Each of Montana’s mountain ranges is a scenic wonder in itself. The two - lane highway that crosses the Beartooth range, for example, has been called the most beautiful drive in America. This 69 - mile route, on U,S. 212, starts in the little town of Red Lodge and traces a series of steep zigzags, or switchbacks, along the Montana- - Wyoming border to 10,974 - -foot - high Beartooth Pass and beyond.
From Red Lodge to the first switchback the elevation rises from 5,200 feet to almost 8,000 feet in 12 miles. Along this stretch, a bear or two might be seen scrambling up the steep embankments, Farther on, at Beartooth Pass, travelers can look out over a mountains terrain as large as all of the New England states combined. Then, on the descent, the highway skirts waterfalls and clear lakes. In the distance loom Pilot and Index peaks, whose jagged summits served as reference points for Indians, trappers, and prospectors. The drive ends at Cooke City, a gateway to Yellowstone National Park.
GOING TO THE SUN.
Many other scenic ranges and subranges sweep down from northwestern Montana. Along the crest of some 20 of them - including the Boundary, Lewis, Anaconda, Mission, Bitterroot, Centennial, and Swan - runs the Continental Divide. Centered squarely on the divide at the northern border of the state is Glacier National Park, a breathtaking preserve of sharp peaks and icy lakes. The best view of the park’s vast vertical walls of glacier - polished rock is from the Going - to - the - Sun Highway, a 55 - mile - long road that traverses the park and crosses the divide at Logan Pass.
With every 1,000 - foot gain in elevation, the traveler encounters a climate equivalent to that 300 miles north; hence the presence of five life zones in the park - grassland, deciduous forest, coniferous forest, alpine tundra, and glacial ice. This range has endowed the park with an extraordinary variety of flora and fauna. Aromatic red cedars and hemlocks form dark Cathedrallike forests in the lower reaches, while glacier lilies bloom at the edges of receding snowfields above. Bighorn sheep and Rocky Mountain goats pick their way across the steep mountainsides as grizzly bears, cougars, and wolverines roam the woods.