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.

Tuesday, June 26, 2012

Pioneer Mountain Scenic Byway

The Pioneer Mountain Scenic Byway (in Montana) cuts through the Beaverhead-Deerlodge National Forest and graces visitors with vistas of granite mountains, snow capped mountain peaks, dense forest stands, mountain meadows, and riparian zones lush in green growth from crystal clear streams.  The 49-mile trek has changed little since the late 1800's when the first settlers braved the harsh winters, dry summers, flash floods, and relentless swarms of insects.

Granite peaks reach elevations of 10,000 feet.
Betsy and I loaded up Spirit and headed south out of Wise River (where we are staying for a week with our good friends from New Orleans-more in an upcoming blog) to venture down the byway.  It wasn't long out of the starting gate when we realized the beauty of this drive makes it worthy of being designated a "Scenic Byway."  The smooth road cuts through the rugged mountains and leads you into the "big sky" of Montana.

The Wise River flowing north to the Big Hole River
Hike along the Sheep Creek trail
On one of our hikes, Spirit met a horse that lived next to the National Forest.  She said it was the biggest dog she has ever seen.
Winter snow attracts downhill and cross country skiers as well as snowmobilers.  Afterwards, warm your muscles with a dip in Elkhorn Hot Springs.
The grave sites of Joe Maurice and his family - one of the first settlers who moved to the area in the late 1800's.  Joe's wife and two kids died not long after moving to the area.  Despite loosing his right eye after being kicked by a horse, he stayed in the area by himself and lived to the age of 98.
The largest town along the byway is Polaris, just a small dot on the map.
Lavender-colored fields and snowy mountains frame the ponderosa and lodgepole pine forest.
Lupine in bloom
The mountain pine beetle has severely degraded many forests throughout the American west.   Pine beetle populations are normally kept in check by cold winters; however, recent mild temperatures have allowed them to survive and kill millions of trees. 
The rust colored pine trees in the background have been killed by pine beetles.  In the foreground is a field or lavender lupine in full bloom.
The Beaverhead-Deerlodge National Forest is Montana's largest National Forest topping out at 3.3 million acres.

Granite boulders line the trails and decorate the mountains.
Lily pad pond that has been invaded by a black lab 

We stopped at the ghost town of Coolidge where a 2.5-mile round trip hike will take you through the remainder of the town.  Named for President Calvin Coolidge (who grew up in the area), this remote mining town is now mostly in ruins and scattered over the ground.  It seemed to me the buildings in the best shape were the outhouses - go figure!  Silver ore from these mines eventually made it to San Francisco where it was processed.

We spent two days on the byway exploring the trails and enjoying the serenity and scenery.  There are numerous Forest Service campgrounds along the byway and we highly recommend at least a drive down the byway.

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