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Anniversary Trip to the National Bison Range, Part 1

To help celebrate our 40th wedding anniversary, our son and his wife made the trip to Montana from southwest Oregon so they could be part of our renewal of vows. Knowing that they had never seen the National Bison Range, I made plans to take them there. As it happens, our daughter, who has lived here longer than we have, also has never seen the NBR (National Bison Range), so she also came with us.

Naturally, we took a lot of pictures. I’m understating that. However, I thought that others might enjoy some of the images we got. This first group focuses mostly on the landscape rather than on the animals found in the NBR. Keep in mind that these were taken toward the end of the growing season, so there is more yellow and brown than green in the images. I still think the place is stunning.

Flathead River

This is taken from barely inside of the National Bison Range, facing southwest. This is the Flathead River. The haze that can be seen is from wildfires, mostly in Idaho. Smoke in the air in September is common in Montana. This is actually clear compared to most years. Last year at this time and from this location, you wouldn't have been able to see the river.

Northerly view

This is the same river as the first picture, taken to the northwest. Both pictures are taken barely inside of the NBR. The row of light green vegetation near the bottom of the picture are trees and bushes growing along one of the streams that flow inside this refuge.

Two miles up the road

This picture also shows Flathead River, but it was taken about two miles up the road. It isn't difficult to tell that we gained quite a bit of altitude quickly. There is actually a bison in this picture, but the distance is so great that it is hard to see and it looks like a mere speck.

Mission Valley

This is several miles beyond where the last picture was taken and quite a bit higher, overlooking Mission Valley, an extension of Bitterroot Valley. There is a bison in the image, pointed out by the arrow. The interesting thing is that this is to the right (north) of the last image.

More of Mission Valley

This picture was taken in the same spot as the last one, but is facing almost due north. This is most of the rest of Mission Valley and it shows the agricultural fields. The mountains in the far distance give an idea of the magnitude of this valley, which was all lake bottom during the last ice age.

The high country

There is a lot of terrain like this in the high country of the NBR. Draws like this were created by a combination of glaciers and water runoff. The picture doesn't really show how steep the draw is, however. To give some idea, the trees in this image are about 75 feet tall.

Steep terrain

This might give a better idea of the steepness of these draws. This is the same draw as in the last picture. The distance from where I'm standing to the bottom of the draw is about two miles. What makes it deceptive is the fact that the tops of the distant mountains are about 50 miles away.

A different view of the draw

This is the same draw from a different angle. Both the steepness and the size of the draw are more noticeable in this image. Imagine what people thought when they saw this for the very first time. Actually, if you ever visit, you'll probably have much the same feeling as they had, way back then.

Still not to the highest point

As amazing as it is, this still isn't from the highest point in the refuge. It is close, however. The actual highest point is reached only by foot and the highest point that can be reached by car is only a few hundred yards away.

Now, try to wrap your mind around this: At the time of the last ice age, this picture would have been taken from an island in prehistoric Lake Missoula. Most of what is seen in the image would have been underwater.

This is only the first part of this photographic journey. 

What do you think?

3 points

Written by Rex Trulove

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    • Personally, I can’t walk a long distance anymore for physical reasons, though I used to walk quite a bit. In the NBR, though, walking trails are very limited. I think that there are only four or five walking trails and the total distance they cover is probably less than five miles.

      That is on purpose, to protect both the wildlife and the visitors. Bison look cute, but if they get angry, people really don’t want to confront a ton of mad bison. The bears can also do damage, as can the elk, etc. The animals are used to cars and pickups, though, so people who drive through the refuge are ignored by the animals. That makes for some really good photo opportunities.

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