Top of the World – Beartooth Plateau, Montana & Wyoming

This post is one I’ve been looking forward to writing for a long time, because I get to talk all about one of the most beautiful places I’ve ever been: The Beartooth Plateau.

The Beartooth Plateau is located high in the Beartooth Mountains, reaching a maximum elevation of nearly 11,000 feet. The Beartooth Mountains – named for a pointy, canine-shaped mountain called the Bear’s Tooth – are located in south-central Montana and north-central Wyoming. The highest mountain in Montana is located here: Granite Peak, which rises to 12,807 feet. Numerous other jagged, rocky peaks tower above the expanse of the plateau, giving rise to an incredibly beautiful and fragile ecosystem. Here in the Beartooth Mountains, snow persists year round. Between the wind and the altitude, even a summertime visit requires a sweatshirt. Wintertime visits are rare, as the plateau is buried under many feet of snow from mid-October to Memorial Day Weekend.

Fortunately for those of us crazy enough to want to venture up to 11,000 feet, there is a way to do so. The Beartooth Highway is designated as an All-American Road, and it’s easy to see why. This stretch of US Highway 212 climbs up and over the plateau and provides 69 miles of beautiful scenery and incredible views. From the northeast entrance of Yellowstone National Park, Highway 212 travels through Cooke City, MT before beginning its ascent to the top of the plateau. It’s a long and steep – but absolutely beautiful – drive up to the top, and there are plenty of pullouts at which to stop and enjoy the view.   Continue reading

Porphyry – Kings Hill Scenic Byway, Montana

The United States has 120 National Scenic Byways – sections of road that pass through an area of significance, be it scenic, natural, cultural, historical, archeological, or recreational. The Kings Hill Scenic Byway is one such road. Notable for its scenery, nature, history, and recreational opportunities, it has been dubbed a Scenic Byway by the state of Montana. This 71-mile stretch of US Highway 89 travels through the Little Belt Mountains between junctions with US Highway 12 and US Highway 87.

It took us an hour and a half to get to the southern terminus of the Byway, just outside the small town of White Sulfur Springs, so this was more of a driving day than a hiking day for us. To drive the length of the Byway takes about two hours, not including stops – of which there are many. We stopped first at a picnic area along Newlan Creek, where we saw a tiny frog and lots of wildflowers! Continue reading

Puddles, mud, and freezing cold water – Golden Trout Lakes, Montana

The following weekend, my mom and I headed up into the Gallatin Mountains for our next hiking adventure: Golden Trout Lakes. This is actually a collection of three lakes; we just went to the main one.

The trailhead for Golden Trout Lakes is located off of US Highway 191 south of Bozeman, Montana. Turn onto Portal Creek Road and continue approximately 7 miles to the trailhead.

Portal Creek Road is rough at best. It’s rocky and bumpy and we just barely managed to get my mom’s Corolla up to the trailhead. A high-clearance vehicle would definitely have been preferable. I’m pretty sure everyone at the trailhead was wondering what the heck our little tiny sedan was doing up there. Clearly they underestimate us. We’ve taken our small cars up a lot of questionable roads over the years. Continue reading

Get Lost in Montana – Lost Creek State Park

Spring in Montana is always a bit of an unknown in terms of the weather. Snow, rain, hail, sunshine, and anything in between is usually in the forecast. Sometimes simultaneously. But if there’s one thing you can count on, it’s that it will snow on the first day of high school track season. That was almost an inevitability when I was in school.

Anyway, the point is that springtime adventure plans are always weather-dependent. Sometimes, snow lingers in the mountains well into May and June. And so it was nearing the end of June when we were finally able to head out for our first day trip of 2012.

Looking to venture somewhere we’d never been before, my mom and I headed to Lost Creek State Park near Anaconda, MT. The park is characterized by towering limestone cliffs that rise above the babbling waters of Lost Creek. One road leads into the park, paralleling the creek for a couple miles before coming to an end at the campground. We didn’t stay overnight, but it seemed to be a decent campground. Continue reading

Yellowstone National Park (part I) – North Entrance to Norris Geyser Basin

I’ve been blogging for over a year now and yet I’ve somehow managed to barely mention the one place I’ve visited more than any other: Yellowstone National Park.

I’ve been there at least 50 times (not an exaggeration) and it just never gets old. Consequently, I have well over 2000 photos of the park. Which is a large part of the reason I’m just now getting around to writing about it. That’s a LOT of photos to sort through. You’d think I’d just stop taking pictures of places I’ve been before. Yeah, not so much. My mom always jokes that she has other photos of a certain place, but “not with this camera.” And so our Yellowstone photo collection continues to grow.

I grew up less than 2 hours away from both the north and west entrances to Yellowstone, so a visit to the park was a day trip, a weekend camping getaway, or a winter cross-country ski destination. Usually all three in a given year.

Yellowstone is huge. And filled with incredible variety. Where else can a person see geysers, hot springs, lakes, waterfalls, canyons, elk, and bison all in the same day? Of course, if you’re not from the area and are going on a once-in-a-lifetime vacation to Yellowstone, I recommend spending much more than one day there. We took Pat there last summer for three days and even then there was plenty we didn’t see. Heck, there are things I still haven’t seen. My point is, there’s something there for everybody and you’ll never run out of things to do. I’ve never gone somewhere in Yellowstone that I didn’t like. Continue reading

Exploring Montana on Skis

I never used to mind winter. And then I moved to New England. Winters here are horrible. The sun sets at 4:15. It’s usually cloudy and cold and windy. And dark. All the time. And when it snows in New England, it really snows. Two feet at a time, leaving us to dig our way out of the house and then figure out where to pile up all the snow.

But winter in Montana never bothered me. Maybe because I grew up with it and I’m used to it. Or maybe because it doesn’t get dark quite as early and it’s not nearly as overcast. Or maybe because even though it snows more, it almost never dumps two feet at a time. And when it does snow, it clears up afterwards and it’s beautiful. Winter is still my least favorite season, but the way the Montana landscape shimmers in the sunlight after a snow storm is something that’s hard to beat. Continue reading

Custer’s Last Stand – Little Bighorn Battlefield National Monument, Montana

Our final stop on summer vacation 2011 was back in my home state: Little Bighorn Battlefield National Monument, MT. This is the site of the Battle of the Little Bighorn – also known as Custer’s Last Stand – which took place in June 1876. At this location 140 years ago, General George Armstrong Custer and his army fought the Lakota, Northern Cheyenne and Arapaho tribes. Custer’s army suffered a crippling defeat.

This battle has been a point of contention among historians. None of Custer’s men survived, thus an exact account from the US Army’s perspective does not exist. It is not even clear exactly how Custer died. Nevertheless, Custer has received much acclaim for this battle, so much so that the monument was originally named Custer National Cemetery and then Custer Battlefield National Monument before eventually being renamed in 1991 to the more inclusive and accurate Little Bighorn Battlefield National Monument. Continue reading