We drove Wanda on Beartooth Highway. If you don’t know it, Google it.
We were on Highway 212 in Montana, on the way to Yellowstone National Park, and had just pulled over at a pullout to read a US Forestry map for ideas of where to camp that night. There was a sign at that pullout for the Beartooth Scenic Byway which we were about to ‘assault’. We were all big grins, selfies, and good vibes at that moment.
Less than five miles later the giggles were gone.
It was a steady climb. Now, the scenery was gorgeous with mountain ranges, wild rivers, and blue skies. We even caught a glimpse of a snowfield (this was last year’s snow still around in September). Then there was a yellow sign about the next 5.5 miles being curvy.
That was an understatement. It’s not fair to call it a “curve” when in practicality it is a complete U-TURN! Still, we persisted. What else were we going to do?
If there were paved pullouts, I would often pull over to let other drivers pass. I wouldn’t risk that on gravel pullouts. (Am I the only one who worries about the cars BEHIND me?) The whole time we are climbing, climbing, climbing. Usually in 3rd or 4th gear.
I began to notice Jenni leaning closer and closer to me, as if to will us away from the white line and occasional guardrail. I thought I could distract her by asking her to take a few photos so I could see what was out there later. That worked for a nano-second each time. At the same time, I noticed a little acid in my stomach and my knuckles were white. Once in a while I would get a glimpse of cars moving above us and I knew we would be up there sooner or later. What felt like 20 miles amounted to the 5 worst ones and then there was a large pullover where we could rest and let Wanda calm down as well. (Did I mention Annie was asleep on the floor the entire time?)
We began the next segment which almost immediately climbed above the tree line. This was a constant twisting and turning through rocks and what we called mountain tundra. We marveled at trucks pulling horse trailers on the same road. At some point we hit the summit at 10,947ft and began the descent. Surprisingly it was better and the road actually seemed wider than a cow trail.
We crossed a dark, reflective lake and pulled over for some photos and to give Annie a break.
Finally, we came to Beartooth Lake and traffic had to stop. There was a large section of the highway being reconstructed and it was restricted to one direction at a time. The sign said up to a 12-minute wait so I practiced deep breathing exercises. Annie actually climbed on the bed and relaxed at the back windows. Our chance to continue came.
Jenni had found a couple possible camping spots that would be coming up in the next few miles. They were first-come, first-serve camps with a very limited number of spots. We decided Crazy Creek would be our first attempt. It had 16 spots. Once we let a herd of cattle cross the road in front of us (open grazing) we found the campground. It was a single road in with a loop at the end. Much to our relief it had 4-5 open spots. We found the most level one and backed into it. At that point I could relax, and regret only chilling two margaritas earlier that day.
Later we met the camp host who informed us today was the FINAL day of being open! And later we realized that the northeast Yellowstone Park entrance HAD to be the easiest to use!
Guess it was just our lucky day!