Southern Montana

Picture of tree This page is a tad unusual in that it contains the beginning and end of our trip. Conceptually though the southern Montana theme worked better than breaking it up. We started (and ended) the trip in Bozeman, Montana which we have no pictures of because we didn't spend much time there. After spending Friday night there we headed west on Saturday towards Lewis and Clark Caverns State Park. This picture of a limber pine was taken in the state park although (obviously) not in the caverns.
Picture of caverns This one was in the caverns. There is one tour option through these limestone caves. It's fairly standard, a little bit strenuous and there is the unfortunate preponderance of stupid puns and one-liners that seem to be a necessity in cave tours.
Picture of helena Next stop, Helena for our obligatory state capitol picture. Helena is an unusual sort of town in that it isn't very centralized. There's a sort of government area where this building is and maybe something like a central business district but for the most part it spreads rather thinly across a wide valley in the Big Belt Mountains.
Picture of dog_truck Just north of Helena we came across this. It has nothing specifically to do with Montana but we found it to be interesting. There is a closeup on the right where you can clearly see that despite being on a spare tire on top of a pile of logs in a truck augmented with wood railings traveling at 55 mph (88 kmh), the dog is perfectly relaxed.
Picture of sheep Our next stop was Gates of the Mountains about 15 miles (25 km) north of Helena. This is a wilderness area along a canyon the Missouri river has carved into the surrounding hills. The wilderness area itself is crossed by difficult to reach hiking trails which are extremely challenging (in the vertical direction). The easiest way to view the canyon is from a boat. Tours leave from just upstream of the canyon on a regular basis. This family (we're assuming they're related) of bighorn sheep came down to the river to drink as we passed by.
Picture of picnic_area For people with their own boats, there are several river-accessible campsites and day-use picnic areas where the shoreline is flat enough to support it. There aren't many places where that happens but this is one of them. The current is fairly strong here but there is no whitewater as the Missouri has long since been peppered with dams.
Picture of melanie_pier Among the wildlife common here are bald eagles, osprey and the common merganser duck. We point this out because our tour boat guide pointed them out. Every single one. There are quite a lot of common merganser ducks on this stretch of river (hence the word 'common'). Overall though this is a nice relaxing off the main path sort of tour. If you arrive earlier in the day than we did, you can take a boat to the picnic area and hike from there, returning on a later boat.
Picture of gates Lewis and Clark did come here. Or at least Lewis did. He saw this opening (which probably had whitewater at the time as well) and declared in his journal that he would call this place 'Gates of the Mountains'. He did, and now everyone else does too.
Picture of butte Butte, Montana is also an unusual city. We may be wearing that moniker out on this page but notice the enormous open-pit copper mine on the right side of this picture. Yes, Butte is a city built overlooking a pit mine. It's sort of fascinating at first although the stories of just how toxic the water in the mine is become rather alarming after a while. Unsurpisingly, Butte has a higher than average number of 'copper' gift stores. If you're looking for something a little different and made out of copper, this might be the place for you. For us, it was just a place to stop at K-mart and buy more supplies before several days of camping. Also we have to put in a good word for dinner that night. We headed up the Big Hole river valley (southwest of Butte) towards the Idaho border. The area mostly caters to fly fishermen. Well up the valley you'll find the town of Wisdom. We're not clear on the restuarant name, it is something like 'Big Hole Crossing' but we think it's the only place in town anyway. So basically, if you ever find yourself in hungry in Wisdom, you don't really have a choice, but that's okay because this place is good anyway.
Picture of absaroka Now we jump several days forward to the ending portion of our trip and our return to the fine state of Montana. If you're a stickler on chronological order, you should go read the Idaho / Teton / Yellowstone pages and then come back to this point. The so-called northeast entrance (or exit) to Yellowstone Park connects to the rather spectacular Beartooth Highway. The scenery along this road is incredible as it winds through the Beartooth and Absaroka mountain ranges. The road meets Yellowstone in Montana but dips into Wyoming for a few miles before curving back into Montana.
Picture of crazy_creek The Wyoming side is Shoshone National Forest where the road crosses Crazy Creek. There's a campground (Crazy Creek campground) on the south side of the road and a trail head on the north. A short hike up the trail will bring you to this impressive cascade, although admittedly this was at fairly high water levels. There are grizzly bear warnings everywhere through this area although we personally did not see any.
Picture of beartooth_pass The Beartooth Highway tops out at a whopping 10,900 ft (3300m). The south approach winds slowly up through a series of plateaus, most of which have scenic small lakes on them. Notice the amount of snow still hanging around in late June. The north approach is more of a steep-as-possible series of switchbacks up the side of the mountain. This is a good place to see marmots as well, in fact, it's pretty much overrun with marmots.
Picture of melanie_rimrock We can dress Melanie up for a wedding but she still ends up climbing on rocks. The ostensible reason for this trip was the wedding of Melanie's friend Kirsten which took place here in Billings. That's Billings out in the distance. The cliff which runs around two sides of the city is known as the rimrock.

Back to Trips