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Great Western Road Trip of 2021 (Days 4-7)

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hbelkins:
My biggest impressions of this trip so far? Just how crazy lodging pricing and availability are in Montana, and just how small and lacking in services many of the cities are, even county seats and other significant places.

Day 4 (ND to MT)

This day was mainly spent getting to the Glacier area, following US 2 from Williston to Shelby.

It is surreal to me just how few businesses are in many of these towns that seem important otherwise, such as sitting at major crossroads. In Kentucky, these towns would have a Dollar General, a Family Dollar, possibly a Walgreens pharmacy (formerly Rite Aid), and the larger ones would have a McDonald's or other fast food options. Not along US 2. I think there may have been just two McDonald's locations (Glasgow and Havre, if memory serves). I didn't see any chain dollar stores. Where do the residents of these towns and the surrounding rural counties go to shop?

Shelby was truly surprising. Very, very little there, considering it's the gateway from I-15 to Glacier and is listed as a control city from Great Falls (controls at the US 2 exit are Great Falls and Lethbridge.) No chain fast food places, not many gas stations, no major department stores (several places appear to have had Shopkos, which closed two years ago due to bankruptcy). We ended up getting a room at the OYO (formerly a Motel 6) which wasn't as bad as some OYO critics make the chain out to be.

We continued on through Cut Bank and Browning to St. Mary to check out Glacier. Again, to be major gateway towns to a hugely popular national park, there's very little in the way of shopping, dining, and lodging. Since we arrived after 5 p.m., we didn't need the access pass to Going-to-the-Sun Road, so there was a traffic jam entering in the park. We drove as far as Logan Pass, then turned around and headed back to Shelby. Attempted to eat at the Cut Bank McDonald's, but the dining room was closed, and the drive-thru was backed up, so we came back to Shelby and got something at Albertson's to eat in the room. Their selection was picked over, however, and prices were sky-high.

Day 5 (Glacier to Big Timber)

After days of 100-degree heat, it would be to turn rainy, cool, and foggy when we went to Glacier. Probably a good thing we'd gone as far as Logan Pass the day before, as the fog covered everything. We got some decent views on the way down. When we emerged at West Glacier, my brother had decided that he wanted to drive Beartooth Pass, so we had to crisscross east. We took US 2 back to Browning, then US 89 and I-15 south to Great Falls, then US 87 to US 191 to Big Timber.

Again, other than Great Falls, the towns were devoid of many businesses.

We started checking lodging options, but everything along our route was either booked solid, or prohibitively expensive. Even the Motel 6 locations at Billings, farther east than we wanted to go, were over $100. Crazy, crazy, crazy. But after doing some online searching, he found a KOA Campground at Greycliff, just east of Big Timber, with a camping cabin at a reasonable price. No indoor plumbing, but electricity, beds, and climate control. We took that option.

Day 6 (Big Timber to Alder by way of Beartooth and Yellowstone)


Part of this trip's mission was for my brother to find the places he had explored as a geology student in 1984 near Dillon, Mont., but he had decided he wanted to drive across Beartooth. This necessitated the eastward jog. My thought was that we should do the Magruder Road Corridor after Glacier, then Dillon, then Beartooth, and then work our way south toward Arches, but he's driving.

The route was I-90 east to Columbus, then MT 78 to Red Lodge, then pick up US 212. To get back to the west would have required either backtracking from Cooke City (not a viable option for a couple of reasons) or going through Yellowstone. We chose Yellowstone, since he already had a park pass.

Beartooth was a disaster. The fog was so thick going up the mountain that you couldn't see 20 feet in front of you. Where's the 100-degree weather when you need it?

Who maintains US 212 in Wyoming? Does Wyoming do it, or does Montana have an agreement to maintain it so they can also include the short segment between the state line and Yellowstone through Cooke City?

There's a huge construction project on 212 on the Wyoming side that has 212 shut down during overnight hours. It looks like they are totally rebuilding half the road that has slipped off the mountainside, plus a new bridge to eliminate a curve. A pilot vehicle guides drivers through an obstacle course, so instead of the road being closed overnight to allow work to be done, it's because the crew is off and no one drives the pilot car.

There's a Wyoming state highway that intersects 212. There's no sign going west, but I saw the route marker in the rear-view mirror. The only notice is an arrow pointing to Cody.

Once back into Montana, signage is MT-standard through Cooke City. Cooke City and Silver Gate are very tiny, not at all what one would expect as a gateway to Yellowstone.

This was my second visit to Yellowstone. The road between Tower Junction and Canyon Village is closed, so we had to go through Mammoth Hot Springs and then south to get to West Yellowstone. The hot springs area was extremely crowded despite the rain.

West Yellowstone, again, was underwhelming in terms of being a major gateway to a major national park. One fast food restaurant (McDonald's), not a lot of shopping options other than souvenir stands, and fewer motels than I would have expected.

We followed US 287 and then turned onto MT 287 (shades of VA-US 360) to Alder, where we had reserved another camping cabin because of the lodging situation (either terribly expensive or booked up).


Day 7 (Geology exploration

Today ended up being basically a loop around the Ruby Peaks, using mostly local roads. My brother had mapped out several places and we followed a bunch of dirt roads, without success in finding the spots he'd visited in 1984. We emerged onto MT 41, which we took into Dillon (where he had reserved a room at a reasonable price). He dropped in to the BLM office, and the chief geologist happened to be there. He got an idea of where he needed to be, so we took off again. He found some familiar places after some exploration on some of the ranch roads traversing public lands. We ended back up at Alder, so we took MT 287 to Twin Bridges, and MT 41 back to Dillon.

Dillon is a college town, but there are surprisingly few businesses here. No department stores to speak of. Two fast-food places (McD's and DQ). The only thing resembling a department store is a Family Dollar, which was picked over by college freshmen who have come to school this week and were picking up things for their dorm rooms. To be a college town on a major interstate along what was a major US route corridor (US 91), there's surprisingly little here.

Tomorrow, he has plans to try to find another place his geology class visited, drive the Pioneer Scenic Byway, then head toward Darby to start the Magruder Road. I'm not looking forward to the primitive camping that will be required. I'll probably just sleep in his truck.

Max Rockatansky:
Regarding US 212 in Wyoming I believe that is actually the National Park Service is the maintaining agency.

Rothman:

--- Quote from: Max Rockatansky on August 20, 2021, 12:20:39 AM ---Regarding US 212 in Wyoming I believe that is actually the National Park Service is the maintaining agency.

--- End quote ---
Even the section outside of the park?

Max Rockatansky:

--- Quote from: Rothman on August 20, 2021, 07:06:16 AM ---
--- Quote from: Max Rockatansky on August 20, 2021, 12:20:39 AM ---Regarding US 212 in Wyoming I believe that is actually the National Park Service is the maintaining agency.

--- End quote ---
Even the section outside of the park?

--- End quote ---

Yes:

https://www.mdt.mt.gov/travinfo/beartooth/

Which when you think about it really isnít all that dissimilar to the Generals Highway being maintained by the NPS in Sequoia National Forest. 

Rothman:

--- Quote from: Max Rockatansky on August 20, 2021, 07:49:45 AM ---
--- Quote from: Rothman on August 20, 2021, 07:06:16 AM ---
--- Quote from: Max Rockatansky on August 20, 2021, 12:20:39 AM ---Regarding US 212 in Wyoming I believe that is actually the National Park Service is the maintaining agency.

--- End quote ---
Even the section outside of the park?

--- End quote ---

Yes:

https://www.mdt.mt.gov/travinfo/beartooth/

Which when you think about it really isnít all that dissimilar to the Generals Highway being maintained by the NPS in Sequoia National Forest.

--- End quote ---
I suppose it would work best for everyone, given the fun logistics it would take for WYDOT to maintain the stretch from the Park east.

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