The Beartooth Highway between Red Lodge, Montana and the Northeast Entrance to Yellowstone is one of America’s most beautiful roads, and if not its most dangerous, then certainly its most sublime. It rises from the valley floor to vertiginous heights, along switchbacks that make the driver keep her eye on the center line, praying no truck comes hurtling around a curve at an epic velocity more associated with the Karakoram Highway than a U.S. interstate.
At the first real turnout, you catch your breath and steel your nerve for the next segment up. But when you get near the top of Beartooth Pass, roughly one-third of the way along the 68-mile road, if you catch the weather right, the views are simply not of this world. The mountain goat photo at the top was taken just after a sudden snow squall arrived, and sadly,
just after a 70-year old British tourist and his wife seriously injured themselves just after a 50-year old motorcyclist was killed, his friend seriously injured, driving off the road moments before we got there.
Somewhere distant is Cody, Wyoming, and it is possible that the helicopter sent to rescue the unfortunate motorcyclists was dispatched from there. We don’t know how often accidents happen on this dangerous road, but put it this way: the snow squall arrived in the time between when we pulled over to take the photo below and we stepped away from the car. Moments earlier we saw the distant light and said, “Let’s pull over!” You can see the tendrils of rain/snow that quickly blotted everything out. It was that fast.
Eventually, you wend your way down along the switchbacks toward Yellowstone, and the road evens out for a short while. At this point, it is a less dramatic extension of Yellowstone’s northeast corner, not quite the adventure it was going up and over. But thrilling, glorious, beautiful.
We went up in bad weather, but by the time we were coming down into the valley toward Yellowstone, the light was beginning to fall in cathedral shafts, and the view of the distant Absarokas was spooky.
Not unlike the Tetons, 150 miles to the south, the upthrust off the valley floor makes for startling vistas. The two peaks that become more prominent as you get near Cooke City — Pilot Peak and Index Peak — are analogous to the Grand Teton and Teewinot.
Until finally you are down in the valley floor, and about to enter Yellowstone just to the northeast of the Lamar Valley, and the west’s most dramatic playground for animals — wolves, bison, eagles, pronghorn, not to mention trout — greets you with its own adventures.