we expected to hear.

After the shootout, we headed to Walmart to restock our freezer, fridge, and pantry before we go to Yellowstone and the Tetons. We decided today to change our route a little bit. I had scheduled two days in Arco, Idaho to visit the Crater of the Moon but since we need to return via Lawrenceville, Ga to NIRV for some motor home work we decided to cut the trip two days short. Not much but it may make the difference in our being able to get the work done while we are there and not leaving the coach.

After a very exciting and exhilarating day, two very tired people returned to our little home away from home.