Wilderness Wyoming and Southern Montana

To the west, Yellowstone National Park welcomes two million visitors a year. To the east, Sturgis, South Dakota attracted over a million bikers to its 75th Annual Sturgis Motorcycle Rally, held the first week of August. Bikers were on the roads everywhere, going to and from Sturgis.

In between, straddling the Montana and Wyoming borders, are the Absaroka (meaning “crow”) Mountain Range, the Beartooth (“because the craggy mountains resemble a bear’s tooth”) Mountains, and the Shoshone National Forest, wilderness areas that contain some of the highest peaks, and are among the most remote in the United States.

Conservationists consider them so remote that they relocate “problem” grizzlies removed from Yellowstone to this area. My husband spent fifteen years hiking this backcountry with his buddies. At the time, he knew there were grizzlies, but not “problem” grizzlies. He can attest, however, that the trails in the area are demanding, see very few hikers, mostly pack-horses, and that the many small mountain lakes teem with trout.

On our recent sentimental journey through the area, we drove the Beartooth Scenic Byway and the Chief Joseph Scenic Byway, south from Red Lodge, Montana to Cody, Wyoming. Red Lodge is a mountain town at the foot of the series of switchbacks that rise thousands of feet to the Beartooth Pass at 10,947 feet. The switchbacks are notorious, sharp and steep, paved and protected, but totally memorable, even to a modern traveller. The mountain vistas are dramatic and stretch to the horizon.

As a westerner, I love mountains and am always impressed by the successive ranges of vast mountains which mark a trip across British Columbia and into Alberta. But we route our roads through the valleys, and through passes which are often massive and somewhat flat at the summit. In the United States, I have been awed by how the mountains in Glacier National Park, Montana, and here, rise so sharply from the flatlands below, and how roads are built back and forth up the face of steep mountains. It’s a wonderful experience but not for the agrophobic.

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Moving south, the forests recede and the vista changes. Rocky outcroppings mark the foothills, and ahead are dry flat plains. Cody, Wyoming is the jumping off spot into Yellowstone, through the east gate. A small frontier town, named after the army scout, showman and entrepreneur, Buffalo Bill Cody, it trades on its history and its proximity to the park. The Buffalo Bill Center of the West is an outstanding complex of five museums which we only had time to sample. More about that next week.

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