Tuesday, September 9, 2014

Sunlight Basin: Scenic highway climbs through fields of wildflowers, gorgeous rock formations

The aptly named Sunlight Basin is aglow in autumn as the colors change and the air grows crisp and cool. 



Keller and Nick and Nora pause for a picnic with view near Sunlight Bridge.


IMAGINE you'd never been to the northern Rockies.
What would you expect?
Stunning mountains, clouds out of a Hallmark card display, guest ranches that remind of the 1950s TV shows.
It's all there in the wonders of the Chief Joseph Scenic Highway, which offers motorists unforgettable scenery and an opportunity to commune with nature from a bird's eye view.
WE TOOK two of the country's most beautiful drives in a three-day period.
Chief Joseph, a great Nez
Perce peace maker, gave the
highway its name.
The Bear's Tooth, directly left of center, gives the famed highway its name.

FIRST, UP the Beartooth Pass with its wondrous and harrowing hairpin turns, glaciers -- even in August -- and pristine lakes and mountain streams.
Low hanging clouds dapple the horizon in Sunlight Basin.
Then after a couple days R&R at Hunter Park Ranch, we headed out the  Chief Joseph Scenic Highway with its eye-popping bridge.
The Beartooth road, called by the late CBS newsman Charles Kuralt, "the most beautiful drive in America," is known ats the Beartooth Scenic Highway.  Lakes, granite peaks and the famed "Bear's Tooth," from which the mountain range and then the highway took their names.
Sunlight Bridge over sunlight Creek on the Chief Joseph
Scenic Highway offers a breathtaking view into the gorge.
Then Sunlight Basin and the Chief Joseph Highway is
Wyoming Highway 296. Guide books refer to it as the Chief Joseph Scenic Highway.  Named after the great Nez Perce Indian leader, it follows the route the chief took in 1877 when he led his people out of Yellowstone National Park and into Montana.  Their goal was to flee the U.S. Cavalry and escape into Canada.  The great chief surrendered to U.S. General Nelson A. Miles in the Bear Paw mountains of northern Montana.
His eloquent speech has been often quoted:
"Hear me, my chiefs:  My heart is sick and sad.  From where the sun now stands, I will fight no more forever." 
This beautiful route honors Joseph as it winds through the Shoshone National Forest and Absaroka Mountains, finally passing through the unfortunately named Dead Indian Pass.
The Pollard Hotel features a lively menu befitting its history.
MANY PEOPLE like to take the Beartooth Pass from Red Lodge, stay a few days in Cooke City, then wend a leisurely way out the Chief Joseph Highway.  We went from Hunter Peak Ranch into Cody, then back out the Chief Joseph route and on back to our corner of the Beartooths through Bridger and into Rockvale near Laurel, back to Absarokee and on home up the West Fork of the Stillwater.  A breathtaking few days of spectacular autumn-colored scenery. 
THE 46 MILES of the Chief Joseph drive includes one of the most awesome bridges in this part of the country.  Both cars and pedestrians can transit the bridge, with very little separation between the two lanes.  I passed on walking across, owing to lifelong vertigo, but Keller and the Yorkies rose to the occasion. And returned safely while I gazed at the wonders -- along with a dozen view-inspired motorcyclists. 

COMING UP:  We continue our autumn odyssey with a look at Red Lodge and the Pollard Hotel, where a menu fit for kings and cowboys, royals and rodeo queens awaits. We infuse our travelogues with a sense of fun and adventure and hope that conveys itself to you! Remember to explore, learn and live and visit us Wednesdays and weekends at: www.whereiscookie.com 


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