We were told it would take us an hour and a half to reach the entrance to Yellowstone from Billings, Montana, where we camped for two nights. Baloney. It took us seven.
OK, to be fair, had we not decided to visit Montana and Wyoming during The Actual Worst Summer, Ever, perhaps it might have taken us that projected hour and a half (or more like three, seeing as we were towing a trailer). But we are unlucky, to put it mildly, and as we reached the quaint town of Red Lodge, Montana—do yourself a favor if passing through: stop in the visitor’s center and ask for Gail—where, for once, the sun was shining bright, we confirmed that Beartooth Highway, the road we were to take into the park, was closed.
Beartooth Highway is one of the more scenic stretches in Wyoming and Montana, maybe even in the entire country—or so I’ve been told by multiple credible sources. I wouldn’t know anything about this firsthand, of course, as we never saw it. We headed south instead, as Gail rerouted us. I’m truly grateful that a Twitter friend who was also driving a similar route that day and just minutes ahead of us had Tweeted me that Beartooth was closed; there were no signs down in Red Lodge, so we could have driven miles further to find the closure sign, only to have to turn around and go all the way back and then detour! In fact, Beartooth only finally opened for the season on June 19 due to all the snow. Lesson learned: Always stop in the visitor’s center to find out pertinent information. We had checked on the national parks website just that morning, and there was absolutely no notice of Beartooth’s closure.
Initially, I had wanted to drive a bit further and enter the park through Cody, Wyoming, as SVV’s cousin said it was one of her favorite towns during her four-month, 35-state road trip last fall. Alas, the Sylvan Pass entrance to the park was also closed—well, not entirely; it was open from the hours of 10pm to 8am, but we didn’t want to wait that late and arrive on a windy, questionable road after dark. Are you sensing a theme here? Where we go, doom follows—or rather runs ahead and throws one massive roadblock after another in our parth. So even if we took the detour all the way down to Cody, we still would have had to drive back up and enter the park from Cooke City, Montana.
Those five hours that followed—the topsy-turvy roads that took us through Wyoming and back to Montana to the Cooke City gate—were not the most direct way to reach our final (for a few days) destination. What you can’t see on this map are all the little connector roads that we could have taken to shorten the trip…had they been open.
But it turned out OK, because while we didn’t get to see the splendor of Beartooth Highway, we went the “less scenic route” (*snort*…I find it hard to describe anything in Wyoming in less than favorable terms) and did get to drive through Shoshone National Forest. Which was just gorgeous.
And covered in snow. In June. I know! Good thing I packed my parka. Why we didn’t also bring along our ski gear is beyond me. So many ski resorts that usually close in April have stayed open this entire time due to the wacky weather. Next time, we’ll know how to pack (and will probably experience record-breaking heat waves as a result of our attempt at preparation).
We had heard great things about Cooke City, so were surprised to arrive and find it rather drab and depressing. Perhaps that’s because everything was closed—at 6pm on a Friday night in summer? odd—but I did find one diner open who was willing to sell me a hot dog, a cup of soup and a chocolate chip cookie (an unlikely dinner combo, I’m aware, but I was desperate for sustenance).
We fueled up, took the pup for a walk and continued on our way…into Yellowstone, at last!
We reached the northeastern entrance, flashed our national parks pass and drove for 15 miles until we saw another car. So much for the bumper-to-bumper summer traffic we’d heard invades the park in summer months.
When we finally spotted a few other tourists, they were parked on the side of the road, milling about with their cameras. Which can only mean one thing: WILDLIFE SIGHTING.
We inched toward the crowd, as a baby black bear came barreling down a hill and out into the street. SVV and I remained in the truck and took some photos from the safety of our vehicle, as the other tourists closed in on it BY FOOT. Clearly they didn’t get the memo that where baby is, mama is not far behind. Idiots. We didn’t stick around long enough to find out if mama got her a late-night snack.
We drove a bit further to find that Dunraven Pass—the road that would take us directly to Canyon Village Campground, where we were staying—was, you guessed it, closed. Instead of driving the 16 miles it would have taken us to reach the spot directly, we were made to do an entire circle around the park, which tacked on 50 miles—maybe more—and took a couple of hours given that it was dark and roads were slow and windy (and you always have to drive extra carefully at night in the park to make sure you don’t maim any wildlife).
Finally, we arrived at Canyon Village smothered by darkness. We had been so worried about the park being full that this was the one place we made reservations in advance ($20 a night for water and electric), only to arrive and find it at about a quarter capacity. It was 11pm, and the registration guy had long since gone home for the night. The campground was cloaked in a blanket of snow and ice banks. In fact, due to eight-foot-tall drifts, we couldn’t even make it into the spot they assigned us. So we picked our own secluded campsite and worried about sorting things out the next morning.
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