Rock Creek Vista overlook
Incredibly blue skies and very cool, maybe even cold, temperatures greeted us this morning in Red Lodge
and we were ready to ride. Jan and I warmed up quickly after a brisk walk to the Red Lodge Post Office to buy stamps and mail our post cards back home. I like to mail myself a post card from every place we stop on our motorcycle trips, reminding me of where we went and what we saw each day. This helps me to remember when I get back home and try to put my scrapbook together. After purchasing tee-shirts that read, "Real Women Don't Need Guardrails" at one of the nice novelty shops on Main Street, we were on our way.
Today we would be riding over Beartooth Pass on the Beartooth Highway, the highest elevation highway in the Northern Rockies at 10,947 feet above sea level.
Rock Creek Vista on Beartooth Plateau
We actually were taking a huge risk by traveling over this pass so late in the season, but we were silly enough to not care. If we had been one day later, the road would have been closed because of snow. But that is insignificant because on this day, the weather was just perfect. Since its completion in 1936, this road has provided travelers with a rare opportunity to see the transition from lush forest to alpine tundra in the space of just a few miles. The ride up the mountain was slow and in many places, we were without the benefit of a guardrail (remember the tee-shirt), so we took our time.
Once we arrived at the summit, Randy found a wide spot in the road so we could pull over and admire the view. Glacier lakes, alpine meadows, and rugged mountain peaks met us in every direction.
U.S. 212 atop Beartooth Plateau
The ground at these elevations is covered with deep snow most of the year, making it very soft. Every footstep sinks down, much like walking on a sponge. Breathing is a problem, too, since the air is very thin. Jerry spotted a white mountain goat with his nose to the ground. Evidently that goat was munching on something tasty because when I walked towards him for a picture, he didn't move an inch. Shallow breathing from the altitude wouldn't allow me to walk very far, so my goat is only a white dot among a hillside of rocks.
Our ride over the Beartooth Pass has proved to be one of our favorite travel stories. We didn't realize that this highway is prone to mud and rock slides which can keep it closed for entire seasons.
Glacier lake atop Beartooth Plateau
Many a traveler has been disappointed by not checking ahead, finding themselves unable to cross the mountain and having to turn around. The good Lord was with us this day because the weather was just right and the road was clear. If we had waited one more day, however, we would have been one of the disappointed travelers. The highway was closed because of heavy snow.
It took us three hours, give or take, to cross the mountain pass from Red Lodge to Cooke City
. On the way we "ooohed" and "aaahd" at just about every turn. Incredible. A lone grey wolf was visible off to our left as he ambled along his way, probably searching for his lunch.
Jerry admiring one of many glacier lakes atop Beartooth Pass
Cattle in the middle of the two-lane highway reminded us that we were in open range territory and now we needed to watch for not only deer, but slow-moving cows. Once we arrived at Cooke City, we pulled into a small cafe that offered a mean hamburger and warm bowl of soup. Delicious.
Sharing stories is part of traveling. Our waitress was talkative and not so busy, so she proceeded to tell us about their most recent visitor, a very large black bear. In the summer months, their little kitchen can get uncomfortably warm, so they like to leave the kitchen door wide open. Well, you guessed it. A black bear smelled the food and came right through the open door and made himself at home. Of course, everyone was afraid of the bear, but they finally were able to "shoo" him away and out of their kitchen.
"Bear-proof" garbage cans
Now the door stays shut.
Signs are posted all alongside the road to remind travelers that this is "Grizzly Territory" and to be very, very careful. Black bears and the grizzly are both dangerous and should not be fed or encouraged to mingle with humans in any way. The local newspaper that was available for reading while eating in the cafe told a story of two backpackers that had been surprised by a grizzly only the week before our visit. They had done everything right by keeping their food in airtight bags, but the mama grizzly spotted them before they had a chance to escape and one of the young men was killed. Scary.