Beartooth Highway Part 2: Jackson, Wyoming to Red Lodge, Montana

Odometer (Legend):  529,752

529752

Odometer (ILX):  84,031

84031

Leg Distance:  229 Miles

part2

“Oh give me a home where the buffalo roam, where the deer and the antelope play.”  Surely the 1873 poem “Home on the Range” was written about Yellowstone National Park!  In fact, it happens to have been written just one year after then-U.S. President Ulysses S. Grant named that 3,500-square-mile area as the country’s first national park.  In the couple hundred miles driven in my Acura ILX on Saturday, my dad and I saw hundreds of the massive animals for which the park has become famous.

Saturday was the long-awaited day for our trip on the Beartooth Highway. By the time the morning sun had peeked over the eastern horizon, my dad and I had already made our way to Jackson, Wyoming’s best breakfast joint: The Bunnery. Known for its “OSM” (oat, sunflower, and millet) bread, the Bunnery serves up French toast that ranks as one of my favorite breakfast dishes.

Highway 89 beckoned as we set our sights on the towering Rocky Mountains. Grand Teton, at 13,700 feet, stays snow-capped and glacier-covered for the entire year. There are half a dozen or so turnouts where people can park alongside the road and admire the mountain range.

tyson_tetons

We paid our $25 entry to Grand Teton National Park (which also covered us for Yellowstone) and continued on. Though the speed limit through much of the parks is only 35 mph, the slower pace allows for more appreciation of the scenery all around. The winding two-lane road travels through a variety of landscapes – from densely wooded and immensely tall lodgepole pine forests, to grassy rolling hills, past rivers and lakes and always in sight of those magnificent mountains. My dad was on wildlife watch. “Be Bear Aware,” advised the roadside signs. We did see a bear at one point – and so did dozens of other visitors who had pulled off the road and set up their tripods for the occasion.

yellowstone_entrance

Yellowstone is a famous place for studying geologic activity.   Today, over 3 million people visit the park each year. Their first destination is usually Old Faithful, a famous geyser which erupts every 91 minutes. Yellowstone even also has an active volcano called the Yellowstone Caldera.  We visited Lower Falls, at 308 feet, which are the tallest falls in the park.  The sound of the water crashing down was loud even from a distance!

tyson_at_lower_falls

After probably driving within the park for 100 miles, we finally made our exit out the northeast entrance. The town of Silver City wasn’t more than just a few buildings, but within 4 miles we’d arrived in a settlement nestled at the base of the peaks in the Absaroka-Beartooth Wilderness: Cooke City. My dad is always intrigued with places like Cooke City and asks: “What do people do here?” Due to seasonal road closures, the city is essentially isolated for the better part of a year. No doubt the hot place in town was Beartooth Café, where we ordered burgers and talked with the locals about what it’s like to live in such a rugged place.

cooke_city

Beartooth Highway first opened on June 14, 1936 after a painstaking construction effort. Its lesser-known name is U.S. Route 212. From Cooke City, we’d be dipping back into northern Wyoming for a stretch, then re-entering Montana. I put on my sunglasses, buckled up, and gripped the steering wheel tightly. We were ready. We were about to experience a road that’s a favorite of motorcyclists and sports car enthusiasts from all over. Over the course of one specific 12-mile stretch, we rose about 3,000 feet in elevation. At the summit, Beartooth Pass, the elevation tops out at a whopping 10,947 feet. Weather conditions are volatile at best – with severe thunderstorms, heavy winds, and snowstorms common – even during the summer! We lucked out and didn’t encounter any of that. Annual road closures take effect from mid-October until Memorial Day.

beartooth_entrance

I pulled the ILX off the road for several breathtaking photo-ops. Fresh snow runoff had created dozens of waterfalls all around us. The higher in elevation we got, the higher the snow drifts alongside the road – sometimes towering above us at 3 or 4 times the height of the car. I cannot imagine what a chore it must have been for the snowplows to first blaze their way through the pass a couple of weeks ago for the first time this year. While temperatures only dipped as low as the mid-40’s Fahrenheit, it would have still been a very chilly ride for the few motorcyclists we saw along the way. Each turn presented a new dramatic vista. Clear mountain air allowed us to see many many miles into the distance.

ilx_waterfall

At one point we pulled over and watched from a distance as some daredevil skiers rocket down the hillside on what appeared to be a totally vertical slope. We also were able to see “the” Bear’s Tooth for which the road was named. From there, it was a white-knuckle descent for about the next 20 miles. Switchbacks had been blazed through the hillside but it was hard to believe just how technical the road was about to get. Some of the hairpin curves made almost complete circles as we made the 6-8% grades. I used my 6-speed manual transmission to brake the car rather than ‘riding’ the brakes down the grade.

ilx_back_beartooth

After what seemed like a forever-long descent, we finally found ourselves at ground level and continued the remaining 15 or so miles into the town of Red Lodge. Our hotel was the historic Pollard Hotel on Broadway. It was the first brick structure in the town, dating back to 1893. The Pollard (and its associated ‘friendly ghosts’ that haunt it) has been a long-time icon in the valley. There’s an entire room located at the southeast corner called the “history room” – chock full of pictures and newspaper articles related to The Pollard’s past. That room, incidentally, was at one time the town’s post office.

ilx_at_pollard

Dad and I enjoyed the chance to stretch our legs and wander around the historic downtown district. An old movie theatre had been converted into a gigantic candy store.  We ate dinner at Bridge Creek Restaurant just a few blocks from our hotel, then called it a night, leaving the hotel room window open and enjoying the breeze.

Here are the rest of the pictures and a short video from this segment of the trip!  Come back tomorrow for Part III!

“Million Dollar Cowboy Bar” in Jackson, Wyoming – dating back to 1937.  I asked the hostess at the gift shop why it was called the Million Dollar Bar, and she told me that it had cost that much to build or renovate.

cowboy_bar

Antler arch at the entrance to Jackson’s Town Square.

antlers

Entering Grand Teton National Park.

teton_entrance

My dad told me an interesting statistic:  99% of people see only 9% of the park.  I don’t know how true that is, but I tend to believe it.  There is so much uncharted wilderness.  Here’s a sulphur pond.

sulfur_pot

Distance sign.

distance_sign

Yellowstone Lake is huge.  It covers 136 square miles and is the biggest body of water in the park.

yellowstone_lake

Typical scenery.

scenery

Sign for Grand Canyon of Yellowstone.

grand_canyon_yellowstone

Distances after exiting the Northeast entrance to the park.

distances

Arrival in Cooke City.

ilx_in_cooke_city

Beartooth Cafe:  Our lunch spot for Saturday.

beartooth_cafe

“Top of the World.”  Contrary to what you’d think, this place is not at the summit of Beartooth.  The road continues its ascent well beyond the site of this convenience store.

ilx_dad

top_of_world

Nearing the crest at 10,947 feet.

ilx_front_beartooth

It will be awhile before all this snow melts.

tyson_snowbank

Love the scenery.

ilx_back

switchbacks

The “actual” bear tooth-shaped formation in the mountain, for which the road was named.

bears_tooth

Pointing my finger at the bear’s tooth.

bears_tooth_2

Welcome to Montana!

montana_state_line

Postcard we bought that shows the zig-zagging highway as it makes its descent.

postcard

Arrival in Red Lodge, Montana.  (Population:  2,125)

arrival_red_lodge

Checking in at The Pollard.

dad_at_pollard

Nice store name!

cc_legends

Enjoyed this article in The Pollard’s “History Room.”

montana_town

We saw the charred remains of an SUV that had caught fire earlier in the afternoon.

burned

Candy store!

candy_emporium

The place smelled like popcorn.  Bags of popcorn were available for sale for $0.25 each.

candy_emporium_inside

Old service station, still in use.

ray_judd_petroleum

For kicks, I decided to compare Red Lodge weather with my hometown weather.  There was a 40-degree difference!

red_lodge

scottsdale

13 Responses to “Beartooth Highway Part 2: Jackson, Wyoming to Red Lodge, Montana”

  1. 55 degrees during the summer? That is so nice. Sounds like my kind of place.

    • You’re telling me! I got home to 110 degrees and had to ask myself, “Why the heck do I live here?!” Next time I’ll plan a longer trip and stay awhile in Montana. Thanks for reading 🙂

  2. That road looks amazing is it better than 191?

    • I don’t think it’s “better” but it’s awesome in a different way. You don’t get as many curves, but the scenery I think is unmatched. Just depends on what you’re looking for. I would love to go back and to this one again — just wish it was located closer to me!

  3. What a drive! Another stop I need to make sometime when I have some extra time. Only 9% of the park, that makes it sound so very huge!

    • It is quite huge. Makes me wonder how much of the park we “don’t” get to see. Uncharted terrain. My dad said that there are likely bears in the park who are born, live their lives, and die without ever seeing a human being. It’s that expansive.

  4. I’ll have to get out there sometime soon. It’s only 6-7 hrs away from me!

    • Josh, it’s a must-see. I know we’re going to see some really pretty country next month, too. Stoked to check out Lucky Lake and Lowman! Get the TSX in tip top shape. Maybe even have the crew at Lyle P give it a bath again 🙂

  5. That Plymouth K car in the old gas station. Kinda fitting 🙂

  6. Okay Tyson…THIS TRIP LOOKS AMAZING! I have to get up there soon! I’m in disbelief how much snow there was. Glad you were able to have another great trip with just you and your dad. I need to coordinate with my dad to do something like that. Wonder what happened to that poor Subie? I have to say, I think the ILX pix that have come out of this trip are among the best I’ve seen on here. Great job!

    • I know, isn’t that snow level amazing?! I was blown away. Luckily, I had the foresight to pack a hooded sweatshirt even though it was over 100 degrees when I departed Phoenix, haha. Thanks for the compliments on the pics! This trip would’ve been a lot more fun if there had been another Acura in the caravan!

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