We packed, paid our bill and said goodbye to the last lonely house on the mountain. As we drove off I tried to imagine the colder days as the snow begins to fall and the outside world becomes cut off. The family would only have each other for months. I felt a deep sense of coziness.
This day we drove up and across the Beartooth Highway, called the most beautiful highway in America by Charles Kerault. We drove up along exposed switchbacks passing the same cars and motorcycles as we wound our way up the pass. Exposed rolling views stretched out for miles.
At the top of the pass we pulled over and got out of the car. The first time I tried to put on my heavy winter coat, icy wind tore it off. We walked out to a sign that said Beartooth Summit, elevation 10,947. We looked around at massive mountaintops all around us, yet lower than us.
Driving on, the other side was even more beautiful. At another pullout we walked out to guard rail view vistas. A tour bus pulled in and we quickly drove off. As we drove down we passed the site of a huge avalanche that had closed the road in 2005. Now the rocky walls were covered in a wire mesh.
The Beartooth highway opened for vehicle traffic in 1937. The road climbs from 5,000 ft to 10,947 ft in elevation and the driver is surrounded by beautiful mountain ranges with 20 peaks over 12,000 ft high. This is driving in the sky!
The rest of the drive was in warmer weather with wide, flat expanses of sagebrush. At about 4:30 my eyes began to blur. We pulled into Gillette, Wyoming, ate a picnic supper in our hotel and then walked through town. Gillette had a boomtown feel, lots of new businesses with help wanted signs in the windows. We walked along a busy road filled with new pick up trucks, and found a city park. The park had a trail, a pond for fishing and a few benches and shelters. As we passed a patch of bushes and short trees I could hear the strumming of a guitar. We walked on over a little bridge and I saw someone huddled in the bushes, practicing their music.
Mom and I enjoyed the walk, the statues along the trail and the recreation of prairie ecosystems within the town. I lay in the grass and watched clouds while mom called dad, checking on him and on her garden. It was a peaceful evening, and a perfect break after driving all day. Looking at a map we worried that we were not covering enough miles each day, but at the same time we wanted to see and explore our beautiful country. I don’t think anything will ever equal the Beartooth Highway.