During our tenure at the Yellowstone General Store this summer, we are given two days off, in a row, each week. We have taken day trips up to this point. None of these trips will be posted in date order as each has its own unique subject. This was our first overnight trip because it would be impossible to see this region without an overnight stay. Motels are almost always full in and around the National Park area during the summer months. If one is fortunate enough to find a room, one must be prepared to pay a premium rate ($200. to $600. per night – no joke). Fortunately, we know how to “Live In A Minivan”, so we secured a small lot at a KOA in Red Lodge. It is a precious little town, by the way.
Red Lodge has a micro-brewery (Red Lodge Ales), which WE DO NOT RECOMMEND …save your money. There are many other great choices in town for meals and cold beer. I have attached a crude map of our route out of Yellowstone from our temporary home at Grant Village.
Travel is slow through the park with bear, buffalo or elk jams to contend with, which is never a bother to us. We were told, when coming to Yellowstone, one needs to pack a lot of patience. I will pass along this very necessary advice.
We left through the NE entrance to Cookeville, MT where we picked up the Bear Tooth Highway. This route also took us through Lamar Valley. This is an exceedingly large, open expanse, surrounded by mountains and striped with meandering creeks where wild life thrive in 360 degrees of calm, green beauty. This is usually where one see wildlife; we did not. I enjoyed it more than Sweet Husband, as he was the driver.
BEAR TOOTH is a winding, two lane highway climbing to an elevation of over 11,000 feet with many cut backs and 7% grades. If you have any issues with altitude sickness or fear of heights, I would not recommend this trek. However, it is one of the most beautiful drives in North America.
There is one location on this highway where skiers take snowmobiles to an area called Grasshopper Valley (see pictures above). It has a near vertical slope to a valley of frozen glacier lakes. They then can ride the ski lift back up to the road and repeat. I wouldn’t do it in three lifetimes, but some people love these near death experiences.
MOTORCYCLE RALLY: I promise, I’m not exaggerating, there was at least 3 motor cycles for every car (maybe more). Red Lodge is at one end of the Bear Tooth Hwy and Cody, WY is on the other. Red Lodge is where motorcycles converged going to two different cycle rallies: The BMW Rally n Billings , MT and the 75th anniversary of the Harley Davidson Rally in Sturgis, SD.
I only saw two brave people driving an RV on that highway; I would NEVER, EVER do that.
We arrived in Red Lodge with time to drive past on to Billings. We were told about an area near Billings where William Clark (of Lewis & Clark fame) and his company stopped at a site he named, “Pompeys Pillar (Tower)”. The pillar itself stands 150 feet above the Yellowstone River and consists of sandstone from the late Cretaceous Hell Creek Formation, 75 – 66 million years ago. The base of the pillar is approximately one acre. It is simply a giant rock in the middle of a vast valley, on the edge of the river. If you are driving along highway 312 near Billings, you cannot miss it. BTW: It appears much grain, etc. is grown in this rich valley for Coors. William Clark would probably approve.
The pillar features an abundance of Native American petroglyphs, as well as the signature of William Clark, co-leader of the Lewis and Clark Expedition. Clark’s inscription is the only remaining physical evidence found along the route that was followed by the expedition.
The inscription consists of his signature and the date, July 25, 1806. Clark wrote that he climbed the sandstone pillar and “had a most extensive view in every direction on the Northerly Side of the river”. He named the outcropping after Jean Baptiste Charbonneau—the son of expedition member Sacagawea—whom he nicknamed “Pompy”, as he had become quite attached to the 18 month old member of the company. His original name for it was “Pompys Tower”; it was changed to the current title in 1814.
DAY TWO: Started with waking from an 11 hour night of much needed rest…we must have been extremely tired. Red Lodge has a wonderful, locally owned bakery (City Bakery). After a stop for breakfast pastries we headed south out of town to Chief Joseph Highway. This highway was named in honor of Chief Joseph, the Nez Perch Chief who resisted resettlement by the United States and fought in this region, but eventually lost. His surrender speech is below. This is one of the most beautiful and peaceful places Sweet Husband and I have traveled. Surrender Speech by Chief Joseph, born Hinmatóowyalahtq̓it, which means Thunder Rolling Down The Hills, (1840-1904) Chief of the Nez Perce Tribe:
“I am tired of fighting. Our chiefs are killed. Looking Glass is dead. Toohulhulsote is dead. The old men are all dead. It is the young men who say yes or no. He who led the young men is dead. It is cold and we have no blankets. The little children are freezing to death. My people, some of them, have run away to the hills and have no blankets, no food. No one knows where they are–perhaps freezing to death. I want to have time to look for my children and see how many I can find. Maybe I shall find them among the dead. Hear me, my chiefs. I am tired. My heart is sick and sad. From where the sun now stands, I will fight no more forever.”
We were the conquerors and they the conquered. That is the way of life in all wars. Much has been lost and much gained. The land is preserved, but war cannot and will not change – until the day we beat our swords into plows. Yes, that day will come.