The first things you notice about Montana and Wyoming are the dramatic landscapes, high Rocky Mountain terrain, vast open plains, small towns, and abundant wildlife. These places truly leave an everlasting impression on the senses. Also, the two states constitute one of the few remaining sanctuaries in the lower 48 that still retain some of the Old West frontier feel and adventure.
The extent of the states' spectacular and diverse terrain made them the perfect setting for the 2006 Eaton Corporation/Detroit Locker and 4 Wheel Drive & Sport Utility Magazine Trail Tour. Eaton/Detroit is a company that has made a lasting impact on the sport of four-wheeling, and it is always an honor to hit the trail with its representatives.
This is the second year 4WD&SU has participated in the Trail Tour event, and we covered just over 950 miles of trails and highway and experienced every type of wheeling terrain imaginable. Dirt, rock, mud, deep snow, river crossings - you name it, we rolled through it. With the freezing sleet and snow in the high mountain passes and the hot, dry desert heat, it was like experiencing all four seasons in one short week.
The event started in Lewistown, Montana, about 200 miles east of the capital city, Helena. If you aren't familiar with this part of the country, Lewistown is the epitome of a quaint farming community. Like the majority of towns in this area, community life revolves around agriculture and a redbrick Main Street. It's quite a refreshing visit for us city folk.
For day one of the adventure, we lined up the 22 participating vehicles and headed to the Judith River Trail system southwest of Lewistown in the Little Belt Mountains. This turned out to be a full day of river crossings and wet fun through an astoundingly beautiful mountain range. By the end of the day, we had chalked up a total of 36 river crossings and one injured and hydrolocked Project Grand Caddy, which remained out of commission for the rest of the trip. After a full day on the trail, we looped back northwest to Lewistown for the evening.
On day two of the journey we headed east on Highway 87 and Highway 200 toward Winnett, Montana. This is one of the smallest towns we encountered on our journey, with its population of 187 according to the 2000 Census Bureau report. Actually, we had passed through a few smaller towns but didn't notice until the towns' only two buildings were a small silhouette in the rearview mirror. Just outside Winnett, we found ourselves wheeling on the Lund Cattle Ranch. Ranches in Montana are really still ranches, if that makes sense. Believe it or not, with 23,000 working acres, this ranch is small in comparison to other Montana ranches.
We spent the day exploring the ranchland on the numerous cattle trails and playing around on the sandstone mesa. Ty Lund and his son Cody regaled us with stories of ranch life before we went wheeling. It's life like this that really intrigues some of us city dwellers. To give you an example of how big this place is, a person could drive from horizon line in the east to horizon line in the west, covering many miles, and still be on the Lunds' property.
After the ranch run, we were treated to a fantastic barbecue hosted by Magic City 4 Wheelers. Getting out and meeting great people like this not only leaves you with a good feeling, it is just plain fun.
Day three we found ourselves rolling south down Highway 90 and then Highway 200 toward Beartooth Pass with our trail guide for the day, Bill Springer. Highway 200 happens to pass through the historical town of Red Lodge, Montana. At one time, the famous mountain man Jeremiah Johnson was sheriff of this town. Beartooth Pass peaks at 11,000 feet above sea level while it passes into the northern border of Wyoming just above Yellowstone National Park. The day before on the Lund ranch, we were wheeling in 80 to 90 degree heat, but the top of this pass, we found frigid 32 degree temperatures, wet snow, and sleet. The guys with the open and bikini-top Jeeps had a heck of a time keeping warm.
After a brief rest at Top of the World, Wyoming, we headed a few miles down the highway to the trail. Not too far off the pavement, our Jeeps got completely bogged down in deep snow. Progress became extremely slow. From this point on, we only made it a few more miles before we had to turn around and head out the same way we came in. That short run took us most of the day and was filled with challenges and numerous mechanical issues and breakdowns. From the snow trail we headed south on Highway 296 to Cody, Wyoming, and then east on Highway 14 to Lovell, Wyoming.
Day four was canyon and caves day in Devil's Canyon. This area is east of Lovell and just above the Big Horn Basin. The area's terrain is dry, somewhat hot, and similar to high-desert conditions. We were guided by local resident John Olsen. The mountains outside Lovell provided us with some very scenic and mild wheeling. The area is filled with historical Indian art work (petroglyphs) in addition to the natural wonder of the caves. On this run, we even got to undertake a little spelunking. At the end of the day, we headed back to the hotel for a fantastic barbecue provided by Robbie Pierce, owner of MasterCraft Race Products (don't worry, Robbie, I won't tell anyone I beat you in a game of horseshoes).
Day five took us on a little side trip to the Air Museum in Greybull, Wyoming. This was a real treat before hitting the trail. We were able to tour the old bombers before they were completely stripped and scavenged for parts. Most of the old bombers were World War II era. After the tour, we headed into the Big Horn Mountains of Wyoming with our trail guide, Tony Scott. The trails weren't tough, but the scenery was astounding. We passed numerous high mountain lakes, rivers, and creeks.
Wrapping things up, we headed east up Highway 310 and then west on Highway 90 to Billings, Montana. In Billings, we were treated to a farewell banquet and some really good grub. With almost 1,000 miles of highway and trail under our belts, we all came to the conclusion that we had a great time with memories that would last a lifetime.
This year, for the first time in the event's history, we held a contest that allowed readers of 4WD&SU to participate in the event. The winners were Jay Kemp of Hillsboro, Oregon, and Jeff Patterson of Middletown, New York. Jay brought his brother Jim along for the ride, and both say they had a great time. Jeff unfortunately had an emergency and had to miss the event. He will be invited back next year. We will also be holding the same contest next year and again invite two readers of 4WD&SU.
We just about have the event pinned down for 2007, and we think it will be the adventure of a lifetime. If all goes well, we will meet in Washington State and board a ferry, with our Jeeps, and sail off to Anchorage, Alaska. This is a three-day journey up the coast through what is called the Maritime Highway. The cruise will take us in and around numerous islands, and wildlife viewing will range from birds of prey and killer whales to sea otters and bears. Travel on these ferries is similar to a cruise ship. Once in Alaska, we will wheel for a week in the Matsu Valley area near Wasilla and then head back to Washington on the ferry.
Everyone who participated in the 2006 Trail Tour would like to thank the main sponsor and organizer, Scott Frary from Eaton/Detroit Locker. Scott worked hard with Jared Prindle, owner of AFW Motorsports in Lewistown, Montana, to get this event rolling. We all had an absolute blast. We would also like to thank Dynatrac Products, the Gear Centre, Kilby Enterprises, MasterCraft Race Products, Poison Spyder Customs, PSC Motorsports, Superlift Suspension Systems, TrailReady, and Warn Industries.
For additional photography of this event, log on to 4WD&SU's website at www.4wdandsportutility.com. We hope to see you in Alaska!