Once we left Virginia City we continued north on the loop going through numerous small towns. Most of these towns were tiny but as we got close to I-90 they were a bit bigger. The towns had few services, maybe an historic building, gas station, or convenient store but they were obviously thriving communities as they were surrounded by huge cattle ranches. Occasionally we would see something that caught our eye but in general it was just a pleasant country drive and I always enjoy seeing where regular people live in a community.
Once we hit Whitehall it had gotten a little monotonous though, so Lee put the town of Pony in the GPS and we found a short cut which skipped three forks. I am so glad he did because we found ourselves on a cool two lane highway along a railroad track. It was really pretty and best of all we saw a huge cave above the track. I can totally see a gang of outlaws waiting there to rob the train. Yes I know I am romanticizing the Old West but it was pretty cool.
This side cut through path really shortened the drive and we arrived back at Ennis. We really wanted to eat lunch but it was well over 80 degrees and few of the restaurants had outside seating. This is one of the few times I have wished Jack wasn’t with us on one of these day trips and honestly I think Jack was feeling the same. On a site note the next day when Lee and I went to the store Jack just looked at us and didn’t even attempt to come with us. That is highly unusual but I think he was wore out by this long day as well.
Ultimately we had a quick sandwich and then headed down to Quake lake. Thankfully the visitors center was open until 6pm so we had about an hour to see it. Quake Lake is the site of a natural disaster in the 1950’s where an earthquake sheered off a piece of mountain flooding an area where a campground was located. Nineteen people died in the event and it was extremely traumatic for those that survived. It also had created a new lake and the remains of the campground lie beneath it. For me it was a little morose but if you are interested in natural disasters you should definitely visit.
It was close to six pm when we were done and I was ready to go home, but Lee wanted to do one more thing. Lee is a one more thing kind of guy and its not cool for me to always say no so I said I was in. There are many National Forest roads you can see heading off into the mountains and Lee wanted to follow one to see where it went. This one had a sign that said historic school so we got on it. Initially it was paved but then it turned to gravel although the road was well maintained. There were also several signs showing where there was public access through private lands and we paid careful attention to ensure we stayed on the NFS road. The road eventually ended at a trailhead of sorts and we got out and walked a bit.
With the grizzly signs and the remoteness of the location I didn’t want to get out of site of the truck but it was pretty. The flowers have exploded here and there were tons in the meadow. We didn’t see any animals though (although we saw plenty of SCAT) and headed back to the truck and down to the school. It is a beautifully maintained building (used as a local meeting center) and we got out and walked around. The creek was pretty high here but wasn’t overflowing although part of a fence was washed away. We didn’t see any signs of serious flooding at all on our trip although water levels were definitely high.
One last thing before we were done we stopped and checked out a NFS campground. There are lots of these sprinkled throughout Montana and although they don’t have services there is always a presence of some sort. This one was small but every campsite had a horse hitch on it. I know there is a network of horse friendly campgrounds throughout the US but we have rarely stayed at any of them. We did a quick stop and checked it out and then headed home. It was a full 12 hour day but it was great to get out and best of all it didn’t rain once all day.
The most important thing to know is despite the hype of the National Parks there are lots of other things to do in the area. The irony is these views would have been a prime attraction in another area of the country but with the abundance of riches here it is a Tier 2 site. Still I liked it and mostly we weren’t fighting crowds all day.
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