When we departed from West Yellowstone, Montana we needed to make some time heading north. Reservations had been made many months in advance to stay inside Glacier National Park. Check-in was looming in a matter of days. While we were driving along the Madison River (SR 287N), the ranchland and farms in between the river and the Madison Range were abundant and beautiful. A cowboy walking with a lasso appeared in our lane coming towards us. Surprisingly, a whole herd of cattle was being driven by him and another on horseback, right alongside the road (and our car) outside the ranchland fence. Amazing…cowboys really do exist! How quintessential Montana, n’est-ce pas?
Before lunch, my husband had to visit Three Forks. He wanted to say that he was able to see the confluence of two rivers: The Madison and The Jefferson which give birth to the mighty Missouri. I was humoring him by agreeing that this was ‘a must see’ on our trip. We had to hunt for the park that contained this sight, and the riverbanks were flooded. As I begrudgingly walked through a gravel park, my poor attitude changed to one of pure gratitude. We met a mother Killdeer guarding her nest (made on the ground). She acted frantically and would not leave her 4 brown and black, speckled, cream colored eggs. They were perfectly camouflaged by the multicolored gravel. Instead of the typical broken wing defense, the good mother Killdeer tilted her backend up, over her nest and fanned her lovely white and pale orange-rust tail feathers.
Since we were trying to cover a lot of road on SR287N, we decided to stay a few days in Choteau (French pronunciation). My husband picked this little town for no other reason than Choteau seemed like a good place to stop. We knew nothing about this town. We were lucky to find lodging, the last available room at ‘Stage Stop Inn’ (weekend before Independence Day). Not only did we delight in this town, but not too far south of Choteau (on SR89) is ‘Freezeout Lake’, a veritable bird haven. Finally, I discovered what I had seen at Arapaho National Wildlife Refuge. Those funny-looking white birds were pelicans. A plethora of white pelicans congregated on either side of the road, flying, communing, basking on their own rock islands, swimming and raising their young. I noticed a flustered Black-crowned Night-Heron flying hither and yon. Perhaps we disrupted his peaceful time with his white peers. We couldn’t gain any access to the lake off the road. I believe that another distant rock island (hard to detect with my limited lens) was claimed by a commune of Black- crowned Night-Herons.
We moved onward, after a 2 night stay in Choteau. Our approach on SR 287 to Choteau and beyond, northward following SR89 to St. Mary’s, is full of conflicting emotions. The landscape gives us much to ponder and appreciate with ‘The Range’, a continuous string of wilderness areas and mountain ranges (Continental Divide) to our west. ‘The Range’ is thirty plus miles away and is dwarfed by the overwhelming, if not oppressive sky. To our east the land is vast and unending with gentle, rolling grasslands. Besides the presence of occasional wildflowers, livestock sprinkled on the very distant land, and the occasional car that passes, we had the feeling that we were the only two people left on this earth! We even started to question, “Is this our planet?” The isolation became unsettling. Then a road sign broke our uneasiness. “Caution: Livestock at Large”. We laughed at the thought of “Elsie” and “Mr. Ed’s” mug shots hanging as “Wanted” posters at the local sheriff’s office.