Yellowstone at Last!

Wednesday, September 10, 2008 Road Junkies 2 Comments

Day 5: Red Lodge, MT to Gardiner, MT
We started the day looking for a letterbox outside Red Lodge. Although the clue was well written, we were not able to locate the box and suspect it has been the victim of mischief.No letterbox, but we found a treasure in the Beartooth Highway. With a reputation as one of the most scenic highways in the U.S., the highway features breathtaking views of the Absaroka and Beartooth Mountains, as well as open high alpine plateaus dotted with glacial lakes and forested valleys.
According to the road's official web site, the highway, which passes through 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. To say that the road is winding and curvy is quite an understatement. In fact we switched off driving every 10 miles (30-45 minutes) because it was took so much concentration.

Today we saw a crew placing snow poles along the highway (see photo below). These are the poles which mark the highway during deep snow. When we asked, we were told the poles are 12 to 24 feet tall and that the snow actually gets that deep. The Beartooth is closed in the winter.
Finally after driving 2,100 or so miles, we reached the entrance of Yellowstone park! Ten mles or so into the park, we set off on what was identified as an "easy" one-mile hike. We usually do some moderate hiking in Blowing Rock and haven't really had any problems, so we were both shocked when we were huffing and puffing after a short walk up what we would normally consider a mild hill. Then we realized we were feeling the effects of being above 9,000 feet above sea level. Our Georgia lungs and muscles were definitely not ready for this. We finished the climb and were rewarded with the sight of the beautiful Trout Lake.
By the time we reached Yellowstone, the temperature, which had been at 50 degrees when we left Red Lodge, MT, this morning had fallen to the upper thirties to low forties. Back on the main road after our hike, we saw a dozen or so cars stopped ahead and joined them to watch a large herd of bison (200-300) crossing from one side of the road to another. The rain that had been falling switched to marble-sized hail, but the bison had on their winter coats, so they didn't seem to be bothered.