24 January 2011

Beartooth Highway: The Scariest Road I Ever Drove

No, it’s not “the Luge”. Although, I can tell you that lately people have been chaining up all four wheels to make the trip. I should also add the qualifier, ever drove in Clementine towing Shadow. The scariest road I ever drove in a car was the road between Silverton and Ouray in Colorado. I don't do heights at all well.

Last September Koty and I headed off south to Yellowstone National Park to see if I could find a natural gem or two to photograph. I did find one and I call it “Lily Pads”.  In addition to exploring Yellowstone, from the Gardiner entrance, I also was going to Bridger where I had an invitation to take a private tour to see the “Wild Horses of the Pryor Mountains”.

When we travel we go in our Winnebago View dubbed Clementine and tow a Ford Focus  named Shadow. Koty got to grace the vehicle with his photo because I happened to be enjoying that photo at the time. I often do that. I find a picture and it becomes my OCD photo until a new one takes its place. It probably wasn’t the wisest choice, as nine out of ten people want to know if I am a husky breeder.

Clementine and Shadow

After I had done my best with Yellowstone it was time to head on over to Bridger. Someone I had met in Bozeman had told me that I did not want to miss the Beartooth Scenic Highway because according to the late CBS correspondent Charles Kuralt it is “the most beautiful drive in America”. Well, that’s good enough for me so I put it in my flight plan.

We headed out at first light. Well, maybe not exactly first light. Since I travel by myself, and Koty refuses to pitch in, it takes a little time to batten down the hatches and get Shadow re-attached. But, it was early morning and it was a beauty. My route took us through the Lamar Valley which is awesomely beautiful and was just loaded with grazing bison. I stopped to watch and revel. A person with an imagination like mine could easily picture herself a Shoshone hunter, astride her painted pony, stalking these sacred beasts through the morning mist.

The Lamar Valley, Yellowstone National Park

Bison Grazing in the Lamar Valley, Yellowstone National Park

We exited the park at the Northeast entrance passing through Cooke City and continuing to what I can only describe as the point of no return. Just before you start the ascent to the Beartooth Corridor you are given the choice of hanging a left and heading south on the Chief Joseph Scenic Highway toward Cody, Wyoming or continuing on the Beartooth Highway. There is a sign that cautions RV’s of greater than 40 feet in length to head south. Clementine is quite diminutive at 24ft. and with Shadow in tow we are just right the limit.

“The Beartooth Corridor is one of the highest and most rugged areas in the lower 48 states, with 20 peaks reaching over 12,000 feet in elevation. In the surrounding mountains, glaciers are found on the north flank of nearly every mountain peak over 11,500 feet high. The Road itself is the highest elevation highway in Wyoming (10,947 feet) and Montana (10,350 feet), and is the highest elevation highway in the Northern Rockies.” ~ Pilfered from Beartooth Highway.com.

Steep climbs and altitude don't bother Clementine. She is equipped with a turbo charged Mercedes diesel and can leap tall mountains is a single bound even towing Shadow. And she gets 18 mpg whilst doing it. Quite a girl that Clementine

We ventured forth toward 11,000 ft into the deep blue sky. Soon we were rapidly gaining elevation, the turns got tighter and the road got narrower. We snaked up the mountain at twenty miles per hour or less. The average speed, even for a sensible car driver wouldn’t be much faster. As far as I was concerned there were no places to turnout with my rig. Few enough even for cars. The wind buffeted Clem around like a cork in a heavy sea. We climbed and we climbed and I thought we would never reach the summit.

Finally, there was a regular turnout near the summit. I didn’t stay long. I wanted off those mountains so bad. Going down the other side was no picnic either. It was steep and narrow but at least not much wind. When I reached the valley floor I was so relieved I pulled over, got out and kissed the ground. Then I looked up at the road we had just traversed and nearly swooned! At some time in the not too distant past there had been some really nasty slides. The roadbed which had been carved out of sheer cliffs was, in many places, being held up by what looked like spit wads of concrete. If I’d known I was driving across those Band-aids I would have had a heart attack for sure!

Needless to say you will have to go elsewhere for photos of this All American Highway. I sure as heck don’t have any and I have no plans of EVER have any. At least not unless I hire a car and driver to take me.

For those of you who can’t wait to give the Beartooth a try I make this suggestion. If at all possible start from Red Lodge instead of Cooke City. I’m pretty sure the views that made this highway famous are best seen going east to west. The way I came the views were always in the rearview mirror. And do it in the morning or you’ll have the sun in your face. I’m certain you will find it an exciting and beautiful drive which ever way you go, especially if you get to be the passenger.

©Kinsey Barnard Photography


Weekend Cowgirl said...

Your buffalo is fabulous!

Kinsey Barnard said...

Hey Cowgirl:

Thanks for the compliment.

This is my favorite buffalo image. http://www.kinseybarnard.com/gallery/category/wildlife/id/127.html

BTW, I am now following you on Twitter.