Wednesday, July 18, 2007
The False Prospect of Billings
Our goal today was to put on some serious miles after visiting a few scenic points along Yellowstone's "Grand Canyon." I have nothing to compare it to, but in absolute terms, it was spectacular. The viewpoints were well worth the extra hour or two (at least) that we spent in the park as a result of frequent pullovers.
A few miles outside of the Northeastern exit, we stopped in Cook City, a lowly town of mild-mannered rednecks, and bubbly tourists. We didn't fit into either category. Espresso over ice cream and a huckleberry soda granted us passage into the expanse of Highway 212 that lay ahead.
From our maps, we had no idea the Beartooth Highway would take us halfway to the frickin' moon.
Merely a grey blip in the road on our handy Michelin map, somewhere between fifteen and twenty switch-backs took us to the Beartooth Pass, at 10,947 feet. That's just a couple hundred feet below the summit of Mt. Hood.
The air was thin, we frequently spotted snow by the side of the road, and the trees' growth was stunted by the high altitudes. The journey up yielded beautiful rock formations, grassy slopes, and water features, but the long and winding road back down was comparable in environmental pulchritude.
In an area of less than a square mile, 14 or so odd miles of road wind down to the glacier-rounded bottom of an enormous valley just above the Montana-Wyoming border. The view is stunning, but knee-knocking, all the way down.
Now, at 11:47PM, Billings, Montana local time, I'm sitting in a ramshackle cottage off of "Underpass Road" just steps from the main drag, which, I might add, is a complete engineering failure. I won't even begin to explain.
The two-room and one-bath split bungalow is falsely comfortable. According to our lovely male receptionist, whose name and history is a mystery, "Everyone here smokes," meaning that there were no smoke-free rooms. Ours reeked of disinfectant and other odor-slashing chemicals. The bathroom was largely uncleaned, and a bedside lamp ceased to function. Our cottage, was, in effect, a roof and four walls.
We've decided that's what you get for $60.
Today's photo comes from an alpine lake, a conglomeration of Southwestern rock outcroppings, Northwestern forest, snowcap-fed waters, and the prairie grass of the Central Plains.
We are here.