The Beartooth Highway

I’m having nomadic withdrawals right now and fantasizing about a life on the road; since I can’t actually go anywhere at this particular moment, I thought it would be a good time to relive my Rocky Mountain 2015 summer vacation through a series of post-vacation posts.


The Beartooth Highway (highest elevation: Beartooth Pass, 10,947 feet) is a 68-mile long highway that winds through national forests and high Alpine passes between the tiny and somewhat rough and tumble towns of Cooke City and Red Lodge, Montana. For those who think Skyline Drive offers beautiful vistas and dramatic curves, the Beartooth Highway is on another level; in fact, the entire American West is on another playing field when it comes to mountains. Our mild East Coast mountains, though adequately scenic, come up a little short against the Rockies. If you want to experience geographic envy, go west; the Appalachians will seem like pretty, but entirely modest, hills. But back to the Beartooth Highway: This is the kind of place that makes you want to throw your hands up and channel your inner Julie Andrews:

Snowcapped mountains, scenic vistas, meadows covered in delicate, pastel-colored wildflowers, turquois mountain lakes and mile after mile of twisting, nerve-wracking highway through National Forest; the Beartooth Highway has it all if you’re into Alpine scenery.

Beartooth Highway top of mountain

On top of a mountain right off the Beartooth Highway. Snow in July!


Beartooth Highway

Family walking through an Alpine Meadow right off the Beartooth Highway.

Feeling high on topography, I told my husband we should pull over somewhere to enjoy a picnic lunch in this pristine alpine place, because what could be more romantic and appropriate? The spot we happened upon was perfect, just down a gravel pull-off that ended at a gathering of slightly rusty picnic tables and a cold water creek, which would have been considered a river in Virginia. Just imagine the scene: A translucent stream and small waterfall framed by tall pines and crowned by twin peaks of snowcapped mountains, the sky blue and scattered with light, fluffy clouds moving happily and lazily along a welcoming sky, holding nothing but the promise that rain is nowhere in sight. These are the long-winded, over-the-top descriptions the American West inspires. And guess what? You don’t even have to use your imagination to conjure up this fantastical place because I’ve included a picture below:

Could one ask for a more idyllic scene?

Could one ask for a more idyllic scene?

In Virginia, a place like this would be filled with people and dogs and noise, but in the west, places like this are, if not ordinary, at least common enough that you can carve out a secret place of your own with minimal effort. We were all alone except for a large-bellied, pistol-carrying middle-aged guy fly-fishing while his short-shorts wearing, bottle blonde, tough-looking wife grilled burgers and drank beer. Neither of them looked too happy to see us (maybe we stepped into their secret fishing hole?) and, much to my disappointment, nobody offered us any burgers.

But alas. I breathed in the crisp mountain air and enjoyed a feeling of all-encompassing gratitude and well-being. And that’s exactly when the mosquitos showed up; zillions of them, everywhere, biting us through our clothes. We sprayed our skin, clothes and even the picnic table with bug spray, but they were relentless. And as soon as the food came out, the flies swarmed in, creating an infernal, inescapable, surround-sound buzz. When you see images of Alpine lakes and rivers and snowcapped mountains, no one tells you that what the picture fails to show you is that you will be greeted by a heavy, unabating blanket of mosquitos and flies that follows you everywhere you go. There is no escape. No one tells you that a picnic lunch by a creek on a hot Montana Day is a form of torture that will soon lead you to abandon your romantic creek-side picnic notions, pack up your lunch, run for shelter and enjoy your meal (and the view) from the comfort of your car.


Categories: American West, Outdoors, Parks, U.S Travels

Tags: , , , , , ,

3 replies

  1. I have been on the Beartooth a couple of times. The driving and the beauty are both intense.


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