"Could I have this dance for the rest of my life?" - Anne Murray

Tuesday, June 30, 2015

The National Bison Range: Dixon, Montana

This is our third time visiting one of our favorite places in Montana.  Not only is it a great place to see bison, deer, pronghorn and elk, it's a beautiful drive through uncluttered, unspoiled landscape with gorgeous views of the Mission Valley.

Nine Pipe Reserve and the Mission Range

To get to the National Bison Range from Polson, we simply drive south on Rt. 93, through Pablo and Ronan and turn west on 212, which takes you through the tiny town of Charlo (seems to be mostly very busy bars) and right to the Range Visitor's Center. There are signs along the way.  That route also takes you by another wildlife reserve that is part of the local refuge "complex" - Nine Pipe - a wetlands.

Rusty blackbird in Nine-Pipe

 We like to go right after supper and spend the long evening driving through the Range, which stays open until 10pm this time of year. But this means that we always get there after the Visitor's Center is closed at 5pm, so I can't say what it's like.  Our Senior Pass gets us into the Range free, as it's a National facility.  

View of the beautiful Flathead River from the west side of Red Sleep Mountain Drive

The Range is on a group of low rounded mountains that were once on the shores of the ancient Glacial Lake Missoula. (That's a fascinating geological story, better told by others, that impacted much of the geography of the northwest.) Below you can see the ancient shorelines that are still visible on many of the hillsides in this part of the country.

It takes about an hour and a half to drive the winding dirt Red Sleep Mountain Drive that takes you through all the habitats, allowing time to stop and view wildlife and scenery.   The first part of the drive takes you up the west side of the hills, and we often see a few solitary older male bison in this area. We were alerted to a few this time by the clouds of dust they stirred up from rolling. 

After a few switchbacks the drive continues into a forested area where deer are often seen. This year we saw babies!

At the top there are some grand views both east and west, worth stopping for and taking a short hike out the the view points. 

The Mission Range, near the small town of St. Ignatius

After cresting over the hills the drive starts a long steep descent through deer and pronghorn habitat.

We saw a few more solitary male bison in this area. This guy was really close to the road... 

...and we caught him rolling. Big cool dude.

It was about this time that we spotted a huge herd of bison on a hillside. We've never seen the herd before, and they were too far away to get a good picture. The website says there are over 350 bison, and this easily looked like most of them.

At the end of the drive, along the river, is where the elk hang out. We got really lucky this time and saw a bunch of them pretty close to the road. This pair were trotting along on one side...

...but the majority of the herd were on the other side of the road by the Mission Creek. This was a group of moms and babies. They must use a nursery system. We counted at least 10 fawn being watched over by a few females. It seems to have been a good year for babies all around here.

Further down the road we saw the male elk. These guys were keeping an eye on each other.

A very satisfactory evening of wildlife viewing all in all. The drive home through the valley at dusk presented alpenglow on the Mission Range...

...and atmospheric views of the farms and wetlands in the Mission Valley.

We really love this place.

Sunday, June 28, 2015

A Scenic Loop Through the Bighorn Mountains

So here we are in Montana and I'm revisiting Wyoming. Sorry for the lag. While we were in Sheridan we took a day trip through the Big Horn Mountains and found a hidden gem that I want to share before I forget. 

We'd driven through the Bighorns before, but we took a slightly different route this time.  From Sheridan we headed north on 90 to Ranchester where we picked up 14 West. That took us through Dayton and gradually up into the mountains, through beautiful verdant foothills...  

,,,punctuated with occasional rock outcroppings,

...and up to the high green plateaus.

There were still pockets of snow here and there...

...but more wildflowers than snow.


After we switched to 14A toward Lovell, we passed a sign for the Medicine Wheel historical and cultural site, but the well defined trail leading away from the sign dead ends at this attractive pile of granite, which is not the Medicine Wheel. Don't be fooled like we were! The actual site is located near the top of nearby Medicine Mountain, which you can see from the sign, if you read it carefully. The site can be accessed by a 3 mile dirt road, followed by a 1.5 mile hike that we didn't think Honey could handle, so we kept going.  It was a nice leg stretch and a beautiful view anyway.

Once over the pass, 14A takes you down the very different west side of the Bighorns. Here the rock is exposed and there is very little vegetation.  This is the view looking back at the Bighorns from near Lovell, WY.

As we continued into the colorful valley, we crossed Bighorn Lake, created by the dammed Bighorn River. Just north of this is the Bighorn Canyon in Montana, which we've heard is another incredible place, but haven't visited. 

In Lovell we turned south on 789 and travelled along this multi-tiered, multi-colored ridge running parallel to the Bighorns.

At Greybull we got back on 14 heading northeast and very shortly came to a tiny sign pointing north toward "Devil's Kitchen."  Never heard of it and had no idea where or what it was, but we thought we'd risk it. The road took us across Shell Creek, through some farmland...

...and into what looked like a no-man's land - a fitting locale for a Devil's Kitchen. We were imagining a little bubbly mud hole somewhere out in the desert, and were ready to let it go, but another sign encouraged us.

What a surprise! The dirt road led us right up to the edge of a hidden badlands, rich with eroded layers of purples, reds, pinks, greys and golds.

Although smaller, it was every bit as interesting as what we've seen in various national parks. It seems to be on private land, but there are no fences, no facilities and no admission fees. 

Honey on location

Continuing on 14 led us through the scenic area around Shell, WY...

...through a canyon, and back up into the Bighorns.

More wildflowers.

It's a very scenic, winding road...

...with a few nice pull-offs for photos.  It also passes by Shell Falls, a gorgeous stop. 

At one pull-off there is an explanation of tree loss in the area caused by a tornado in 1954! Still hasn't grown back.

Back on the east side of the Bighorns it got increasingly green again.  

Our last stop was this dramatic rock outcropping surrounded by rolling green, wildflower covered hills. I was just wishing for a picture like this.

See you back in Montana soon.

Sunday, June 21, 2015

Father Memories in Wyoming

While we were in Wyoming I was feeling kind of down - but didn't know why. Duh. Fathers' Day helped me realize why. Wyoming was my father's home until he went away to college (Denver University) and then married my mother and moved to New York City, where I was born. He passed away almost 20 years ago, and being in Cheyenne, his home town, seeing his childhood home reminded me how much I miss him.  (I think I was also avoiding writing a blog post about Cheyenne for the same reason.)

As we did in Colorado, we searched for the old family home. My father's house was less than a block away from the Wyoming State Capitol building in Cheyenne, and was pretty easy to find.


My father's home circa 1945

Unlike the Roy A. Davis home in Colorado Springs, this modest home had not been lovingly cared for over the years, and had lost much of its original character in the process of modernization with vinyl siding and new windows.  I remember small but well tended flower beds and planters around the house, but those are gone.  Here's my dad standing in front of the house...

Circa 1960?

Cool duds huh? This picture was probably taken on Frontier Days in Cheyenne - the biggest rodeo in the west. I don't think my dad would be caught dead in a cowboy outfit at any other time, but I could be wrong.  I knew him when he was a city guy. 

Just to trace the father line back a bit further, here's a picture of my paternal grandfather, holding my dad in their backyard in Cheyenne...

...and another of Grandfather and my dad, with Grandmother looking on lovingly. What a lucky baby.

Those of us who have, or have had loving fathers in our lives are so fortunate. 

They pass on so many things. In my case, a sense of adventure, for one. When I travelled to France as a teenager my father taught me one phrase, that translated as "I am never lost." So true. He passed that feeling on to me.

He gave me a sense of stability and security. I knew I could always turn and return to him.

He conveyed an appreciation for, and skills in the arts, music, writing - all aspects of culture.

Me playing the autoharp and singing with my father

What a blessing that he lived long enough to pass those things on to my son as well.

My mother and father, with my newborn son.

My father and his grandson playing music together.

Happy Fathers' Day Dad.  I love you. 
Thank you, thank you, thank you.