Posted By admin on June 8, 2010
It’s safe to say that if you’re going to follow the footprint of the original Mullan Road this summer, you’ll probably have one of those moo-ving Montana experiences. You know, the kind that occurs when your backroad is blocked by languorous broods of red or black bovines. Admit it: you’ve leaned out the window and crooned “moooov it,” just as I have.
While it’s true that yesterday’s Mullan Road is, in general, today’s major byways, you can go most of the eastern third of the route from Missoula to Fort Benton and log very few asphalt miles.
Keep in mind the Road stayed north of the Clark Fork River until the Nimrod/Bearmouth area, 35 miles or so east of Missoula, where a bridge was built by a local man, Samuel Hugo. From there it stayed on the south (or left, in navigational terms, which assume you’re pointed downstream) side of the Clark Fork until the north end of Deer Lodge Valley, where the crossing was negligible. Then over the hills to the Little Blackfoot near Avon, past Elliston and over the continental divide on the graveled Mullan Pass.
Here’s the general path, as I understand it — and I’m no expert:
Start in downtown Missoula, on what’s now Front Street. Follow old Highway 10 east to East Missoula, where the Mullan Road probably stayed closer to the river than any modern streets. But take Speedway through town, follow it past the bridge to Bandmann Flats/Deer Creek Road/Canyon River Golf and rejoin Highway 10 at the bottom of Brickyard Hill.
The Mullan Road had to climb over Marshall Grade.
You can’t drive all the way over now, though there is a good gravel road to homes on top that lends a great view of the river and the basin. Back on the old highway, go through Pine Grove to the Blackfoot River. Mullan built a bridge just above the mouth of the Blackfoot in the winter of 1861-62, about where the westbound lane of I-90 is today. Stay on the secondary highway that’s now both Highway 10 and 200 to cross at the modern bridge into Milltown. Here you can pull off at Two River Market to gas up/stock up/take stock before you continue up the Clark Fork Valley. You’re seven miles from Missoula. More of the Road on the next post.