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Montana Road Trip:
June 2005

    Coeur D'Alene NF, ID
    National Bison Range, MT
    Bozeman, MT
    Yellowstone National Park
    Buffalo Jump St Park, MT
    Headwater's State Park, MT
    Antelope Basin Beaverhead-Madison NF MT
    Red Rock Lake NWR, MT

    We headed out to Montana in June to visit a friend who had recently moved out there and to see the sights in the area.  We only took a week to travel, so a lot of our time in places was abbreviated.  

Coeur D'Alene NF, ID
    We made a stop over in the Coeur D'Alene National Forest while driving out to Montana.  We stayed at a lake that we had to ourselves.  But as the thunder clapped loudly over head and the raindrops splattered on our tent, we were beginning to wonder what we were going into.  Little did we know this was just the beginning of the weather pattern.

National Bison Range, MT
    The next morning we drove out and were greeted with gray skies as we passed over the MT-ID border.  We made a stop at the National Bison Range and drove the auto tour.  We saw the bison along with other ungulates.  It was an enjoyable tour and a good introduction to wildlife in the area.

Bozeman, MT
    While continuing on to our friend, Brent, in Bozeman, we hit stormy weather.  The windshield wipers tried to keep up with the fat rain drops as they pour down from above.  When we finally made it to Bozeman, the weather improved greatly so we were able to dry out our gear a little at Brent's house... before the next storm hit.  Thankfully, staying at a friend's house with a solid roof was an immense improvement over a couple layers of nylon.
    The next morning's weather was better so we were able to enjoy the mountains in his "backyard."  His house, nestled in the mountains, would make any nature-lover envious.  Brent was kind enough to show us around the local forests and took us to Ted Turner's Ranch, where we saw his "pet" bison.

Yellowstone National Park
    The following morning, we drove out to Yellowstone with Brent as our guide.  We were lucky - the park was actually not too busy (for Yellowstone standards).  There were still quite a few cars on the roads, but not as bad as usual.  We made stops at Mammoth Springs, where we got our first whiff of the springs.
    In the Lamar Valley, we got a glimpse of life before humans dominated the landscape.  Bison, elk, deer, and coyotes, roamed freely.  The valley was a true gem of Yellowstone.  It's easy to miss the wildlife in the valley while sitting inside a ton of steel traveling at 40 mph.  All we had to do was pull over and watch.
    We also visited the geyser basin and enjoyed the bubbling/smoking/steaming and smelly waters of Yellowstone.  Before dusk, we attempted to see the "grand canyon" of Yellowstone.  Even in the waning light it was an impressive deep canyon and raging river.

Buffalo Jump St Park, MT & Headwater's State Park, MT
    Brent had to go to work the next morning, so we were back on the road.  We were given a few recommendations so we headed to the Gravelly Mountains.  We made a couple of stops along the way.  Outside of Bozeman was stopped at Buffalo Jump State Park, where the Native American's would herd bison over the cliff and gather the bodies.  It was an interesting stop - for one I thought the cliff would be higher with a bigger drop off, but it makes sense to have a smaller cliff with a steep hill below - better to have slightly bruised meat than a splattered mess.  Also the Native Americans really aren't as "environmental," as we were taught in grade school.  A lot of the meat goes to waste.  Not saying the European settlers were any better - practically killing  all the bison in sight, with no purpose (well... to starve the N. Americans).
    Headwater's State Park was close by, so we stopped into see the headwaters of the Mississippi.  We watched the swirling brown waters as they would eventually head down to the Gulf of Mexico and Atlantic Ocean.
Antelope Basin, Beaverhead-Madison NF, MT
    We drove to the Gravelly Mountains only to find out, they were closed off.  Probably for wildlife management.  When our original plans fell though, we headed down the road to Antelope Basin.  Brent recommended it as an example of how cattle ranching should look when done properly.  When we arrived, we could see why.  The fields were green and there no signs of overgrazing.  The roads were muddy and a little hairy in places, but we found a spot to camp in a field between the patches of quaking aspens.
    We hiked around the basin, the only people to be seen were two people on dirt bikes (being very respectful by staying on the roads).  In one of the aspen groves, I noticed a large claw mark in the tree.  It started and stopped well above my head - only one animals makes that mark - grizzly.  We thankfully had bear spray (from Brent) on us in case of an encounter (which never happened).  We also noticed in the same grove not a few feet a way, was an obvious large animal bed in the grass.  In the middle of the bed, lay a ski glove... perhaps a grizzly bear chew toy?  We were almost afraid to check to see if the glove still had a hand.
    Among the stands of aspen and open fields, we enjoyed the wildflowers - the occasional chocolate lily, the pronghorns, and the birds that would flit around in the grass and aspens.  We found a couple of cup nests in the dense grass that held 2-3 eggs.  We also saw a ruffed grouse that seemed to being talking to herself as she walked along.
    On the second night of staying at the basin, we watched an enormous lighting storm over the distant mountains of Idaho.  It seemed to be moving away from us and without a cloud above our heads, we drifted off to sleep.  We were awoken around midnight by the roaring off a pissed off grizzly in the distance.  Only a few seconds later, the rain began to pelt down on us.  We foolishly did not put the rainfly over the tent.  As we scrambled to cover our tent and hold up the tent from the strong winds (yes, we had to literally hold up the tent), we began to wonder if we should leave.  If we left we'd probably lose the tent and perhaps everything that was in it.  I began to shiver (not from the cold) uncontrollably.  Thunder and lighting crashed around us as we sat in our two layers of nylon, vulnerable in the middle of a field on the top of a mountain.  About 20 minutes later, the stormed pasted and the night sky opened up.  We were thankful we were still intact and our tent was still there to offer us shelter.
    The next morning we headed out... but not far.  As the road neared an aspen grove, we could see a large aspen had been knocked over from the previous night's storm.  It lay directly over the road, with no way around it.  Using our small ax and a pocket knife, we chopped through the trunk of the aspen and sawed off large branches.  After an hour of hard work, we were on our way out of the basin.  Thankfully we didn't run into any more damage from the wind storm.  We decided to head over the mountains to our next destination for the day.

Red Rock Lake National Wildlife Refuge.
    I didn't know much about the refuge other than it was a popular spot for migrating birds.  In June it was pretty quite, but we did see small herds of Pronghorn and Trumpeter Swans with babies in tow.  After scoping out Red Rock for a bit, we headed back to Bozeman to meet up with Brent and tell him of our adventures.

Yellowstone again
    After a more peaceful night of sleep with a solid roof over our heads, we headed back out to Yellowstone for the day.  We decided to visit the more popular geyser basin area - to see Old Faithful, which has been losing power.  I was blown away by the large parking lot and touristy feel around Old Faithful... and the large amount of people.  There were definitely more people on our second visit to Yellowstone.  We watch Old Faithful blow, then were lucky to see the Beehive Geyser go.  It's flume blew clear over the boardwalk and high into the sky.  It also lasted for quite sometime.  We walked the boardwalks around the geysers and the beautiful sulfur pools.  After stopping at other springs and bubbling mud pools, we decided to head back to the Lamar Valley.  However, a thunderstorm started to move in and our daylight was suddenly reduced.  We decided instead to head back to Bozeman to refuel and rest up for our trip back home.

Glacier National Park
    As we headed back home the next morning, we took a "side" trip to Glacier.  We didn't have a lot of time, so we just drove through the beautiful park - entering from the east and exiting out of the west entrance.  The west entrance was "developed" if you could call it that - it looked like an extended version of a strip mall - a stark contrast from the beautiful mountains and glaciers of the park.  Still the park was worth the trip, I could only imaging how inspiring the scenery must be off the main road.
    We stayed the night in a national forest in Idaho near a lake.  We were awoken early the next morning by the splash of a moose (as we deduced from leftover footprints) that was startled by the sight of a tent next to the lake.  It wasn't a bad way the end our trip.



We camped on this lake in the Coeur D'Alene National Forest in Idaho
We drove through the National Bison Range in Montana
Good habitat for bison and pronghorn along with other ungulates.
The hillside behind Brent's house in Bozeman, Montana
Calypso Orchid
We drove by Ted Turner's Ranch
North Entrance of Yellowstone National Park.
Mammoth Springs of Yellowstone National Park
Bison in Yellowstone National Park
Beautiful Lamar Valley in Yellowstone.  We saw a lot of wildlife here.
Yellowstone famous for its geysers.
Buffalo Jump State Park in Montana
Prickly Pear Cactus
There were many flowers in bloom in the Antelope Basin, including Shooting Star.
Chocolate Orchid,  Antelope Basin
Ruffed Grouse
Pronghorn, Antelope Basin
These Richardson's Ground Squirrel at a Red Rock National Wildlife Refuge have made themselves at home in a firepit at the campground.

Though cute, these squirrels aren't too smart.  You had to be careful not to run over these squirrels as they would dart in front of a moving car.
Red Rock National Wildlife Refuge
On our second visit to Yellowstone, we saw the Old Faithful.
We were also lucky to see the Beehive Geyser in action.  It was more impressive - higher and longer.
The pools were as beautiful as they were stinky.
Gray Jay looking for a hand out.
Glacier Lilies at Glacier National Park
Mountain Goat at Glacier National Park
Glacier National Park
Bear Grass
Snowshoe Hare

Bird List

Western Grebe RR (1 carrying chick on back)
American White Pelican HW, RR, near Yellowstone
Double-crested Cormorant NBR, HW
American Bittern RR (1)
Great Blue Heron Y
Trumpeter Swan RR (w/ 2 young)
Canada Goose NBR, Y
Mallard Y, HW, RR
Bufflehead Y
Northern Shoveler Y, RR
Gadwall AB
American Wigeon Y
Redhead RR
Lesser Scaup Y, RR
Common Merganser Y,
Ruddy Duck Y, RR
Turkey Vulture Roadside
Osprey Y, HW
Bald Eagle HW
Northern Harrier NBR, HW, AB, RR
Cooper's Hawk Gravelly Mountains, MT
Swainson's Hawk RR
Red-tailed Hawk NBR, B, Y, BJ, AB, RR
Golden Eagle NBR, Y
American Kestrel NBR, Y, AB
Ruffed Grouse B, AB (h - drumming, saw 1 female)
American Coot Y, RR (w/4 chicks)
Sandhill Crane Y (4), AB (5), RR (1)
Killdeer NBR, Y, AB (with chicks)
Spotted Sandpiper NBR (1)
Wilson's Snipe NBR (h)
Long-billed Curlew RR
Franklin's Gull AB, RR
Ring-billed Gull RR
Forster's Tern RR
Rock Pigeon Y
Mourning Dove NBR, BJ, HW
Great Horned Owl Y (adult and fledgling)
Short-eared Owl NBR (1 pair & 1 male)
Common Nighthawk HW, AB (h)
Vaux's Swift NBR
Calliope Hummingbird B
Rufous Hummingbird B
Belted Kingfisher NBR, Y
Red-naped Sapsucker B, AB
Hairy Woodpecker B, Y, AB
Northern Flicker CDA, NBR, B, G, Y, BJ (h), AB
Western Wood-Pewee NBR, G, BJ (h), HW (h), AB
Dusky Flycatcher B, AB
Say's Phoebe B (h)
Western Kingbird Roadside
Eastern Kingbird NBR, HW
Tree Swallow NBR, B, HW, AB, RR
Violet-green Swallow NBR, Y
Northern Rough-winged Swallow HW
Cliff Swallow NBR, Y, BJ, RR
Barn Swallow HW, RR
Gray Jay Y
Steller's Jay CDA
Clark's Nutcracker B, Y (h?), AB (flock 8)
Black-billed Magpie NBR, B, HW
American Crow Y
Common Raven NBR, B, G, Y, AB, RR
Black-capped Chickadee CDA (h), B (h), G (h), AB
Mountain Chickadee AB (mating)
Red-breasted Nuthatch B (h), G (h)
White-breasted Nuthatch Y
Rock Wren BJ (h)
House Wren AB (nest)
Marsh Wren NBR (h), HW (h)
Winter Wren CDA (h)
Ruby-crowned Kinglet CDA (h), B (h), G (h), Y, AB (h)
Mountain Bluebird NBR, B, Y, AB (mating), RR
Veery B
Swainson's Thrush CDA, G, Y
American Robin NBR, B, G, Y, BJ, HW, AB, RR
Varied Thrush CDA
European Starling NBR, Y
Warbling Vireo B (gathering nest material), AB (singing)
Orange-crowned Warbler AB (1)
Yellow Warbler NBR (h), B, BJ (h), HW
Yellow-rumped Warbler G, Y, AB, RR (h)
MacGillivray's Warbler B
Common Yellowthroat B, HW (h)
Wilson's Warbler CDA (h)
Cedar Waxwing HW
Western Tanager B (h), Y(h), AB (male drinking at spring)
Lazuli Bunting NBR, AB
Green-tailed Towhee B
Dark-eyed Junco - Pink-sided race B, G, Y, AB
Vesper Sparrow NBR, AB, RR
Savannah Sparrow NBR (h), Y, HW, AB, RR
Fox Sparrow CDA
Song Sparrow NBR, B, Y, BJ (h), HW
Chipping Sparrow CDA, G, AB
White-crowned Sparrow B, Y, AB
Red-winged Blackbird BJ, HW
Western Meadowlark NBR, Y, BJ, HW, AB, RR
Yellow-headed Blackbird Y, RR
Brewer's Blackbird NBR, Y, HW
Brown-headed Cowbird NBR, B (h), Y
Bullock's Oriole NBR
Cassin's Finch B
Pine Siskin B
American Goldfinch BJ, HW
Black-headed Grosbeak B, AB (h)
House Sparrow Roadside

CDA = Coeur D'Alene NF, ID lake, elevation ~5000, alpine; overcast, rain
NBR = National Bison Range, MT meadow, grasslands, few trees; overcast, drizzle
B = Brent's Place, Bozeman, MT mt, valley, alpine, elevation ~7000; sunny -> breezy, rain
G = Gallatin NF, MT mt, alpine, meadows, lake; overcast, partial sun
Y = Yellowstone National Park alpine, grasslands, valleys, mts, rivers; partial sun, rain
BJ = Buffalo Jump St Park, MT meadow, sage, rock wall; sunny, clear sky
HW = Headwater's State Park, MT river, sage, meadows, bog; sunny, hot
AB = Antelope Basin, Beaverhead-Madison NF MT meadow, aspen, sage, elevation ~7000; sunny -> stormy
RR = Red Rock Lake NWR, MT lake, marsh, meadows, aspen, elevation ~7000; sunny, windy, warm

Other Critter List

Richardson's ground squirrel Brent's, Yellowstone, Gallatin NF, Antelope Basin, Red Rock
Columbia ground squirrel + young Glacier National Park
Red Squirrel Yellowstone, Kootenia NF (gathering nesting material)
Least/YellowPine Chipmunk Brent's, Yellowstone, Headwaters St Park, Gallatin NF, Antelope Basin
Yellow-bellied Marmot Bozeman, near Antelope Basin
Mt. Cottontail Brent's
Snowshoe Hare Kootenia NF
White-tailed Jackrabbit Yellowstone
Mouse/Kangaroo Rat sp. Yellowstone
Vole sp. Headwaters St. Park, Antelope Basin
Bat sp. Coeur D'Alane NF
Coyote + kits Yellowstone (2 w/ collar, 1 caught ground squirrel), Antelope Basin (pack heard calling)
Elk + young Yellowstone, roadside, etc
Pronghorn + young Bison NWR, Yellowstone, Antelope Basin, Red Rock, etc
Bison + calf Bison NWR, Yellowstone, Ted Turner's Ranch
White-tailed Deer + young almost everywhere
Black-tailed Deer + young almost everywhere
Moose + young Yellowstone (1/calf & 1 w/collar), Antelope Basin (2), Kootenia (at least 1 heard snorting and splashing in lake)
Mt Goat + young Yellowstone, Glacier
Big Horn Sheep + young Yellowstone
Garter Snake Brent's, Earthquake Lake

Notable Flower List

Chocolate Lilies Antelope Basin
Calypso Orchid Gallatin NF
Spotted Coralroot Gallatin NF
Chiming Bluebells Antelope Basin
Shooting Star  
Starwort Antelope Basin
White Flox  
Yellow Glacier Lily  
Bear Grass  
Death Camas  
Camas Antelope Basin
Blue-eyed Grass Yellowstone
Blue Clematis  
Dwarf Clematis  



Couer D’Alene NF
Bison National Range
Buffalo Jump State Park

Missouri Headwaters State Park
Yellowstone National Park

Red Rock Lake National Wildlife Refuge


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page updated: 3/18/08