Have you ever wanted to sell everything you own and just "take off?" Travel the country's back roads, paddle down a meandering stream, experience breath-taking mountain views, walk among 100-year old trees, and just marvel at America's beauty? That is the dream that my partner, Betsy, and I decided to make a reality. This blog describes our adventure. The food we eat, people we meet, sights we see, and the enjoyment we find in traveling.

Friday, June 15, 2012

Bitterroot National Forest, Montana

Even just a quick drive through the Bitterroot NationalForest (NF) and you will understand why I have always wanted to come here.  But then again, I can’t think of a time when I wasn't amazed at the rugged beauty and stunning landscape of a National Forest - no matter where it was in the country.

Our journey to the Bitterroots took us over Chief Joseph Pass – a winding, twisting, narrow road climbing to 7,264 feet in elevation and taking us over the Continental Divide.  Coming down the backside of the pass was like sliding down a snowy mountain on a toboggan (except that low gear and the exhaust brake were safely holding us back).  The valley trees and the road below looked miniscule and the vista was expansive wilderness. 

We apprehensively pulled into the Indian Trees Campground and were pleasantly surprised to find paved roads and sites and enough room to maneuver our 40-footer around without scraping paint.  Many of these Forest Service sites don’t accommodate “big rigs” and sometimes the roads getting there are more treacherous than driving up Pikes Peak.  We LOVED the campground!

The campground name is founded in the glaring scars that forever mark the ponderosa pine trees.   The Bitterroot Valley is the traditional home of the Salish tribe who relied on plants and animals for subsistence.  In the spring, they would peel away the trees outer bark to expose the sweet, chewy sap flowing through the cambium layer which they used for food.   This practice did not kill the trees as evident by them still bearing the scars of this practice which occurred between 1835 and 1890.

I remember hearing about the Bitterroot NF in the summer of 2000 when it was on fire.  The nations fire season was epic – one of the worst in history and firefighters from all over the country were scrambling to put out massive blazes and praying for help from the weather.  The dry tinder box ignited and a massive 350,000 acres of the Bitterrrot NF were horrendously charred.  In some areas the fire severity was so high and the amount of heat so intense that it changed soil chemistry and the plant communities.  One hundred years of fire suppression were to blame.  The natural frequency of fire was between 5-25 years, but this altered regime led to an unhealthy amount of combustible fuels just waiting to come alive with one spark.  The fire scars on the land are still evident and the habitat has certainly been remodeled.  Some of this new look favors species that prefer to feed on the lush grass that covers the hills or the pioneering plants that require copious amounts of sunlight.  Woodpeckers find food and a home in the dead trees.  Nature’s resilience somehow always seems to deal with man’s interference.

This was a great campsite - lots of privacy, big yard, paved, level, and mule deer running through.  We wished we could have stayed longer and will definitely come back here.  But, it was time to move on ...

DOG is my co-pilot!

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