Montana Motorcycle Rides: Exploring the Northwestern Corner
September 18, 2007
Filed under Favorite Rides: Motorcycle Rides from Rider Readers, Featured Great Road
[Montana Motorcycle Rides: Exploring the Northwestern Corner was originally published as a Favorite Ride in the August 2007 issue of Rider magazine]
Our 100th Anniversary Harley Electra Glide Ultra Classic was heavily packed and ready for three weeks of road travel, rain or shine. For the past nine years my husband, Jim, and I have taken an epic road trip with friends from Arizona. This year the route from California and back took us to the northwestern corner of Montana via a detour to Minnesota to visit family we had not seen for years.
A cool, clear California morning dawned and we headed out anticipating all the great times that lay ahead. As we left Apple Valley heading northeast on Interstate 15, we could feel the tension of our daily lives fading away behind us. After two relaxing days of riding we found ourselves cruising into Denver. We decided to call it an early day because we had a long detour and 626 miles to cover tomorrow.
We left Denver heading northeast on Interstate 76 to connect to Interstate 80 and Highway 385 in Nebraska. Riding north was a terrible battle as we fought a side wind that seemed determined to blow us off the road. Jim, an expert rider, struggled constantly with the bike to keep it under control. Finally, we found the out-of-the-way attraction called Carhenge in Alliance, Nebraska. Built in 1987 by Jim Reinders, Carhenge is a tongue-in-cheek copy of Stonehenge in England made from old cars all painted gray. Strangely interesting, it was worthwhile and kept us longer than we planned.
The next morning we left Lincoln heading east on I-80. We then connected to Interstate 35 north to St. Paul, Minnesota, where we found my aunt and uncle nervously waiting for us.
We left St. Paul on a chilly and cloudy day. As we traveled north on I-35, the chill factor off Lake Superior dropped lower and lower so we turned on our heated jackets. It was only 200 miles to our destination of Cloquet and Carlton, Minnesota, where we spent two days exploring the area—of all things, a Phillips 66 gas station in Cloquet was the oddest, most unique spot to see. The building was designed by Frank Lloyd Wright in 1956 and built in 1958, and has been in operation for 50 years.
Once again we gathered our gear and headed west. It was a dark, cloudy and brisk morning when we left Carlton, and we didn’t hesitate to suit up. A quick ride north on MN 33 brought us to Highway 2, where we rode west until it intersected with MN 200. Continuing west, we picked up MN 34 in Walker and took it west until we got on Interstate 10 West in Detroit Lakes. Fargo, North Dakota, was just 45 more miles and our stop for the night. It had rained moderately for most of the day, but our suits and heated jackets kept us dry and warm. It had been a low-stress ride on narrow rural roads bending through wet woodlands. We had the roads to ourselves and the motto “Born to be Free” was never more true.
The next day was clear and perfectly warm, and also perfect for taking pictures of the North Dakota sculptured landscape from the back of the bike. From Fargo it was a straight shot west on Interstate 94 to Glendive, Montana, where we would put it to bed. Glendive has some interesting history involving the Yellowstone River, which runs through town. Lewis and Clark camped on this spot on the river in 1806, and Custer spent the night here before his last stand at Little Big Horn. Just a short distance after leaving Glendive there is a road called Bad Route Road. Jim and I chuckled and kept riding southwest on I-94 toward Billings, Montana, not wanting to take the chance of breaking our good luck.
Once reaching Billings we made a left at Highway 212 south to Red Lodge, where we would finally meet up with our riding buddies from Arizona. We found the group and it was party time! Seven bikes and 13 people met here for the 23rd Annual H.O.G. Rally in Billings. The next two days were full of music, food, souvenir hunting and cruising. We all agreed we had had a blast! Too soon it was time to get riding to our next destination, Glacier National Park in the far northwest corner of Montana. To make time we slabbed it on Interstate 90 west, arriving in Missoula, Montana around lunch time.
Taking MT 200 northeast out of Missoula, we turned north on MT 83 to the U.S. 93 and MT 40 junction. Just two and a half miles east of the junction we found the North Forty Resort, where we would stay for the next two nights.
After six remarkable days together, it was time for all of us to say good-bye. From Glacier Park we were splitting up and heading for different destinations. Jim and I turned south on U.S. 93 back to California. It was our 18th day out and we were heading home. U.S. 93 is a scenic, fascinating road. Its extreme changes in elevations, intense weather and amazing geology constantly gave us one unforgettable adventure after another. Never boring, always daring, U.S. 93 winds its way south through Montana, Idaho, Nevada and Arizona. With one exception, we spent two and a half days on this road. We diverted at Ely, Nevada, where we picked up U.S. 6 for 30 miles and turned east on to NV 318, spending the night in Preston, Nevada.
The next morning we had breakfast at Whipples Country Store in Lund, just two miles from the motel. I’m sure Whipples hasn’t changed a bit since the ’40s. The food was home cooked and made from scratch by Peggy, an 80-year-old grandmother. After this breakfast for road-weary riders we headed south on NV 318, a long stretch of desert road virtually desolate for 115 miles. Then neon city, Las Vegas, loomed in the distance on I-15. Erratic traffic, soaring temperatures and flashing billboards made reality hit like a brick wall. The last three hours to Apple Valley was a desperate attempt to do what you have to do to get home. We pulled into our driveway tired, hot and drenched. After 21 days and 5,900 miles, our epic journey was sadly over.
Where to next year? That’s the million- dollar question. It will be answered.