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Mullan Pass 

The lowest Continental Divide crossing of the Boulder Mountains west of Helena is not the modern highway US12 over Mac Donald Pass, but this dirt road following a historic railroad route, that is still an important modern rail connection. This is a quiet gravel alternative, and a much more pleasant ride

2.profile turns off US12 onto Blossburg Rd towards Mullan Pass
3.jct with Priest Pass Rd on on right
4.profile stays right on Mullan Pass Rd, while Blossburg Rd stays left
5.TOP: 5920ft, Mullan Pass
6.railroad crosses road on trestle (4740ft)
7.profile goes right on Birdseye Rd
8.START-END WEST -2 Spring Meadow Lake, northern side of Helena


From West. From the point where Mullan Pass Rd turns off US12 to Mac Donald Pass, both roads start a definitely noticable climb. The Mullan Pass Rd follows in close proximity to the railroad tracks. Both reach an expansive shallow subalpine meadow, and the two routes part. The tracks head for a small tunnel, and the road makes an expansive sweep to the north to reach the unmarked summit. The road only becomes marginally steeper than the previous section along the tracks. The CD trail crosses at the top

From East. (described downwards) Shortly after the summit there is a fine view down into the Helena valley. As road condtions become a little more MTB like (sofar it's been a great road gravel route), the road goes under an adenturous looking viaduct. I still have quite a few miles ahead for today. So I decide not to wait for the train on the bridge for the perfect picture (even though this line is quite busy). A few more railroad track crossings and this becomes a lightning fast decent down a smooth gravel road. Eventually, at the largest collection of mailboxes that I have ever seen, the profile joins the Skelly Gulch Road and makes its way along a set of complicated turns to the southern edge of Helena


A Dayride with this point as intermediate summit is on page:
Mac Donald Pass


The Stevens Survey: In 1853 Washington Territory reached from the Continental Divide to the Pacific and Isaac Ingalls Stevens wanted to be its first governor. He got the job through a number of scheemes and because he was a Franklin Pierce demorcrat. This loyalty apparently also qualified him for being in charge of the Northern Pacific Railway survey, an alternative proposal to Gunnison's ideas of laying transcontinental rails over Cochetopa Pass and another proposed route through New Mexico, favored by sercretary of war, Jefferson Davis. If Washington Territory was going to amount to anything it needed a railroad. Stevens was sure about that. With 240 soldiers, scientists and engineers, the group was larger than the other railroad exporatory groups.

Stevens sent his underlings in all directions in an explosion of activity. Stevens first task was to find a route fit for rails or wagons around the Great Falls of the Missourri and the 60 miles of rough country upstream towards Bozeman and Three Forks. On Sept. 9 lieutnant John Mullan and five companions left to look for approaches into the mountains above the Missourri. The pass they found still carries is still named Mullan Pass. The young lieutnant could already see emigrant trains pass through the gap in his mind. He wrote: "Here therefore exists in the mountains a broad open pass, through which it is possible that ... a broad emigrant train will lead  from the Atlantic to the Pacific.

Military Roads. One year later in 1854 Stevens own role in exploring for routes had ended. But the people with Mullan amongst them were nor in the process of putting much of today's Montana and other areas on the map: Medicine Lodge Pass, the featureless Monida Pass, much of the Interstate 90 route through Washington State (Lookout Pass, St Regis Pass), the 100 percent flat Deer Lodge Pass. In March 1854 he brought back a wagon over his own discovery "Mullan Pass". He saw no point in being modest: "The mountain itself is nothing more than a low prarie ridge", even if it does seem a bit more than that on a bicycle in the middle of an August heat wave. He descended with "the animals trotting.

The military road also made cycling history. The time was just after the civil war. The Indian wars were well under way. The army had a cycling enthusiast, a certain leuteniant Moss, stationed in Missoulla. He believed that the bicycle had certain advantages over the horse. He wrote "it does not require much care, it needs no forage, it is noiseless and it raises little dust, and it is impossible to tell the direction of travel from its track". Moss wanted to show the military just how useful the bicycle could be for them. He was granted permission to mount an expedition on bicycle from Missoula to St. Louis, some 1900 miles. During June 1860 Mullan crossed the continental divide on this pass together with his 20 black soldiers on their one speed Spalding safety bicycles. After an arduous trip they arrived in St. Louis in July, requiring 41 days for the trip. I had read this story in Michael Mc Coy's CD guide book. Full of expectation I crested the grassy ridge of this pass. I was expecting to find at least a plaque or histerical marker comemmorating the monumental event. Nothing of the kind. The brave bicycle soldiers have been forgotten, except for some dedicated guide book authors. Instead a sign with a 5 word sentence marks the spot. It mentions some other milityary official who crossed here, without providing further details. I fully intentioned to ride down this pass back into the Helena valley. After all, you haven't ridden over a pass untill you've ridden up it, and just as importantly down the other side. But after I saw the valley below me, baking in the heat like a souflet, while I was still relatively comfortable, I decided to stay in the comfort zone and follow the CD route further North along the ridge. Miles later I crested over another spectacular meadow. It's certainly a pass. But nobody ever bothered to give it a name. A long comfortable decent lead me into the scenic collection of  wooden churches, rusty snowmobiles, railroad ruins and lawn furniture, collectively called Marysville.

Railroads ( Bozeman Pass > ): As it turns out, the more southerly route through Wyoming was chosen as the first transcontinental railroad. For a time, other roadbuilding projects, like that of the Lander cutoff (put in place by the Trump like Lander), also ignored the Mullan Pass route. But congress approved building the Mullan Road from the west, starting in Walla Walla. Mullan soon recognized that the Bitterroot Range, though west of the Divide, represented a much larger problem that the Mullan Pass over the Continental Divide itself. The Mullan Military Road finally took a more notherly route over Ceur d'Alene Pass, an on August 2nd Leutinant Mullan declared victory of his 7 year old dream of the Mullan Road. It did not last long and it was not heavily used, and by the time the Northern Pacific railroad was buit, the Mullan Road was nearly abandoned.

In 1881, the president of the railroad Villard bought the bankrupt railroad on the open market Its tracchs reached as far as Billings from the east, and Pend Oreille Lake, Idaho from the west. Villard started putting tunnels on the original route over Mullan Pass and also Bozeman Pass from the beginning. The Mullan Tunnel was finished in 1883, 3875ft long and reached an apex of 5547ft elevation. Neither approach required any exceptional grade. The tunnel on Bozeman Pass represented greater difficulties,

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