“I’m in love with Montana. For other states I have admiration, respect, recognition, even some affection. But with Montana it is love. And it’s difficult to analyze love when you’re in it.”
– John Steinbeck, Travels with Charley: In Search of America
I am continuously reminded how lucky I am to live in Montana. We may not have abundant job opportunities, enough cultural events for my liking, or even decent Indian food. But what we do have is space. Mountains. Rivers. Snow. Wildlife. And our famous Big Sky. Ironically, it’s in these solitary spaces that you can slow down, take in your surroundings and connect with someone on a new level. And maybe just rediscover yourself along the way as well.
In honor of our 5 year anniversary, the Hubs and I planned a road trip. A 900 mile road trip of epic proportions! A trip that celebrated the two-lane back roads of Montana through country that we’d maybe seen on our own when we were younger, but not for a looooong time and not together. Our destination? Red Lodge and the Beartooth Highway….the long way.
I’ll admit. I was 98% excited, 2% terrified (or vice versa, depending on the day) because we were taking Abby. Abby has never been a huge fan of her carseat, so of course the best thing for us to do is plan a 900 mile road trip that requires her to be in it the majority of the day. Right?
We left Thursday after work and headed South from Missoula down Highway 93. Our first stop was at Bitterroot Brewery for dinner and to fill up a few growlers for the trip – Single Hop IPA for the Hubs and Huckleberry Honey for me. (Sorry, no pictures of this stop, I was too excited about the beer I guess).
After dinner we headed back down the highway with the Wise River (through the Big Hole Basin) as our final destination of the evening. I’d never been through here and I was blown away with it’s beauty (and its mosquitos).
The Big Hole National Battlefield lies here – the largest battle fought between the Nez Perce and the U.S. Government during the Nez Perce War. Good to know, eh?
Our first camp was along the Wise River. We borrowed Grandpa’s camper for this excursion (1) because our last tent camping with Abby was torture and (2) we were going through Yellowstone, and momma is bear scared. What? And you aren’t?
The next morning we continued down the road through the Pioneer Mountain Scenic Byway. I can’t believe I’d never been here before, it was SO amazing. We will be going back for some hiking.
The big mid-day stop on Friday was Dillon, MT where we found the Patagonia Outlet store and a taco bus. Score!
We’ve heard a lot about the taco bus in Dillon. It’s one of those places you’re kinda scared to go to….because the old painted school bus is just a titch sketchy looking…but wow. It was delicious! You can Fiesta Me anytime.
The rest of the day took us through Virginia City (a touristy ghost town where Hubs wouldn’t let me stop at the candy store. I know! He is adamantely against small town candy stores…so rude), Ennis and finally just outside West Yellowstone. We made camp for the night and despite the crazy Thunderstorm, Hubs cooked up an awesome Chile Verde in the dutch oven while I played with Abs.
On to Saturday! We got up bright and early to enter Yellowstone Park a little early, and I’m glad we did. I love our National Parks, but they sure can be a cluster in the summer.
We may have caused a small traffic jam ourselves when we noticed these “buffalo in the mist” as I like to call it. We however, pulled over like smart people. I don’t even know what the people behind us were doing. At one point a few cars were perpendicular on the highway. wth? I should have taken a picture of that hot mess.
And now for the opposite of a hot mess, Lower Yellowstone Falls. This was my favorite part of the park:
…and now for the classic Yellowstone photo:
Once we left the park, we were finally on our way to our final destination: the Beartooth Highway and Red Lodge. We stopped at Beartooth Lake along the way for a little break.
The Beartooth Highway is the section of U.S. Highway 212 between Red Lodge and Cooke City, Montana. It traces a series of steep zigzags and switchbacks to the 10,947 ft high Beartooth Pass. The approximate elevation rise is from 5,200 ft to 8,000 ft in 12 miles in the most daring landscapes. The Beartooth Highway has been called “the most beautiful drive in America,” by late CBS correspondent Charles Kuralt. Because of heavy snowfall at the top, the pass is usually open each year only from mid May through mid October, weather conditions permitting. (via)
thank goodness for self-timers, eh?
After another crazy afternoon Thunderstorm, and descending the loooong, windy, nauseating pass…we found our way to Red Lodge Ales Brewing Co. How conveeeeeenient. Get the Hefeweizen….mmmmmm.
Our last night was spent camping near Red Lodge on Rock Creek. It was a great end to a long day of driving and exploring.
Our happy little camper:
We buzzed home on the Interstate. A whopping six-hours. Oy vey. We both agreed that after traveling at speeds of 45-65 and taking in our beautiful surroundings, the Interstate seemed lightning fast and ugly.
We stopped about halfway home at Three Forks at the headwaters of the Missouri River State Park. (BTW…this is an AWESOME place to stop if you need a break on a road trip! We will definitely be going back). We had a little picnic lunch and the Hubs and Summy jumped in the river.
Have I not mentioned Summit yet? Whoopsie Daisy. Yeah, she was there too, of course!
I’m sure you’re wondering if I was rightfully terrified about the trip with Abs? Well, yes, I probably was. A mom should worry about those sorts of things to some degree. But you know what? She was a rockstar. She slept quite a bit and even played quietly by herself a lot of the time. She lost her bananas twice, but it was really only because she was hungry, so we just took our time, stopped when we needed to and didn’t get in a hurry. It really wasn’t a big deal. I wish I could high-five that little stinker.
And there we have it. Four days. Three nights. 900 miles. A dog. A baby. A camper. Wide open spaces.