The road home—the Beartooth Highway in southern Montana and Highway 14A in the Bighorns of Wyoming.
Pictures don’t capture the majesty of these mountains.
Nor do they capture the gut-clutching, death-defying, close-your-eyes-and-trust-your-driver feelings.
Fortunately, there are places to pull in, catch your breath, and stand and gawk at the grandeur.
Then on we drove to the northern route over the Bighorn Mountains in Wyoming. And I thought the Beartooth Highway was nerve-wracking! I don’t have many pictures of this route because I was busy coping!
The grade here is 10-11%. Breath-taking is a good description! That’s usually a good thing, but on occasion I didn’t want to give up my breath! (Lots of exclamation points here, you’ll notice.) I almost kissed the flat ground when we got down. And I swore off ever driving in the mountains again unless it was in Glacier Park’s little red busses.
In hindsight, when I had recovered and was relaxing at the Occidental Hotel in Buffalo, listening to a cowboy band, I thought of this day as one of the best mountain days I’d ever had. Thanks to my husband for doing the mountain driving, or I never would have had the experience.
Here ends my travelogue of our Great American Road Trip West; the harsh beauty of the West is a wonder to me; the indomitable spirit of the pioneers inspires me; and the enduring evidence of strife between peoples in our country saddens me.
Like Dorothy who stared in astonishment at Munchkinland and said, “Toto, I don’t think we’re in Kansas,” the US is a whole of so many vastly different parts. Going from the Midwest to the West is like going from to Mars to Jupiter. Pictures and words absolutely do not convey the feel of the varied beauty of our country. Go see it for yourself.
The Buffalo Bill Center of the West at Cody, Wyoming is a Smithsonian-quality museum. Don’t go through Cody without visiting it. Western art, firearms, history of the plains Indians, western geology, natural history, and all things Buffalo Bill Cody under one roof. Plan on spending no less than four hours here; your ticket is good for two days.
Only upon reflection did I realize what was missing from the history of the West—there was only a nod to the explorers and pioneers pushing West. One wonders if telling their stories would necessitate exposing the ugly side of people and events—best left untold in a family venue? Or are we tied in knots by political correctness? The sins were great on both sides, as was the extraordinary courage. One side may prevail, but no one wins at war.
Nevertheless, it’s a five-star museum of the West. Enjoy the photos.
“Let ‘er buck!”—the battle cry of the University of Wyoming athletics fans. It means: Bring on the bronco and let her (or him) buck! Metaphorically it means: Face adversity and try to conquer it, even if it throws you around. A put-up-your-dukes, stick-out-your-chin, bring-it-on attitude. And why not? A tough land makes people tough.
Wyoming—state of vast sage-covered land and really big mountains. It’s a thrill as the Bighorn Mountains, a subrange of the Rocky Mountains, rise in the distance. Take Highway 16 out of Buffalo and in no time you’re in the mountains.
100+ year old cabin.
On this trip we revisited places from a trip 30 years ago.
The South Fork Inn, a few miles into the mountains, has changed but not in a bad way. The name is different, but still recognizable, South Fork Mountain Lodge and Outfitters. The new cabins are neatly folded into the landscape. And the 100+ year old cabin we had stayed in is still there—a bedroom on either side of a center kitchen with a wood burning cookstove (now unusable).
After having a look around the South Fork Inn we trucked on to the next revisit—Crazy Woman Canyon Road—the reason we drove our 4-wheel drive truck. Single lane, gravel, and rutted. Not a road for cars with low oil pans. It’s a crazy road leading to fantastic scenery and gorgeous campsites (bring your own water or water treatment tablets). No facilities—I mean NO facilities—if you know what I mean. This eighteen-mile road can be driven in either direction, from south of Buffalo, or from Hwy 16 in the mountains, or you can just turn around like we did.
By this point in the road, (photo at left), I wasn’t feeling so good—a bit of a headache and mild nausea. OK, I’m a flatlander, and it takes me a bit to adjust to the altitude, but not long. Fortunately, my husband did 97% of the mountain driving. Well, fortunately, I think. He likes to drive, which means I was sucking in my breath or closing my eyes on occasion. Mountain driving is much like aging, not for sissies.
Down in the valley, me driving, a storm piled up black clouds and raced across the open range; a wall of rain bounced off the dry ground. Storms in the West are like that: fast, frequently in the afternoon, and sometimes violent. A beautiful storm.
Hot and tired, but exhilarated from being back in the mountains, we pulled into Cody, Wyoming. Cody is for tourists, and we fell right in step, enjoying a gunfight staged at the Irma Hotel.