Monday morning was another early start for us.
We spent the first half of the day following the Clearwater River along Highway U.S. 12 as it meanders east through the Bitterroot Mountains, steadily gaining elevation until arriving at the 5,233-foot summit of Lolo Pass.
It’s about 45 miles west-southwest of Missoula, Montana. That section of Highway U.S. 12 is famous for being a very long and winding road. It winds away for 186 miles of swaying back and forth along the Clearwater. The curves grow progressively tighter as you travel east and gain elevation. The views of the river through the beautifully forested mountains are spectacular.
After cresting the summit of Lolo Pass, we arrived at the junction with Highway U.S. 93 where we fueled our tanks and then travelled south on 93 for another 90 miles. U.S. 93 twists and climbs still higher into the mountains, and junctions with Montana Highway 43 at Lost Trail Pass, elevation 7,014 feet. The highway runs for a mile on the Idaho side of the line, and then crosses into Montana at the Chief Joseph Pass at 7,251 feet marking the Continental Divide.
We descended through open rangeland and high scrub land, and through the Big Hole Battlefield. There are many historical markers we would discover along this trip, marking important points in the history of the Nez Perce war. Much of our route followed trails the Nez Perce used as they were being hunted down and massacred by the U.S. Cavalry. The monument at the Big Hole Battlefield describes a pre-dawn cavalry attack that killed an estimated 89, mostly women and children.
We pressed on to arrive at our second night’s lodging in Dillon, Montana. The elevation at Dillon is 5,100 feet, and the population is 4,223, so they’re a little higher than they are deep. Dillon isn’t well represented with restaurants, but we found a place that seemed to be popular with the locals.
After dinner, Kurt and I wandered around the town for a while. There are several impressive old buildings built during the gold mining and railroad boom days, many of which are quite well preserved.