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American Road Magazine
Celebrating our two-lane highways of yesteryear…And the joys of driving them today!

The Mullan Road And The Yt

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By 1914, the Yellowstone Trail Association had designated its western route as far as the Montana/Idaho border. A usable auto route was just being created over the Bitterroot Mountains that would allow the extension of the YT into Idaho and Washington.


The YT route was not the first transportation route to cross in this area. Capt. Mullan built the Military Wagon Road from Fort Walla Walla ,Washington Territory, to Fort Benton, Dakota Territory, from 1858-c1862. It soon became known as the Mullan Millitary Road. Then the Northern Pacific built its tracks over Lookout Pass c1891 and made the primitive Mullan Road, over St. Regis Pass, obsolete. Maybe by 1915 and certainly by 1916 Yellowstone Trail auto traffic was following the Mullan Pass (misnamed -- Mullan was never there) just north of Lookout Pass.


For some years a group of Mullan Road aficionados has met in the area for a Mullan Days Conference to visit, study, find, and enjoy this old road. The conference seems to grow and improve each year. It meets this year in Missoula May 3-5. Alice and I will be making one of the presentations. We will give the background history of the Trail in general, as much information as we can about the development of the Trail over the Bitterroots, and maps showing the relationship of the Trail to the Mullan Road. The stage will be set for our presentation by Bill Weikel of Missoula who will present "Transition from the original Mullan Road to successor roads through necessity, convenience, and law." Other presentations will be given that first day, May 3, about John Mullan, the impact of Glacial Lake Missoula on the route selection for the Mullan Road, and the history of the selection of the railroad route. The next two days are filled with field trips to the Mullan Road (from Missoula to the Idaho border), a wagon ride on a section of the Mullan Road, walks on the Road, dinner and luncheons at interesting places, discussions along the route, tour of the Mineral County Museum in Superior, and travel on the Camel's Hump. All of these events led by delightfully interesting people, some local, some from state departments of transportation, some from universities and museums, some from forestry services and others we don't know about. (We have not attended the conferences before, but we have met many of the participants and had very good times with them.)


Keep in mind that this area is world class in terms of scenics and nature. Two lengthy bus field trips, three lunches, a dinner, and all the presentations for $45.


It can't help but appear interesting! If you are interested, contact Kay Strombo, 406-822-4626 or mrshezzie@blackfoot.net, or Bill Weikel 406-728-4133. I have a copy of the preliminary conference brochure and I can attach one to an e-mail but it would be better if you get the true scoop from Kay.


We're not part of the group so we can't extend a formal invitation but we sure would like to see and meet other Forum members there.







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I want to second your recommendations!


It would be hard to find a better place to hold a conference. Missoula is a lovely town, and the surrounding area is filled with beauty and history…..Lewis and Clark, the old Milwaukee electrified, the Yellowstone Trail, Mullan Road, Lake Missoula of the great ice age floods…just to cite a very few. And it makes no difference which way you drive from Missoula, it will lead you into spectacular countryside.


As you well know, in some places near Missoula the Yellowstone is in near original condition with several period roadside artifacts. And of course with you and Alice there, the conference has the world’s premier experts.


And I’m delighted that the Mullan Road has a growing interest group. One of the early acquisitions for my road “library” years ago was a Ye Galleon Press facsimile of Mullan’s Report with his maps. It is hard to travel anywhere between Walla Walla and western Montana, without driving near or crossing the Mullan.


I would like to make the conference myself, and I might, but odds are slim, as I will be on a two week road trip from Key West to Olympia and if I am on schedule I will be pulling in just about the time I would have to leave for Missoula. “Schedules” being what they are, I will probably be running a day or two late, and the family may not want me jumping in the car for another trip quite so soon.


Thanks for the tip!


Keep the Show on the Road!






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