I woke up to a cool morning, light dew on the cars and grass, and an anxious puppy ready to get the day started. Aria had gotten used to this new routine we were on and after breakfast, and a couple of walks, the car was packed and she was settled in the back for another day of discovery. As we left Dickenson, North Dakota I got ready for a long day's drive on 94W and just as I settled in for it I was quickly awoken to the beautiful scenery of Roosevelt National Forest. Several miles of large rocks, livestock, deep canyons and beautiful rock formations surrounded me as I headed towards the border. I was taken aback by the beauty and found a few places to pull off and take photos.
One in particular lead to a gated entrance that stated the area was closed, with little room to turn around, I found myself looking back towards the Interstate and to an endless view of the National Forest that was sprinkled with livestock. I wasn't the only one who thought this was a good pull off, as I pulled out another car came up the ramp, waited until I passed and went up towards the gate. As I merged onto the Interstate I saw them do what I did, make a narrow turn around, step out and take photos. What is that saying about great minds?
Deep canyons etched into and through the rocks, with vegetation sprinkled on the sides to offer food to the endless livestock that called this area home. The view was massive, quiet and peaceful. I pulled off onto one of the exits near the national forest and took a step back in time to towns that held on to the past while embracing the future.
There was plenty to do around here for hiking, camping, rafting, horseback riding or just walking the paths that surrounded this community. As I rounded a bend there was a sign that pointed to a clubhouse that wound up towards the top of a hill. I headed up and the road offered sharp twists and turns but I made it up without issue and upon arrival, it was closed. At least this one offered a better turn around and when getting ready to descend I found myself looking down at the town below which reminded me of an old, abandoned, western, mining town.
Several photos were taken here as the sun continued to climb and shine down on the quiet town. I continued the descent, found a few more shots after various turns and was back at the main road. As I turned on it, horses lined the road and the hills enjoying the warmth of the sun and the cool morning. A short distance outside of the community I was back on the Interstate heading towards Montana and enjoying the last of the National Forest.
The beauty was quickly taken over by open plains as I entered Montana and the drive became long and slow; regardless of how fast I was going.
I was told by relatives about a Highway 12 and had decided to take it and see what it could bring to help make the time and the drive go by a little faster. Something I picked up while in Montana was everyone liked to drive fast and the posted speed limits confirmed so does the state. Highway 12 could be considered a "back road" and yet speed limit was posted at 70 MPH, with a minimum of 65 for cars, and trucks had to go between 60-65 MPH. There was also nothing for towns, gas stations, food or shops within the first 75 miles of Highway 12; I was glad I had a full belly, full gas tank, and an empty bladder.
The Highway offered little for traffic and as a photographer who stops to take a shot from time to time, it was an ideal road to be on. It was lined with endless cattle grazing on vast areas of land. I stopped to take a few photos of them grazing which had them looking at each other and giving several "moo's" which could almost be mistaken for as "boo's". When that didn't work they got up and walked away; so ended that photo shoot. The first 40-50 miles of the route were completely covered with cattle. Some came down to lie next to the highway while others were so far in the distance I had to check twice to be sure it wasn't a bush. They all seemed content and relaxed in their environment, and who wouldn't be, their grazing area looked to be endless with very few restrictions.
Bon Jovi's latest hit, Roller Coaster, was playing in the background. As I drove through the hills, it couldn't have been more spot on when the chorus came on and he sang, “What goes up might take us upside down -Life ain't a merry go round - It's a roller coaster..." The road could have been a true roller coaster as I twisted and turned through the hills and coming out on top to take in the vast view that surrounded us; it took my breath away. "Time flies by, don't close your eyes- It's a roller coaster..."
After almost 100 miles on Highway 12 towns became more frequent. Signs to the interstate and major towns also come into play, as well as abandoned homes and businesses. Some of them were so badly worn down that, to me, they had become beautiful. As I turned down one street to continue on the route, I couldn't help but take a photo of an abandoned, run-down former gas station with a car in equal shape next to it; this was one way to freeze the last moment the place was operational.
The town continued to have more abandoned places and buildings which had me grabbing the camera to capture them before they disappeared. These were the places I loved to capture with a heightened interest in old barns which can still be found in areas around Wisconsin.
I continued on through the town and began to head out to an open view, and the mountains of Montana had begun to loom in the distance. I was instantly taken aback and giddy with excitement. Montana; I feel alive when I'm here and the mountains are like my canvas, always offering me great shots.
This would ultimately lead to a few more pulls offs, one which caught the eye of a state police officer. He slowed down but only for a moment. Must have seen the camera and the license plate and thought, "tourist" and continued on. The last part of the journey on Highway 12 went quickly as the mountains got closer and bigger.
Montana is a state that has never disappointed me but even I became speechless when I came around a bend and in the distance saw the mountains that surrounded the road ahead. Even miles away these giants loomed over the road as their tips disappeared into the clouds that were rolling by while others seemed to stand majestically up to the very tips of their uncovered peaks. The tops were covered in snow while their valleys were lush with green vegetation and cattle enjoyed the gentle breeze from the slopes. It took my breath away to see such beauty surround me as well as the animals who called this place home. Mother Earth, truly was a beautiful place and Montana helped to remind me of that.
I was distracted by the mountains that laid out on my left that I was only glancing back at the road ahead until I was quickly startled into changing my focus because something had caught my eye. On the right, the towns and open fields had disappeared to now include another range of mountains also covered in snow. I felt like I was in a circle completely surrounded by them and the only way out was to barrel down the middle straight through them. Even though it looked like I was never going to be allowed to leave this area, a twist and a turn revealed the Interstate ahead.
I merged on to the main Interstate and was in the final lap towards Bozeman with more twists, turns, increased speeds and hills, and an hour later I entered the city of Bozeman. Even the city felt small as I looked around at the high mountains that surrounded the peaceful and beautiful area.
The hotel I chose had a rustic feel in the lobby and decor, location was quiet, easy access to the Interstate and the mountains behind it made me feel like I was in a cabin. Aria and I got settled in for the evening to be ready for tomorrow's adventures, sights, and great photo opportunities.
Each night had been spent logging the day's activities, reviewing and marking the photos, and as I look back on it now, I was glad I did. International travel during college taught me to always write things down. At the moment I felt like I would never forget the details of all that I saw but with exhaustion quickly taking over it was easy to forget. As I read them now, I'm grateful for the journal.
Like every day, every photo was uniquely different, editing and cataloging can be time-consuming but it was all worth it. I closed my laptop for the night and re-packed the camera. A stretch and a sigh had my body filled with exhaustion, Aria had already found a sleeping spot and didn't even stir while I walked around packing things. The plan was set for tomorrow's road trip, and a short while later I too was out for the night.
Driving across country can bring about some interesting situations. Broken down on a day by day basis enjoy my adventures and set backs along the way to some beautiful destinations.