Saturday, June 11, 2011
   I have never seen the Beartooth Highway. The only time I have driven this famously scenic road was a rainy October morning. We were headed back to Billings and as the temperature dropped it began to snow. All I could see was ten feet of road ahead as white swirled around us. Now it stretches out before me, an ocean of mountaintops, all white with snow. Here, at the top of the world, the road cuts through walls of snow, some higher than any vehicle. A man skis down a slope while another skier slides across the snow pulled by a sail. Not much traffic on this 75th anniversary of the highway.
   The flight from Denver to Billings is short, only about one hour. As the plane leaves Denver, shadows of mountains rise in the distance. I can feel the Park already. The drive out of Billings is greener than I ever remember. Rain and snowmelt have nourished the grass and trees, sprouting an emerald world. Not many wildflowers, but plenty of dandelions and bunches of coral colored poppies.
   The Beartooth Paddlers Society is having a kayak race. Men dressed in brightly colored wetsuits (?) carefully maneuver kayaks down the river. They twist and bob around rocks and through goals made of striped pvc pipe as bystanders cheer. One man loses a paddle and climbs reluctantly out of the cold, rocky water. The locals have brought their families to watch; parents carry babies and steer toddlers through the crowd, large, wooly dogs trailing behind.
   All this time it has been gray, overcast, chilly. The clouds over the Beartooth look ominous. We may have a snowy drive. But as we wind through the fog and climb steadily up there is only sunshine and blue sky. We pull off into a large parking lot to enjoy the view. Chipmunks scramble up and down rock walls searching for food. A small brother and sister rush after the chipmunks, trying to feed them sunflower seeds. The boy yells "Alvin!" He slaps some sunflower seeds into my palm. "Here - if you hold out your hand, they will eat right out of it." I am delighted - I used to feed chipmunks when my family camped in the Adirondacks. In the Park we would be in trouble.
   The highway travels above the world in its own world of white. Shadows of clouds glide across the snow; a cascade of snow tumbles from a steep embankment. As the road descends the landscape greens up. The Shoshone River curves along one side and a split rail fence on the other, its X's rising and falling with the slope of the land. As we near Cooke City, we pass Coulter and Soda Butte campgrounds and I remember the grizzly attack of last summer. That campground was only two miles out of town.
   An exhale as we enter the Park. We are back. The Lamar Valley, Round Prairie, Little America, are emerald green. The rain and snowmelt has done that. And the swollen rivers and creeks! Round Prairie is marshy and Soda Butte Creek has taken over Pebble Creek campsite; it will not open until July 1.
   Along Dunraven the snow banks are high, but the road is clear. Puddles are scattered everywhere in the parking lot at Canyon when we check in. The cabins are across the road from the campgrounds and behind the lodge. They are not fancy - or even attractive - on the outside, but the rooms are clean and comfortable, similar to any average motel room.

Author - Christine Baleshta
Photography - Tim Springer

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Yellowstone Experiences 2011