Wednesday, 2 September 2015

15th August - Chief Joseph and Beartooth Scenic Highways, Wyoming and Montana

For a change the sun was just out as we left Cody heading north on highway 120 with the intention of joining the Chief Joseph Scenic Highway and from there onto the Beartooth Highway

Today would be a completely different day to those we have experienced as the roads would take us through some very dramatic scenery.  The weather was good, clear blue skies and sunshine.  We passed several groups of Pronghorn along the way before joining the scenic highway, and there were also quite a few Black-billed Magpies in the road.  

Named after Chief Joseph of the Nez Perce tribe who eluded the US Army and escaped though the Clarks Fort here in 1877, the highway is around 47 miles long passing through the Shoshone Forest and eventually joining up with the Beartooth Highway.  Our first stop was at the Dead Indian Pass, a spectacular viewpoint at just over 8,000 feet.

The ridge was the last main barrier for the Nez Perce when they were evading the US Cavalry.  After the Battle of Big Hole a month earlier they knew the army would not leave any survivors.  By crossing the pass and heading for the plains they felt they could join the crow tribe or Sitting Bull in Canada.  With the army about a day away in an opening not far from the viewpoint they moved the horses about leaving many tracks.  Then they backtracked down a ridge and a canyon then finally the Clarks fork of the Yellowstone River.

The ploy confused the army and the Nez Perce were able to evade them once again.  However by al accounts they left behind a wounded scout who was discovered by the army and killed hence the name.

The scenery was amazing, high buttes on either side of the road as travelled north.

The highway crosses a very deep canyon belonging to Sunlight Creek, the bridge that spans the creek being the highest in Wyoming at just over 250 feet.  Walking across the bridge you can see the creek flowing below.

Along with the high rock walls of the creek's canyon.

the bridge itself is a single carriageway concrete road supported by heavy iron work.

Scanning the area I saw very briefly a couple of Mountain Goats that are only found her in this area.

From Sunlight Creek we continued to the junction with the Beartooth Highway, left would take us back into Yellowstone through Cooke City, right along the majority of the highway, and through the Beartooth Pass to Red Lodge.  We turned right.

The road climbs through pine forests before opening up and revealing a beautiful crystal clear lake.  The is Beartooth lake and there was a wonderful reflection in the still water.

Around us there were bird calls, but just below the edge of the lake there was an American Dipper on a tree trunk.  From the behaviour it seemed this was a juvenile bird, it was strange to see it close by to such still water.

It was now time for breakfast and a coffee so we pulled into a small lodge intriguingly called the Top of the World Motel

After muffins and coffee we set off again, the landscape now changing to a more alpine look with few trees and large rocks. On either side of the road there were pools and lakes created by the glacial deposits damming the valleys.  This one as the sign says was Little Bear Lake, but there wasn't any bears in sight

And then around the corner a long thin lake, called Long Lake.

The traffic was building up, a sign that we were now into the mid morning time.  We were also joined once again by the Harley-Davidsons winding their way around the switchbacks and hairpins as the road headed up to Beartooth Pass.

At one overlook I was greeted by a piercing call coming from the rocks.  At firs I thought it was a Pica, but when I picked up the owner I could see it was much too big, and from the yellow belly of the owner it was clear this was a Yellow-bellied Marmot.

As I watched the Marmot I picked up a falcon coming over the ridge, the marmot saw it to and disappeared from sight.  Unfortunately I wasn't able to conclusively identify the falcon, but I suspect Peregrine.

Looking down the road winds its way uphill amongst the treeless, rocky landscape with pockets of snow fields.

Over the pass the roads starts to wind down, past more lakes, this one is Frozen Lake - I am sure that gets the kids interest!

And then looking down Gardiner Lake, again the lake created by the incredible carving power of the glaciers that have covered these mountains.

The area is very scenic, but to describe it as beautiful is difficult.  The area is a barren wilderness and I am not sure if that qualifies as beautiful, it is though spectacular.

As we descended down towards Red Lodge there were further examples of the effects of the glaciers, huge "U" shaped valleys lined on both sides by pine trees would rise up in front of you.

As the road levels out we passed into Montana and pulled into Red Lodge.

Red Lodge was established in the late nineteenth century as a coal mining town, and grew so quickly that by 1910 the immigrant population was twice the size of the town today.  It gained a reputation as a hard drinking fist-fighting town, and in 1897 there was an attempted robbery of the central bank by Butch Cassidy's partner the Sundance Kid.  Most of the mines were closed in 1932 after years of depression and mining disasters.  The highway was opened four years later, and Red lodge began the change to the tourist driven town it is today with hiking, camping and skiing the attraction.

The main street is called Broadway Avenue and had some interesting shops.

And some interesting restaurants and this quaint ice cream parlour.

It was time to head back and we started the climb back up to Beartooth Pass, this time stopping at the pass to take in the views of the distant mountain that gives it the name .

We were at an elevation of 10,947 feet which makes this one of the highest tarmac roads in the world.

The journey back was not as spectacular as earlier, the high sun washing outa lot of the features.  As we approached the turn back to Cody we had a decision to make, did we carry on to Cooke City and complete the highway, or did we turn back down the Chief Joseph to Cody and have a relaxing afternoon?

We were sceneried out, so decided to head back to Cody.  As we came to the end of the Chief Joseph Scenic Highway we did get a view of the escarpments we had passed through earlier when they were behind us.  The rocks are both Sandstone but differing in the deposits.

The wind was picking up, and was quite a breeze, the temperature though as we pulled into Cody was just above 90 degrees.  For once the afternoon was spent by the pool, and then early afternoon we were ready for dinner and our trip to the rodeo.

Cody is the self-proclaimed "Rodeo Capital of the World", and all summer long holds a nightly rodeo.  We took our place in the stands that were above pens of horses and cattle.  

This is a diffcult one as you have to question whether the animals are hurt in the events that take place.  They appear to come out of the tumbles and lassoing with out any injuries, and these skills are used every day out in the fields and prairies.  There was no doubting though it was good fun and an entertaining way to spend the evening.

It was all very efficient with a bus picking us up and taking us back to the hotel.  This was probably our latest night out, and we still had to sort ourselves out for yet another early departure tomorrow bacj to Yellowstone and then south to Jackson Hole.

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