New Mexico roads often cross the Continental Divide
without much fanfare, often without barely the hint of a
climb, and motorists take no notice of the quickly passing
green sign saying "continental divide".
Historically too, continental divide crossings this far
south were of little importance. Not so in Montana.
Raynold's Pass was first named "Low Pass", a
good simple description, and was heralded as one of the
great pass discoveries. As it turned out the low crossing
turned out not to be that important, but the name stuck.
Traffic on this road is much lighter than on nearby Targhee
, which makes Montana's rumble strips still
dangerous, but not as dangerous.
|1.(00.0km~00.0mi, 1808m~5932ft )
START-END NORTH: Lyons Bridge Crossing over Madison
2.(10.1km~06.3mi, 1882m~6175ft) START-END ALTERNATE:
turn left, straight goes to Hegben Lake on US287
3.(22.6km~14.0mi, 2068m~6785ft) turnoff to FR230 to
Antelope Basin is on right
4.(24.0km~14.9mi, 2080m~6824ft) TOP: Raynolds Pass
5.(32.1km~19.9mi, 1980m~6496ft) low point
6.(38.7km~24.0mi, 2018m~6620ft) START-END SOUTH: jct
Mo87 - US20, east of Henry's Lake
From North (Atlantic). From the jct of US20 with
US89, US89 can be seen aiming straight for a low gap ahead.
The road could be called straight as an arrow, if it wasn't
for its numerous, undulating ups and downs in its 9 miles to
the summit. The road has a wide shoulder but it is rumble
stripped down the middle so that riding on the shoulder is
impossible. Cyclists are forced to ride in traffic, making
this side needlessly dangerous. However traffic is light so
conditions are much better than the Montana side of nearby Targhee
Pass. The top has a large sign and a nice view of the
range to the east.
From South. (Pacific) described downwards. The
shoulder remains, but the dangerous and annoying rumble strip
disappears as soon as you cross into Idaho at the top. The
quality of the ride improves tremendously. Henry's Lake
shimmers above the asphalt crest of the top and it is only 200
feet down to it
jct: Targhee Trail forest road - US20 > Targhee
Pass > West Yellowstone > US287 nort and west >
Hebgen Dam > Raynolds Pass > back to starting point
(including between 5 and 10 miles of slow detours near West
Yellowstone): 75 miles with 2500ft of climbing in 5:3 hours.
The Fur Trade. The route of Lewis and Clarke served
as a reference route for subsequent explorers, who were
motivated by trapping beaver for their fur. It seems silly
today, but beaver covered hats were all the rage in European
cities at the time. One of the principal players in the Rocky
Mountain fur trade was the Spaniard Manuel Lisa. A partner and
employee of his was John Colter, legendary rediscoverer of
Yellowstone Park. In 1810 after his Yellowstone escapades,
Colter and thirty American and French trappers built a fort at
Three Forks. Blackfeet killed several of them and convinced
Colter that life was too short, to go on gambling it away like
this, and he returned east to enter his bean growing period.
But Manuel Lisa already had a new partner. Andrew Henry
decided to take a look at the Three Forks situation still in
the same year, and was promptly chased away by Blackfeet. His
flight from arrows and muskets lead him in a new direction, up
the Madison River. In the process he crossed today's Raynolds
Pass to the lake that would be named after him. At the time
the lake was filled with islets surrounded by beflowered
sections, which Bannack Indians used to burry relatives. The
Henry group descended all the way to near today's St Anthony,
Idaho. There they built a fort and wintered. But the fort had
a brief existence, and most of the them crossed back over
Raynold's Pass (or possibly Targhee
Pass) and returned down the Yellowstone. The exception
were three hunters in the group Hoback, Robinson and Reznor
who went on to cross Teton Pass.
From now on trappers spoke of crossing "North Pass"
and meant either Raynolds or nearby Targhee Pass.
Exloration by the Military and Surveyors. By
1860 Jim Bridger, the famous mountain man, had seen the fur
trade come and go. That year he was hired again for a mountain
expedition later in his life, this time to take a military
expedition into the Rocky Mountains. The war department had
assigned Captain Raynolds a whole list of impossible
exploratory tasks. The captain was happy to condense the
assignment into what he called an exploration of the
Yellowstone. They left from Fort Casper on the North Platte.
Jim Bridger and the captain had different ideas of how to
proceed into the mountains. The route they finally ended up
taking crossed Union Pass, which Raynolds named, then onwards
to Jackson Hole, then over Teton
Pass to Pierre's Hole. A week's time of traveling north
along the mountains brought them to the same low spot above
the beflowered lake. "I named it Low Pass and deem it to
be one of the most remarkable features of the Rocky
Mountains" Raynolds wrote in his journal. They continued
over the pass to Three Forks and returned to Fort Benton. The
captain was proud of his "exploration of the
Yellowstone", even if he never laid eyes on it.
In 1871 tourism was just beginning in nearby Yellowstone
National Park. This was the year when the epic exploration of
the Hayden Survey mapped the region carefully. They called the
pass Madison Pass.
Montana Gold Rush (<Teton
Enis - Virginia City>): Good times in Bannack only
lasted a year. Then the gold was played out. But new finds
were being made in Virginia City. Raynolds Pass was on an
access route that lead from Jackson Hole over Teton Pass,
Raynolds Pass to Enis and onwards to Virginia City.
back to Montana's
passes and summits by bicycle