It is one of the most famous and beautiful highways in the country. But few know the history of the iconic Beartooth Highway. Saturday, Nov. 19, at the Billings Public Library, people will get a chance of hear the details of this engineering marvel.
Jon Axline is Montana Department of Transportation historian and author of a book on the highway. He says its scenic qualities may not have been the goal of its construction. It was intended to divert mining trucks from going though Yellowstone National Park and coming out at the railroad station in Red Lodge. And he says Red Lodge even had big plans to build a smelter.
“But it seems like everything I’ve seen after a certain point they were building this for the scenic qualities of that route and also to provide that new entrance to Yellowstone National Park,” Axline said.
The Beartooth Highway was built during the Depression, just a few years after Glacier National Park’s Going to the Sun Road. It cost about$2.5 million to build, less than half what transportation officials thought it would. And it was done in record time.
“I kind of think that most of the decisions were made in the field at this kind of by seat-of-our-pants engineering ,” said Axline. “They knew the route they were going to take and how wide the road was going to be. “
Axline said travelers should prepare themselves for one of the best scenic roads that they are ever going to drive.
“It is awe inspiring and has been for 80 years,” Axline said.” That’s the one theme that goes through everything I’ve read about the Beartooth Highway. It’s something you will never forget and it’s something everybody should experience at least once in their life.”
Axline will discuss his book, The Beartooth Highway: A History of America’s Most Beautiful Drive,
Saturday morning, at 11am, at the Billings Public Library. It’s part of the library’s Hometown History series.