Monday, July 15, 2013

Weekend Road Trip

View from Fire lookout tower
We love beautiful country and we love visiting historic places. We made a 3 day road trip this weekend (in the car) that satisfied both of these passions. We headed out early Friday crossing Yellowstone National Park from our home base in West Yellowstone to the northwest entrance (exit) to the park. This entrance is connected directly with the Beartooth Highway, a National Scenic Byway
(, ( If you are not familiar with National Scenic Byways following this link for general information:

View from Fire lookout tower
Numerous people recommended the Beartooth Mountains to us so we looked into it. As we were looking at the map we realized that the other end of the drive would put us near Billings which, in turn, put us near some things that were on our wishlist.  Next thing you know a plan was formed.

View from lookout at 10,954 feet
As you exit Yellowstone onto the Beartooth Highway it starts as a bit underwhelming. The drive across the north side of Yellowstone is so beautiful it is really hard to beat. That being said, the Beartooth Highway did not disappoint. After we got past Cooke City the drive slowly became more and more scenic. We took a side jaunt up to a fire lookout tower that provided almost a 360 degree view of the surrounding mountain ranges. As we continued on each mile took us higher than the last until we reached 10,954 feet. At this point we were above treeline so there were no issues with trees blocking our view.
View from another pullout. Can you
see the lake?

The slow decent down was a continuous, amazing view.  The switchbacks with many hairpin turns gave an excuse to go slow and enjoy. There are many turnouts that we utilized to stop and soak it in. By the time we got to Red Lodge the descent was complete and we had gone down about 8,000 feet.  We went on to Billings to a hotel, poised for some history the next day.

Last Stand hill with memorial on top
The next morning we headed out on a loop with the first stop being the Little Bighorn Battlefield about 60 miles from Billings right off of I-90. This battle is probably next only to Gettysburg in American History fame. It was interesting to see the location of the battle and hear (a version of) the story on why (historians think) Custer did what he did and why he never stood a chance. There are tons of books out there but that's not my kind of reading.  Doing the ranger led interpretive walk while on location is much preferred for us. Here is a link to more info:

Battlefield in one direction 
Our next adventure for the day was to visit Pompey's Pillar. We first heard about this while visiting Lewis and Clark Corps of Discovery sites and museums in Montana 2 years ago. It was too far out of our way on that trip but it went onto the future must-see list. We decided this weekend's road trip was the perfect time to make the visit. I can probably safely assume you have never heard of Pompey's Pillar so here is the story in a nutshell. On the return trip of the famous expedition Lewis and Clark had split up to explore two different areas of interest to them. William Clark's route took him down the Yellowstone River.
William Clark's engraving.
Protected under glass.

Pompey's Pillar
One day he climbed this big rock to get a view of the surrounding area and he saw some ancient Indian carvings on the rock.  He decided to carve his name and the date on the rock and noted that he had done such in his journal. He named the rock after Sacajawea's son who he had nicknamed Pomp. This is the only physical evidence that still exists on the entire Lewis and Clark expedition. It is the only place you can be absolutely certain that you stood where he stood.  One of those chill up your spine moments. Here are some links to info:

We stayed at the same hotel and returned home the next day by driving west on I-90 to Bozeman and then south on Highway 191 back home. That section of I-90 runs next to the Yellowstone River so you can let your imagination go thinking about what Clark saw 210 years ago as he traveled that route. One thought I had was that he was only 60-100 miles from what is now called the Mammoth Hot Springs in Yellowstone National Park. I wonder what he would have written in his journal had he seen those formations.

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