Thursday, June 09, 2005

Highway 212

(6-8-05) New York Times - Highway 212, the 68-mile road that winds into the Northeast corner of Yellowstone Park through Red Lodge, Montana has been closed due to mudslides. On May 19, these slides covered 13 sections of Beartooth Highway, about 12 miles worth. An estimated 500 million tons of mud and rock now block the road. During the road's open season, about 900 cars a day drive over it. The tourist town of Red Lodge expects revenue to fall far below normal levels this year. Opened in 1936, the road climbs from 5,555 feet at Red Lodge to Beartooth Pass at just under 11,000 feet, in Montana's highest mountains. "The serpentine drive can take three hours or more. Most of the road climbs through pine forest and across open slopes. At the top, however, the road travels above timberline to a place known as the Top of the World, which is breathtaking and surreal - broad, grassy tundra, small, still lakes that mirror the sky and huge rounded boulders in the meadow. There are expansive views of snow mottled mountains for miles in every direction. On his CBS travel program, On The Road, Charles Kuralt called it 'the most beautiful roadway in America'." Repairs are expected to take some time.

--The New York Times, and of course Charles Kuralt (!) were not kidding. This is indeed, some of the most beautiful country I have seen in my travels. In late July, early August of 2002 I traveled this road on my way North out of Yellowstone Park in my 1984 VW Rabbit convertible. I had no idea it was such a well-known place, but was blown away by the beauty of it. The road climbs from the valleys of Northeast Yellowstone into an incredible and absolutely surreal highland environment. It looked like a dreamworld up there. The area around Beartooth Pass was unbelievable. It was bumpy, green, rocky, and sparsely dotted with clumps of pine trees. Alpine lakes were scattered around this bizarre, warped tabletop in the clouds, shining like jewels. I exited my car, stood on a huge bank of cold, white snow, and had someone from another car take a picture. It began to rain, then turned into an intense hailstorm. The weather cleared up on the drive down the pass, and I wound my way down into the foothills of the Rocky Mountains, on to the flatter ground of the Montana high plains, where the city of Billings sits. I then chased the storms across Montana and North Dakota for the next day. I've often thought about that day during the past few years, and this article brought it back to me again. I was in an odd state of mind at the time. It was cool, grey, and wet, and I was alone, with my music and my pipe for 2 weeks. Definitely an experience I would call formative. I hope highway 212 gets repaired in short order so more people can see this place. I've posted some photos below of my trip through the area.

Before the climb, Northeast Yellowstone

on the way up...

the Top of The World

happy tree

surreal landscape

summer snow

on the way down...


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