There is an anthology of works by Montana writers called 'The Last Best Place,' which has in turn led to become an nickname for the state, with its great swaths of wilderness and untamed land. Places that humans may explore, but do not stay. Places where bears, moose, and wolves hold title to the land. Colorado, Michigan, and other landscapes have the potential to rival Montana's beauty, but have been overdeveloped. Really, there is a cafe at the top of Pike's Peak? Lame. That is the territory of mountain goats and pika. You have to earn that view!
One of these places, and my personal heaven on earth, is the Beartooths, a national forest just northeast of Yellowstone. And let me tell you, it puts the 'high' in highway, topping out at 10,947 feet. It is a landscape speckled with high alpine lakes swaddled by old growth forests, all perched atop a plateau of rock that has been bent, crushed, and sculpted by glaciers. Sitting right next to Yellowstone, it is the often overlooked little brother, and is mostly viewed from cars and bikes slithering along its tight switchbacks, leaving the woods juicily uncrowded and just waiting for me to sink my boots into them.
This past week I hiked up to the spine of the plateau, starting at the Clark's Fork trailhead, a 19 mile trek roundtrip. Arriving Wednesday night, I had to abandon the idea of backpacking in part of the way due to thunderstorms, but in return had the chance to watch their dramatic effects from the safety of my car atop the highway. The sunset was a top ten of all time for me. Consider that a win.
Double rainbow! Looks like you have to go swimming for the gold at the ends though.
The next morning broke clear with the sharp scent of sage brush greeting me.
On my ascent up the trail I passed through new growth forests, burns, mosquito swamps, and ambling streams. Near the top I hopped from lake to lake to the tip top, stopping to fish here and there along the way.
Aggressive 6-inch brook trout readily struck my mosquito fly, which only seemed fair after the mosquitoes almost ate me on the way up. Is there a prettier fish?
Fossil Lake, perched just shy of 10,000 feet, yielded some Yellowstone Cutthroat trout, and then it was an easy descent along the same route, with some fishing along the way as well.
I took the long way home, going via Red Lodge and a four hour drive back to the ranch through rolling green hills with the Yellowstone River as a companion and the ever present mountains on the horizon. The sunset over the was another winner, with a perfect orange silhouette of the Bridger Mountains that faded into yellow and then blue in the sky as the rolling hills turned to gold.