We Visit the High Country Around Our Western Montana Lodge
With a brief break in the activity at our Western Montana Lodge, we took the opportunity to drive up into the high country. One of the unique things about our area is the accesibility of the upper regions of the Gravellies. Unlike many other mountain ranges - even those which surround the Gravellies - which must be accessed by ATV (where permissible), foot, or horseback, the Gravellies offer road access into their very heart.
Although one cannot drive to the 'top' of the mountain, we got close enough to feel completely overwhelmed and totally awed by the sheer magnitude of the peaks surrounding us. And, if one stays on the main roads, the trip is possible, even by car.
We started by crossing the Madison River at the Lyons Bridge and then traveling briefly up the West Fork of the Madison. After about a mile, we turned up the hill toward Standard Creek. This road, a little rougher than the Gravelly Road but still easy to navigate, climbed steadily up the mountainside offering expansive views of the Madison Valley and the Madison Range beyond.
A little higher and we reached the edge of a beautiful canyon. With views behind us to the Madisons and views in front of us offering a glimpse of the majestic mountains we were seeking and carpets of wildflowers at our feet, we decided to stop and stretch our legs. As we walked along the road which the sign said led to the Shelton Homestead (which, by the way, we didn't walk far enough to see), we were overwhelmed by the sheer variety of color covering every inch of the forest.
Against a backdrop of various shades of green, we relished the reds, blues, yellows, corals, whites, pinks, and purples of the various wildflowers. One discovery we made during our walk was of three varieties of paintbrush growing on the road side. Varying in color from a deep blood red, to a pale red (almost a mix of red and pink), to a distinct coral color - and with a variety of petal shape from long and broad to long and spiky - the Paintbrush were the 'find' of the moment. However, even their uniqueness faded as we were enthralled by the variety of the color and texture and shape of the other wildflowers. From the showy to the delicate - they surrounded us.
When it started to sprinkle, we headed back to the pickup. As delightful as our surroundings were, the road teased and beckoned to us - "Come further". And so we did.
Our road passed through open meadows and meandered through quiet forests. We crossed numerous streams, sparkling in the flittering light, and finally emerged at the awe inspiring Wolverine Basin. A huge open meadow which looked painted - the colors were so bold and true - its lighter green was bordered by the deeper green of the forest and beyond that the majestic blue-green and grey-brown backdrop of the mountain peaks. The only thing missing - if one could say a place so perfect was missing something - was a herd of elk, grazing quietly while a huge bull looked on. But not today.
We continued on, lured further by the mountain peaks which enticed us just beyond the forest boundaries. Soon we came to what I thought was the most interesting peak of the day. Cave Mountain is unique in the vast amount and variety of stone pillars which ring its at varying levels. As the road wound between Cave Mountain and Lion Mountain, we stopped beside a moderate-sized stream between the two peaks and ate our lunches.
However, like hungry nature lovers, we couldn't keep still. I wandered from one place to another - camera in hand, looking for unique rocks (of which there were many) and even more flowers to photograph. The views which surrounded our lunch spot kept drawing my eyes skyward. In fact, the mountains were so close together I was forced to weave back and forth across our little valley to gaze into their lofty peaks.
All too soon the showers began again, and we climbed back into the truck to continue our pilgrimage. However, the views ahead didn't disappoint. As we passed Cave Mountain, Bighorn Mountain came into view. Possibly not as impressive as Cave Mountain, this beautiful peak still delighted us with its sheer size and rugged character.
As we continued our climb up the lush, green valley, we occasionally stopped for an interesting rock or unique flower. However, we still managed to make progress and soon topped a rise. Stopping for a picture back the way we came, we again gazed in sheer amazement. How could anything be so beautiful? Each vista we beheld seemed to rival the one before. It was incredible!
And so we continued on - up to Black Butte, around its base, and on down the other side. When we weren't staring open mouthed at the vistas we were gazing in rapt amazement at the carpet of color near our feet. The only thing missing - and this we found as we dropped down into the sagebrush covered hills of the north Centennial Valley - was the wildlife. However, once we reached the valley we were greeted by antelope, several dozen raptors, and two badgers. Since we'd started the day with a bull moose at the foot of Elk Lake and a doe and fawn on Red Rock Pass, we felt we'd been treated to a full day of nature's delights.
For those who have never taken the time - or those who have never visited our area - how can a picture even begin to show you what you're missing? It is something short of heaven, but I can't imagine it's too far short!
Lady of the Lake