About an hour southwest of Billings, Montana is the small resort town of Red Lodge. This former mining town is the gateway to the Beartooth Highway. My Google map did not show very much between Red Lodge and Cooke City, the city next to the north east entrance to Yellowstone National Park. Just a road.
When I was planning this part of the trip from the hotel in Medora, I didn’t have much time to research the route but it looked pretty straightforward. So I topped off the gas tank in Red Lodge, and kept driving. So now the mountains looked a lot closer and soon I was climbing. And climbing. And climbing.
The Beartooth Highway goes through the Beartooth pass and it tops out at 10,947 feet! I did not see that coming! But it was a spectacular drive and although maybe a little tough on the Prius battery, the scenery was stunning.
For more about Beartooth, check out this video. I wish I had before I drove through it. I would have enjoyed it that much more.
I originally didn’t plan on going that far but as I was driving the TRNP loop, I was thinking about where I would go next. I had planned to explore the southwestern part of North Dakota but the hotel where I was planning on staying was not available when I needed it. I could have probably found another hotel but it started me thinking.
I had never seen Yellowstone National Park. From Medora, Yellowstone was seemingly an easy day’s drive. And right next door is Grand Teton. I had already traveled most of the way there and who knew when there would be another opportunity. I was already over 1,600 miles from home. Another 400 odd miles would not be that major a trek.
The more I thought about it, the more attractive the idea became.
So next morning (it’s now Monday, September 14) I headed west on Interstate 94. I topped off the gas tank in Beach and a few miles past Beach, I crossed into Montana, and headed toward Billings. The road was very similar to the road from Williston down to Beach – rolling prairie with cattle and hay more than grain. It was a lovely drive and seemingly mostly flat.
Just east of the little town of Rosebud, Montana, an overlook gave a lovely view of the Yellowstone River on a beautiful day.
As I’m driving I’m watching the western horizon looking for the first sign of the Rocky Mountains. Not seeing anything.
However, from time to time I noticed the road went up in a shallow climb and then leveled off for a while, settling maybe 300-500 feet higher. By the time I stopped for lunch in Billings, I was up over 3,000 feet. From there, I got off the Interstate and followed Route 212 west and south in pretty much a direct line for Yellowstone an easy 125 miles, or so I thought.
From Billings, the gradual climb continued until the GPS was showing a little over 5,000 feet above sea level. But even at that, I still wasn’t seeing the mountains.
Then, finally, off in the haze, I saw the first hint of greater heights.
Not exactly an impressive view, but on I drove …
As I was driving the Theodore Roosevelt park loop road, I heard some small squeezing noises that, at first, I though were birds. Then I looked out into the field next to the road and there was a whole colony of these small creatures.
Aside from that, I did see one lone bison but not much other wildlife. Guess timing is everything.
South Dakota has its Badlands and North Dakota’s badlands in Theodore Roosevelt National Park are just as impressive.
After driving east from Beach, I could see how the rolling prairie gradually transformed into the rugged badlands landscape.
I drove the park loop road and took in the long views and marveled at the geology of the area. The National Park Sevice Web site has an interesting discussion of the geologic formations in the park.
At this point I am further behind on my account of my 2015 road trip. Driving, touring, and photographing all day every day was too much to be able to work up images and blog posts every day. I have now returned home but I will continue to report on my adventure.
Following a wonderful tour of the remote north west corner of North Dakota I spent the night in Williston, which has largely been taken over by the Bakken Shale oil business. The area around Williston looks to me like a big industrial park. Much has been written about the pro and con of this new oil boom, so I’ll pass on commenting at this point.
So after spending the night in Williston, I set off for Theodore Roosevelt National Park, just a little over 2 hours south of Williston. On the suggestion of Dan Smith of Rolette, ND, I took the alternate route from the main road and followed Route 16 over the beautiful rolling prairie to the town of Beach.
Along the way I saw that the grain bins that populated the prairie in the northern and eastern part of North Dakota have replaced with oil rigs.
This pretty church was sitting by the side of the road. It looks to be in good condtion on the outside but there doesn’t seem to be much evidence that is still in use.
And a little way down the road I spotted this curious machine.
Eventually I arrived in the town of Beach and captured this interesting grain elevator.
Beach sits on Interstate 94 that runs from Milwaukee across Wisconsin, Minnesota, North Dakota and on into Montana. Medora, the gateway city for Theodore Roosevelt Park is about 25 miles east of Beach on I94. But I opted for the “scenic route” on Old Highway 10 through Sentinel Butte. Much better than an Interstate.
With the conclusion of the workshop, I wanted to explore some new areas of North Dakota so I headed into the north west corner, which is one of the more remote areas of the state, right up to the Canadian Border.
I went up the road to the border town of Portal. Once upon a time, I could have gone on a short visit into Canada just showing my driver’s license both ways. I did just that a couple of times in the 1970s. Not today. I’m told that I can go to Canada with the driver’s license, but I can’t get back into the USA without a passport. It seems to me we have gotten way too paranoid.
So I stopped within sight of the border control facility. It is a large modern building surrounded by chain link fencing. I did not tempt fate by trying to photograph it.
So curiosity satisfied, I continued to explore, ending up in Williston for the night. Here is a small sample of what I saw.
I’ve been using the Olympus ap on my phone to capture a GPS track as I travel and then I can geotag the images. Here’s the map in Lightroom showing where I was photographing.