I left West Yellowstone under a thick layer of smoke; the fires in and around the park are only getting worse, so I’m glad I left when I did. However, no one was going the full 70mph speed limit; I could only get up to 40mph safely because of the dramatically reduced visibility. It actually felt like I was driving in a really bad Florida thunderstorm. Add to that the constant warnings of wildlife crossing the road and you find yourself on high road alert for long stretches, and that gets tiring.
After about an hour or so, the smoky haze finally lifted and revealed clear blue skies. I thought this 7-8 hour drive north to Whitefish might be uneventful and maybe boring, but I was wrong on both counts. The senery in western Montana is some of the most beautiful I’ve ever seen in the United States. I entered a lush green mountain valley with a lake and river at the bottom.
And deer crossing warnings. Not long after seeing the sign, I had to come to a screeching halt because an 8-point buck decided something looked better on the other side of the road. Fortunately, the driver behind me was paying attention and I didn’t get rear ended. I had a mild heart attack; the deer didn’t even flinch. After I recovered, I kept driving down this stunning riverside road and was treated to some amazing views. Then came the bighorn sheep crossing warning. And the falling rocks warning. What sealed the deal for me was the sign pointing to a geologic sit called “Night of Terror”; I was convinced Montana was trying to kill me, lol.
Anyway, I made it through this gauntlet and spent the next few hours driving through golden valleys, along sapphire rivers, and next to rocky foothills. It became pretty obvious to me rather quickly that three things are huge in Montana: hunting, fishing (particularly fly fishing), and lumber. Weyerhauser has a huge facility not far from my hotel, and I must have past several dozen trucks carrying hundreds of logs each. If you’ve ever seen the amazing movie A River Runs Through It (one of my all-time favorites), it was filmed in the parts of Montana I drove through today. I can see why this is such a huge draw for outdoorsy people looking for peace and tranquility.
The road became more windy about an hour south of Whitefish, and cruise control was no longer an option. I was tunneled in by very tall pines on both sides, and I sped past a sign that said “scenic view.” I wasn’t planning on stopping until I got a millisecond glimpsof what I was going to pass up. I had to turn around and stop. Then I got this…my first on-the-ground glimpse of the Canadian Rockies.