The Red Lodge, Montana area attracts hunters, fishermen, hikers and campers, but my single purpose was to drive the Beartooth Scenic Highway. Sixty five miles long, starting at Red Lodge, the Beartooth snakes up the Beartooth Mountains to an elevation of just under 11,000 feet before dropping down into the twin towns Cooke City and Silver Gate, and the northeast entrance to Yellowstone National Park.
We took Highway 212 southwest out of Red Lodge. Along the course of Rock Creek you could legitimately call the Beartooth a highway.
It’s a gentle rise, almost a false flat until 10 miles into the drive, where the rise turns into a steep twisting climb. From 10 miles on, the term “highway” is a generous figure of speech as the Beartooth becomes a two lane road of harrowing switchbacks and hairpins. You don’t do highway speed here unless you yearn to take in the view from the unique perspective of a brief freefall before the hard landing in the canyon below.
On occasion I would glance up and see the roofs of cars weaving in smooth tempo, back and forth, along the switchbacks, growing smaller as they made their way up the flank of the mountain, ever more tiny until they disappeared. Sign posts in the distance above looked like twigs.
Cora tries to avoid heights if at all possible and when avoidance isn’t possible she turns to renouncing them. On the drive up or down notoriously steep Filbert Street in San Francisco, she looks down at her feet as she mumbles a few prayers to all the saints – and likely a few sinners – because you gotta hedge your bet. While I enjoy the view of the horizon from a glass elevator she reads the advertisements on the wall.
At about 8000 feet, I pulled over at a turnout and stepped to the edge. It was here that I had to coax Cora to take in the view. Reluctantly she got out of the car and fear gave in to amazement and awe.
We looked down on the Lilliputian scene in the canyon far below; highway 212 where we had just been driving, now in miniature, carried toy cars along the course of Rock Creek, now a silver thread, glistening in the mid-morning sun. We looked straight across at a snow topped façade of granite peaks and cliffs.