|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.