Montana Trip: US Highway 89 thru Montana – South 89

89 South in Montana
89 South in Montana

After spending a nice day with my children and grandchildren along US Highway 89 north of Great Falls, it was time to begin the long trip back to Kentucky  the next day. I would begin the return trip with a quick jaunt south on I-15  to Great Falls and then south on US 87/89 towards Kings Hill Pass on the Kings Hill Scenic Byway, which runs along US 89 from the US 87 junction to the US 12 junction just north of White Sulphur Springs, Montana.

Welcome to Conrad, Montana
Welcome to Conrad, Montana

Before moving on, I should mention that on the previous day we made a quick stop in Conrad, Montana to see if there is anything interesting there.  Conrad is south of Shelby and just off of I-15, so it is easy off and easy on.  Conrad is just a bit smaller than Shelby.  Not too much, but they still have a nice looking old theater and an old 70s style motel. A nice stop for the nostalgic-minded.

Orpheum Theater in Conrad, Montana
Orpheum Theater in Conrad, Montana
Northgate Motel in Conrad, Montana
Northgate Motel in Conrad, Montana – Clean and Quiet

Since it was early morning, I didn’t stop in Conrad on the way to Great Falls. Rather, I was in town before sunrise and on to US 89 south, which joins with US 87.  I had to head east through town past Malmstrom Air Force Base just as the sun came up. It was a beautiful Montana morning.

Sun peaks over the hill east of Great Falls on the morning of May 27
Sun peaks over the hill east of Great Falls on the morning of May 27
Sunrise near the Highwood Mountains east of Great Falls
Sunrise near the Highwood Mountains east of Great Falls

US 87/89 passes by Belt, Montana, but I didn’t drive through there on this trip as I wanted to get down US 89 and into Yellowstone and US 212 over Beartooth Pass.  Just shortly after passing by Belt, US 87 continues east and US 89 breaks off southward toward Monarch, Montana and pretty much follows Belt Creek, which at the time I was driving the route, was a raging creek with all of the winter runoff in full force. This is the beginning of the Kings Hill Scenic Byway.

Kings Hill Scenic byway
Kings Hill Scenic Byway in Central Montana
US 87 and US 89 split south of Belt, Montana
US 87 and US 89 split south of Belt, Montana
US 89 south towards Monarch, Montana
US 89 south towards Monarch, Montana
A view of Belt Creek from US 89 north of Monarch, Montana
A view of Belt Creek and the entrance to Belt Creek Canyon  from US 89 north of Monarch, Montana
US 89 approaching the Belt Mountains north of Monarch, Montana
US 89 approaching the Little Belt Mountains north of Monarch, Montana
Old cabins on a hill with the early morning light as seen from US 89 north of Montana 427
Old cabins on a hill with the early morning light as seen from US 89 north of Montana 427
Beautiful views abound on US 89 through Montana (and Big Sky views abound too)
Beautiful views abound on US 89 through Montana (and Big Sky views abound too)

I reached Monarch, Montana at about 7:30 AM. Monarch was originally established to service the silver mines in the area. It is near the Sluice Boxes State Park.

Monarch, Montana
Monarch, Montana
Deer on the roadside in Monarch, Montana
Deer on the roadside in Monarch, Montana
A nervous doe stares me down in Monarch, Montana
A nervous doe stares me down in Monarch, Montana

The drive through the Lewis and Clark National Forest is very nice on a spring morning. Wildlife was in abundance and the raging Belt Creek could be heard, the smell of pine in the air.  It was very refreshing (with the car windows down of course!)  Soon enough, I was passing through the town of Neihart.

Welcome to Neihart, Montana (oh well...not all photos come out perfect!)
Welcome to Neihart, Montana (oh well…not all photos come out perfect!) The sign says ” Our small town is like Heaven to us, please don’t drive like Hell through it.”

Neihart had a few unique things so it was well worth a short stop for a look/see.

US 89 runs through Neihart, Montana
US 89 runs through Neihart, Montana
An old barn in Neihart, Montana
An old barn in Neihart, Montana

I always like the unique shops on road trips, and Neihart offered one of those up in GJ’s Junkers Delight….fun signs, unique metal art

GJ's Junkers Delight in Neihart, Montana
GJ’s Junkers Delight in Neihart, Montana
Love this sign on GJ's - This ain't no museum, this junk is for sale
Love this sign on GJ’s – This ain’t no museum, this junk is for sale
This scrap metal dude apparently guards GJ's Trailer
This scrap metal dude apparently guards GJ’s Trailer

From Neihart, US 89 begins to offer a spectacular drive through the Rocky Mountains and gets you up to Kings Hill Pass which hits an altitude of 7,385 feet. Kings Hill Pass is part of the Kings Hill Scenic Byway which passes through the Little Belt Mountains in the Lewis and Clark National Forest in Montana, United States.

I saw numerous snow runoff formed waterfalls that fed into the raging Belt Creek. This was one of the nice ones.
I saw numerous snow runoff formed waterfalls that fed into the raging Belt Creek. This was one of the nice ones.
Most of the drive on US 89 south of Neihart is in the pine forests.
Most of the drive on US 89 south of Neihart is in the pine forests.

As the altitude climbed I could see that there were ski resorts and then I came across the Showdown, Montana sign near the summit of Kings Hill Pass.  Created in 1936 and originally called King’s Hill Ski Area, Showdown is a small-scale ski area that caters mainly to weekend skiers.  It also has nice summer activities for bikers, hikers and campers.

Showdown Montana Ski resort
Showdown Montana Ski resort
Sumoflam at Kings Hill Summit in Montana
Sumoflam at Kings Hill Summit in Montana
The views south from Kings Hill Pass
The views south from Kings Hill Pass at 7,393 feet
Ski Trails of Showdown near Kings Hill Pass
Ski Trails of Showdown near Kings Hill Pass
US 89 south of Kings Hill Pass
US 89 south of Kings Hill Pass

From Kings Hill Pass US 89 heads down hill towards White Sulphur Springs, Montana.

US 89 south of Kings Hill Summit
US 89 south of Kings Hill Summit
I had to stop and get this shot of the pretty male Mountain Bluebird
I had to stop and get this shot of the pretty male Mountain Bluebird
Horses graze in verdant meadows under the snow-capped mountains of the Big Belt Range
Horses graze in verdant meadows under the snow-capped mountains of the Big Belt Range
US 89 heads into rolling hills about 5 miles north of White Sulphur Springs, MT
US 89 heads into rolling hills about 5 miles north of White Sulphur Springs, MT

The end of the Kings Hill Scenic byway is about 3 miles north of White Sulphur Springs, which sits at the base of three mountain ranges. A truly beautiful setting.

End of Kings Hill Scenic Byway at US Route 12
End of Kings Hill Scenic Byway at US Route 12
US 89 in White Sulphur Springs, Montana
US 89 in White Sulphur Springs, Montana at 8:30 AM
A ghost sign on an old building takes you back to the hey day of White Sulphur Springs
A ghost sign on an old building takes you back to the hey day of White Sulphur Springs
Battling peaks of hay challenge the snow capped peaks in the distance south of White Sulphur Springs
Battling peaks of hay challenge the snow capped peaks in the distance south of White Sulphur Springs

From White Sulphur Springs US 89 continues south towards Livingston. This portion of the drive has some spectacular mountain views, especially of the Crazy Mountains (also known as the Crazies). I can envision the awe of pioneers as they realized they would have to get past them.

The Crazies as seen from US 89 near the Smith River Valley in Montana
The Crazies as seen from US 89 near the Smith River Valley in Montana
US 89 and the Crazy Mountains in Montana
US 89 and the Crazy Mountains in Montana
Another view of the Crazies
Another view of the Crazies
Mountains and plains as seen from US 89
Mountains and plains as seen from US 89

Wyoming lays claim to being the pronghorn capital of the world, but Montana has to be a close second.  Some of my best pronghorn photos have come in Montana.  I saw a small group by the road near Wilsall and stopped for a visit.

A curious pronghorn enjoys the morning sun
A curious pronghorn enjoys the morning sun
Mountains from US 89 near Wilsall, Montana
Mountains from US 89 near Wilsall, Montana
A small family of pronghorn Antelope scamper across a field near Pulis Lane in Wilsall, Montana.
A small family of pronghorn Antelope scamper across a field near Pulis Lane in Wilsall, Montana.

From the Wilsall area I continued south towards Livingston, Montana.  The mountains scenes were breathtaking on this section of US 89 near Wilsall. I knew that on the other side of the mountains sits the city of Bozeman, where I lived from 1971-1973. I loved Bozeman.

Mountain views are breathtaking
Mountain views are breathtaking near Wilsall, Montana

Wilsall, along with Clyde Park,  is in the Shields River Valley.  The Shields River was named by Captain William Clark of the Lewis and Clark Expedition in honor of John Shields when they arrived here in July 1806.  This area was also visited by the famous trapper, trader and scout Jim Bridger in the 1860s.

A sculpture of a pioneer/trapper overlooks the Shields Valley
A sculpture of a pioneer/trapper “Thunder Jack” overlooks the Shields Valley – artist Gary Kerby
Sumoflam and Thunder Jack
Sumoflam and Thunder Jack

The above sculpture by local artist Gary Kerby was dedicated in 2006. Titled “Welcome to the Shields” it is nicknamed “Thunder Jack.”

Welcome to Wilsall, Montana (with the Welcome Bird on top of the sign!)
Welcome to Wilsall, Montana (with the Welcome Bird on top of the sign!)
This day there were beautiful clouds over Wilsall, MT
This day there were beautiful clouds over Wilsall, MT
Bank Bar in Wilsall, MT.  Old neon and a question...is there a drive thru ATM at this bank?
Bank Bar in Wilsall, MT. Old neon and a question…is there a drive thru ATM at this bank?
Wilsall Mercanitle Company in Wilsall, Montana
Wilsall Mercanitle Company in Wilsall, Montana
Wilsall Grocery Neon sign
Wilsall Grocery Neon sign

And of course, I finally found a nice wall mural on this trip.  This one on the side of the Mercantile building takes you back to the early 1900s in Wilsall. This was painted by Gary Kerby, the same artist that made the pioneer sculpture pictured above. Gary is a resident of Wilsall. Kerby has painted murals in Montana (I saw another of his works in Cut Bank last year), Oregon and Washington.

Wilsall Mural in Wilsall, Montana
“Wilsall Unleashed”  Mural in Wilsall, Montana by Gary Kerby
Grain elevator with mountains in the background in Wilsall, MT
Grain elevator with mountains in the background in Wilsall, MT

Continuing south on US 89, there are miles of open range ranchlands with the amazing mountains in the background.

US 89 heading south.  This is about 6 miles north of Clyde Park, MT
US 89 heading south. This is about 6 miles north of Clyde Park, MT
US 89 just south of Clyde Park, MT
US 89 just south of Clyde Park, MT
US 89 north of Livingston, MT
US 89 north of Livingston, MT

Livingston, Montana is one of those wonderful communities nestled in the mountains (like Leadville, CO – see my post about Leadville).  There are old buildings, old neon signs, and majestic mountains framing the buildings.  I spent 30 or 40 minutes in Livingston to capture the feel of this town. The town is also touted as the “Original Gateway City to Yellowstone National Park.”

The mountains tower over the city of Livingston.
The mountains tower over the city of Livingston.
Mountain view from Sacajawea Park in Livingston, Montana
Mountain view from Sacajawea Park in Livingston, Montana
Old Empire Theater in Livingston, MT
Old Empire Theater in Livingston, MT
Dan Bailey's Fly Fishing Supply
Big Fish on the store front of Dan Bailey’s Fly Fishing Supply (see website)
Ghost sign in Livingston, Montana
Ghost sign in Livingston, Montana
Old Coca Cola Ghost sign in Livingston, Montana
Old Coca Cola Ghost sign in Livingston, Montana
Classic Neon sign in Livingston, Montana
Classic Neon sign in Livingston, Montana
Livingston Bar & Grille Neon in Livingston, MT
Livingston Bar & Grille Neon in Livingston, MT
The Mint Neon sign in Livingston, MT
The Mint Neon sign in Livingston, MT
Mountains surround the city of Livingston, Montana
Mountains surround the city of Livingston, Montana

After a breather in Livingston it was on to Yellowstone National Park via US 89.  From Livingston, the highway basically follows the Yellowstone River, which was running very heavy due to runoff from the mountains. The mountain scenery at this point is amazing.

The mountains and the Yellowstone River as seen from US 89
The Absaroka Range (Western Beartooths) and the Yellowstone River as seen from US 89
Wayside Chapel on US 89 south of Livingston
Wayside Chapel on US 89 south of Livingston

Not too far south of Livingston I came across a small wayside chapel with a splendid view of the Yellowstone River and Emigrant Peak (10,915 feet) of the Absaroka Mountain Range. The chapel was built in 1968 and had once sat on a small hilltop overlooking Yellowstone River adjacent to the rest area on US Hwy 89. It’s been a landmark as well as a curiosity. The chapel is always open providing shelter and a resting place for weary travelers. The chapel is 12 foot tall including its steeple; the building is 10-by-14 foot with stained glass side windows. There are eight wooden seats facing a white cross on the pulpit.

US 89 south just north of Gardiner, Montana and the entrance to Yellowstone National Park
US 89 south just north of Gardiner, Montana and the entrance to Yellowstone National Park

I soon found myself in the touristy town of Gardiner, Montana. The town definitely caters to the tourists and adventurers. It is also home the entry point for the North Entrance of Yellowstone National Park and the massive Roosevelt Arch. Constructed under the supervision of the U.S. Army at Fort Yellowstone, its cornerstone was laid down by President of the United States Theodore Roosevelt in 1903. The top of the arch is inscribed with a quote from the Organic Act of 1872, the legislation which created Yellowstone, which reads “For the Benefit and Enjoyment of the People.”

Entering Gardiner, Montana
Entering Gardiner, Montana
Old ghost sign in Gardiner where they claim to sell everything
Old ghost sign in Gardiner where they claim to sell everything

And thus ends my journey on Montana’s US as I enter through the Roosevelt Arch into Yellowstone National Park and eventually into Wyoming.

Sumoflam at Roosevelt Arch in Gardiner, Montana at the North Entrance to Yellowstone National Park
Sumoflam at Roosevelt Arch in Gardiner, Montana at the North Entrance to Yellowstone National Park
Looking north to Roosevelt Arch and Montana from Yellowstone entrance
Looking north to Roosevelt Arch and Montana from Yellowstone entrance
At the north entrance to Yellowstone National Park, still on US 89 in Montana
At the north entrance to Yellowstone National Park, still on US 89 in Montana

From this point I entered Wyoming on my way to Mammoth Hot Springs and US 212 which will take me across the northern section of Yellowstone National Park and into the Beartooth Mountain Range.  That will be the subject of my next post!

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