Scene Through the Windshield

Sunday, November 11, 2012 Road Junkies 0 Comments

Bozeman, MT to Missoula, MT
After Brutus dealt his final blow to Bozeman last night, sending the temperature plummeting to -9° around 11 p.m., he moved on east.  Snow stopped falling and the mercury was on the rise.  By the time we departed from Bozeman this morning, we were enjoying a balmy 13°.  Time to pull out the sandals!

On the way to the local post office to mail some birthday cards, we were a little concerned about a rhythmic thumping noise we were hearing from the car.  While we were stopped at the PO, we knocked the considerable build-up of ice and snow out of the wheel wells in preparation for hitting the highway.  Sure enough, when we started back up, the noise had disappeared and the ride was a little smoother, too.  Oh, the many things we're learning about real winter.

Having checked the very helpful Montana DOT web site for road status, we were expecting a variety of conditions, from dry and clear to snow and ice-covered and everything in between.  That's exactly what we got.  There were occasional clear stretches but most early sections were at least partially covered with snow and ice.  (I-90 near Three Forks, MT pictured above)  On those portions, we were averaging about 50 mph, and frequently both cars and trucks would blow past us on the icy lane.  

The folly of that kind of speed was evident when we passed a one-car accident near Whitehall.  The car had spun into a guardrail and flipped over onto the median.  We don't know that excess speed was involved, but it seemed likely.

Our heroes

Butte street

Cold and lonely

Tobacco Root Mountains
As we plodded along, XM Radio brought us a play-by-play report of the Atlanta Falcons' game against their regional rival, the Saints.  New Orleans got the better end of the stick today, terminating the Falcons' undefeated season, but we're counting on the Falcons being better prepared for the rematch later in the season.
Near Homestake Pass
As we climbed up toward Homestake Pass (el. 6,368 ft) near Butte, we began seeing huge boulders standing on end, much like oversize sandwiches.  This area is quite popular with rock climbers, though we saw no one scrambling today.

Through the pass and up to the Continental Divide at 6,393 feet, the terrain was very rocky and covered with evergreens.  We were driving through the Beaverhead-Deerlodge National Forest.  At this elevation, the guard rails and median walls were all snow coated, in addition to the road surface.  This section had received an application of sand, which did improve traction somewhat.

Lots of cows were scrounging for a little grass in the snow-covered fields that lined the interstate, usually Black Angus, with an occasional Red Angus herd thrown in to keep things interesting.  Those poor beasts really looked chilled, and we didn't see any of them lying down today.
When we stopped for lunch in Butte (el. 5,540), the temperature was back down to 12°, and the streets were still snow-covered.  Apparently when it comes to winter weather, it's not about location, as real estate people like to say.  In this case, it's elevation, elevation, elevation. 

Forty miles past Butte, we stopped briefly in Deer Lodge to locate a letterbox in a cemetery there.  Like yesterday in Bozeman, we were wading in snow to mid-calf level.  After finding the box and getting back onto I-90, we seemed to hit the sweet spot.  For the first time, both westbound lanes were clear and dry.  Even better, they remained that way for the rest of the 85 miles to Missoula, our destination for the evening.

Since we were able to make better time on that last stretch, we arrived in Missoula around 3:45, giving us time to locate a couple of local letterboxes before the sun fell past the horizon just after 5:00.  Tomorrow we'll head into the Idaho panhandle, spending one night in Coeur d'Alene, before continuing on to Washington.
  • Miles driven:  224
  • Letterboxes:  F 3, P 0
  • Weather:  0° to 27°, sunny to cloudy
  • States:  1 (MT)
  • Cattle in snowy fields:  3,458
  • Ice covered streams:  21
  • Snow-coated evergreens:  186,320
Lots of windshield views today
More from the windshield
Can these deer swim off the island if they need to?

Farm scene