Today’s mission involved finding the “wild” animals of Montana. I didn’t see bears or mountain lions, but I did uncover a whole host of other critters!
I left Missoula bright and early this morning, determined to see and tour the National Bison Range before meeting the guide at 10 a.m. for the tour to Wild Horse Island. I had a 90 mile drive plus the bison range…would I make it? Yeah, sort of. Late, but I did get there before they left me.
Let’s first discuss the National Bison Range. I’d love to fill you in on all of the history, but to be perfectly honest, I got there before the visitor’s center opened. As I looked at my map, it said, “Speed Limit 25 m.p.h.,” and it indicated that the driving path was 19 miles long. So do the math, and you come out to just under an hour, right? Well….it would be if at any point you COULD go 25 mph. The driving path was a gravel, single lane road that would literally around the side of a mini-mountain. The views from up there were breathtaking, but then again, so was the drive! I crept along at about 10 miles an hour, and felt like I was being the daredevil if the speedometer touched 15.
As I wound my way around, I saw mule deer, whitetail deer, elk, antelope, and finally,a the big guys- the bison. Right after I saw the first bison, I costed the hill, and was met my a sign no driver really wants to see. “Steep Downhill Grades Begin in 100 Feet.” Yeah, they weren’t kidding. So, I continued to creep along, at one point coming around a curve to find an antelope in my path. I slowed to a stop and waited for him to move. And waited. And waited. It became apparent that the antelope wasn’t going to move. So I crept as close to the inside of the hill as I could and passed the antelope…on a switchback. It didn’t phase him in the slightest. Eventually, I was able to drive 20 mph most of the way out.
It was beautiful, but it did put me behind schedule. Luckily the people at Flathead Raft Company were understanding, so they waited a few extra minutes for me to get there!
The next part of the day found me cruising along the largest natural lake west of the Mississippi in a pontoon. It was wonderful, despite being really chilly. Flathead lake has several islands in it, including Wild Horse Island. It’s a state park now, but has a rich history of Native Americans, homesteaders, and even a prohibition era speak-easy. I made it through a two and a half mile exploration hike (lots and lots of hills), and managed to find the small herd of horses that the island is known for. Unfortunately, my camera battery died, so the pictures I do have were taken from my cell phone, and the quality isn’t so hot. It was a lovely hike and boat ride. In addition to being full of natural beauty, our guide, Chris, was able to fill in lots of interesting facts about the area. He’s a high school biology and gym teacher, so he added a lot of science background as well.
Rachael Ray always advised asking the locals about good places to eat. Following a tip from Chris, I found myself at the Tamarack Brewery. I’m not much for beer, but their house made draft root beer ( known as “training wheels”) was fabulous! The food was yummy, and I was happy to find that it was happy hour…so I saved a little money, too!
My last stop of the day was at my first rental house in Kalispell. I got settled in, made a quick run for groceries, and called it a day.
Happily under western skies,