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Big Hole Pass 

One look at the elevation profile shows that this is not a major climb. It is however a great bike ride through the wide open southern Montana cattle range kingdom. There is so little traffic here, there aren't even any rumble strips, which makes this an especially enjoyable pass for Montana, where often shoulders cannot be used by cyclists due to wide rumble strips, running directly down the center of the shoulder.
 
1.(00.0km~00.0mi, 1868m~6129ft) START-END EAST: jct Pioneer Mtns scenic byway - Mo278
2.(12.0km~07.5mi, 2326m~7630ft) TOP: Big Hole Pass
3.(29.3km~18.2mi, 1976m~6483ft) START-END WEST: Jackson

Approaches

From East. The description starts at the junction of the designated  Pioneer Mountain scenic byway with Mo278. The road designated as "especially scenic" branches off right to ramble through meadows of the Pioneer Mountains, while the road to Big Hole Pass leaves the Pioneer Mountains over something resembling a small roller coaster. The entire pass approach consists of one single large radius 50 degree turn, and in the process of climbing up it, views of the Pioneer Range gradually become better than anything on the designated Pioneer Mountain scenic byway. But by far the best views are a small distance above the pass itself.

A chainup area for trucks above the bottom reinforces the not quite so small size of this seemingly small bump in the road. The stretch between the chainup parking lot and the top appears like a simple short straight ramp, not much longer or steeper than what New York drivers might use to get onto the George Washington Bridge, yet in reality there is potentially enough climatic difference involved to change the seasons. From the top a dirt road runs south along the Big Hole Divide into National Forest land with a few great campsites with outstanding views. There is also a disproportionately huge parking lot with a 2 foot explanatory sign, pointing out where Capt. Clarke (from Lewis and Clarke) camped on his return trip.



From West.
(also described upward) The ranching town of Jackson with its combined hot springs/bar makes for a unique educational stop along the way. Also check out the knife collection in the nearby general store. When exiting the collection of buildings, a sign on the east side of the road points out the natural hot springs and tells of Clarke's exploratory party boiling variously sized pieces of meat in it. When exiting town the majestic range marking the continental divide is to the right of the road, and can still be enjoyed without stopping or wrenching one's neck out of socket. As the road begins to climb intermittently, it also curves ever so slowly eastwards, then just two more 40 degree turns, stretched out over several miles - and the road sweeps to the summit like a frozen garden hose that does not want to bend.

Tours

Dayrides. 

An out and back ride, starting in the middle: Carrol Hill on the Big Hole Divide > down west side of Big Hole Pass <> Jackson <> turn around point about 4 miles beyond Jackson at signpost 50m, at the turnout praising the fishing, beauty and more of Big Hole Valley along with the friendliness of its inhabitants <> back over Big Hole Pass and down the East side <> turn around point at jct: Mt278 - road to Polaris > back to starting point: 55 miles with 3000ft of climbing in 4:1hours (VDO MC1.0 m3:10.8.27)

 

History

Lewis and Clarke (<Gibbons Pass) Big Hole Pass was on the return trip of the Lewis and Clarke expedition, which at this point was really only the Clarke expedition. During the first leg of the expedition, the way west, instead of crossing the continental divide when they first approached it, Lewis and Clarke had made a 400 mile detour to the south in order to look for horses, that would help them on the unavoidable portage. Consequently they had cached their boats far to the south. Clarke went to retrieve them while Lewis was heading directly east.

The return trip proceeded much faster and the party reports to have covered two hundred miles in four days while crossing over Big Hole Pass. But the group did make note of the Hot Springs and made notes on cooking their food in them. They soon raised their canoes from Horse Prarie Creek and quickly proceeded back east. But technically speaking this was not the last pass they crossed. Clark with Sacajawea and nine others escorted forty nine horses back up the Gallatin Valley to the Yellowstone River. It is conjecture wich pass they crossed, most likely Bozeman Pass, but possibly also Bridger Pass or Flathead Pass.

Chief Joseph and the Nez Perce (<Gibbons Pass|Big Sheep Creek Divide>) After their encounter with Gibbons and the US army in the Big Hole Valley, Chief Joseph and his Nez Perce Indians continued over Big Hole Pass and then the old Bannack - Medicine Lodge Pass road. Today's maps refer to this route as Big Sheep Creek Divide followed by Bannack Pass.




Picture Locations: All pictures except bottom right are taken from a forest road about a mile above the pass itself, looking towards the Pioneer Range. Bottom right taken approaching Jackson, looking towards Big Hole Range.








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