We think the Montana State Tourist folks got it right when they came up with the motto “Montana – The Last Best Place!”. We always enjoy visiting the state, and after coming from Spokane on I-90 through the mountains we made a week-long stop at Missoula to visit friends we made during our volunteer days at Lee Metcalf NWR. We pulled into Jim & Mary’s RV Park, a showplace during the summer but a bit drab this time of year, and were treated to temperatures at night as low as 12 degrees. April weather can be quirky, and so we weren’t surprised to wake up one morning to a winter wonderland.Our first priority was to visit the refuge, located 30 miles south of Missoula. The fresh coating of snow added to the beauty of the Bitterroot Mountains, and the refuge ponds were covered with geese and ducks. This is a busy time of the year on the ponds, as migration season is in full swing. We watched as Snow Geese rested while American Coots swam around furiously searching for food.
This is one of the few places where it’s not unusual to see Canada Geese nesting in trees and vacant Osprey nests. This year the geese arrived ahead of the Osprey, and in many cases have moved into existing nests, forcing the Osprey to build a new one elsewhere. In Missoula, the local baseball team, named the “Osprey”, has a large nest in the centerfield stands that usually hosts an Osprey pair; but this year they’ll have to ignore the nest or change their name to reflect the current residents, the “Missoula Geese”. Here’s a link to the story: Missoula Geese?
We truly enjoyed reconnecting with our friends at the refuge; Bob, Deb, and Kim – thanks for all you do in maintaining this special place! And thanks, Jim and Heidi, for your hospitality and friendship (not to mention the great food!).
While in Missoula, we decided to take a day trip down the valley all the way to Lost Trail Pass and the Idaho border. Passing through the town of Hamilton, we could see the results of the recent snowfall on the mountains ahead, and soon Trapper Peak, the centerpiece of the Bitterroot Mountains came into view. Trapper Peak is in the background for the Escapees Magazine cover that we were fortunate to have published a few years ago.
We turned on the road to Lost Horse Creek, and after driving ten miles or so back into the mountains, crossed the creek where on occasion I churned up the water in a failed attempt to fly fish for trout. A few miles later, we arrived at Lake Como, one of the prettiest places in the valley.
Lake Como has a great campground with electric hookups, a hiking trail that circles the lake, and a beach that gets busy in the summer. This time of the year it’s quiet except for the waterfowl and the wind in the trees, which makes it all the more enjoyable to just sit and enjoy the view.
Leaving Lake Como, we continued south through the valley to the one-building town of Sula, then turned to follow the West Fork of the Bitterroot River. This area is know for Bighorn Sheep, and it wasn’t long until we came upon this group of young Bighorn. They’re acclimated to people, and even approach the car when you stop, hoping for a carrot or apple. One ewe even jumped the fence to stand in front of us, posing for the camera and probably hoping for a handout.
Although it was a long trip and a lot of miles, we truly enjoyed reacquainting ourselves with the beautiful Bitterroot Valley. But it was time to move on since we were expected in Spearfish at the end of the month, so it was “jacks up, slides in”, and back on I-90. Our next stop was in Bozeman, where our one-day stay extended into three when I discovered that a front hub on the motor home was leaking oil. This gave us a day to explore, so we headed downtown to look around. We were happy to see another of Montana’s vibrant and active downtown areas; lots of shops, galleries, and restaurants lined the streets, and there was still the look of the old West. Heading out of town, we drove through valleys of hayfields and ranches, with snow-covered mountains in the background. Our route took us to Big Sky, an area of upscale condo communities and golf courses. We knew we were getting close then we could see Lone Peak in the distance. A huge ski resort, Big Sky is surrounded by vacation condos and hotels, and while a busy place in the winter, there wasn’t enough snow for skiing and it was too cold for golf, so it was a quiet, mostly deserted place during our visit.
With a new front hub seal and a lighter wallet, we once again hit the road on our eastward trek. We’re now in Spearfish, getting ready for another tour at the D.C. Booth National Historic Fish Hatchery, so check back and see our explorations in the Black Hills!