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Peaks to Plains

Originally Published in Trailer Life Magazine

You’ll get a friendly welcome and lots of good spirit from the residents of Red Lodge,
Montana, an historic mining town of 2,000 people. Located in Carbon County, approximately
65 miles south of Billings, Red Lodge has an incredible backdrop of the Beartooth Mountains
and 6 million acres of some of the most scenic and diverse national forests in the United
States. Elevations range from 5,000 feet to the highest point in Montana, Granite Peak, at
12,799 feet. The elevations create habitats for numerous wildlife species, such as bighorn
sheep, rocky mountain goat, elk, deer, moose, black bear, grizzly bear, bobcat and mountain
lion. Recreation facilities include 15 developed campgrounds, picnic sites, hundreds of
miles of hiking and riding trails, cross-country ski trails, scenic vistas and a portion of
the Beartooth Scenic Byway, which leads to the east entrance of Yellowstone National Park.
The Red Lodge area hosts world-class fishing with miles of rivers and streams and more than
250 high mountain lakes. Each August for the past 50 years, Red Lodge has celebrated its
diverse heritage with a week-long pageant called the Festival of Nations. Parades, special
events, food tasting and evening programs focus on the many nationalities that have settled
in the area throughout the years. The Festival of Nations include demonstrations and
exhibits of ethnic arts, crafts, food and dancing, poetry and music. More than 300 state
and national flags line Broadway (the main street) and local businesses and restaurants
feature international displays and specialties. The history of the festival goes back to
the turn of the century when hundreds of Scottish, Irish, Finnish, Slavic and Scandinavian
miners and their families settled in the area to mine coal. Rich deposits of coal were
discovered in 1866 and the government opened up the area for mining and settlement in 1882.
Prior to settlement, the area was inhabited by Crow Indians, who moved south to escape
their enemies, the Sioux. Legend has it that the name Red Lodge stems from red clay applied
to Crow tepees or adhering to the tepees as they were pulled on travois behind horses.
Derby Days pig races are held each weekend from Memorial Day to Labor Day at the Bear Creek
Saloon, located in the town of the same name about seven miles east of Red Lodge. You can
bet on your favorite pig using a “sports pool” method as half of each race’s pool goes to
fund scholarships for local students. Plan to round out your enjoyment with a western steak
dinner. Other attractions throughout the year include the Home of Champions Rodeo, held
July 2-4, which showcases some of the top-notch cowboys and cowgirls in the country. Each
day’s rodeo features a colorful parade with floats, music and cowboys on horseback. In
July, the Iron Horse Rodeo lures Harley Davidson enthusiasts to enjoy the ride over the
Beartooth Highway. This three-day event is in its seventh year. The Prairie to Peaks Run
features riders leaving Red Lodge for a trip over the Beartooth Highway (SR 212), down the
Chief Joseph Highway (Wyoming SR 296), and back to the Red Lodge area. The riders stop five
times along the way and are dealt a card. The holder of the best poker hand at the end of
the run wins a $1,000 cash prize. The Beartooth Nature Center at the north end of town is
built on the site of a reclaimed mine and trash dump. It is a non-profit educational
organization that cares for native animals unable to return to the wild due to injury or
domestication by humans. You can observe wildlife at close range, such as Luther, an
orphaned moose brought there when only a week old. Preserving the history of Carbon County
is the Peaks to Plains Museum, located on the main street in the renovated Labor Temple
Building, which was built in 1909.

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