Sometime in January I was scrolling through my Instagram feed and saw a photo of Bison foraging in a snow-clad field. I thought to myself how rad it would be to see bison like that in the snowy fields of the interior. Voicing this to my girlfriend, Danielle, she responded, "why don't you go then?"
With no reason not to do just that, the two of us planned a quick trip out to the National Bison Range in Montana for early February. Normally this type of adventure would be undertaken in my Toyota 4runner, but given it was uninsured, Danielle's Honda Civic would be our instrument of choice. In response to this choice, we got a good amount of flak -- but so often when it comes to travel, the uninitiated are ignorant and weary of the unknown. Regardless of the dream-killers, and after much research and checking of road conditions, we hit the road with the Civic packed up on Friday afternoon.
From Victoria we caught the ferry over to Vancouver, and then jetted west towards Montana. We drove for quite a few hours, first south along the I5 and then east along the I95. At first the drive was very scenic, moving over the Cascade mountains and then descending into the plains, and at one point over and along the Columbia River. Eventually the sun finally dipped below the horizon and we continued to drive through the darkness listening to Frank Ocean's Channel Orange.
After many hours of jetting across the country, we stopped in Spokane to grab some supplies and dinner at a Walmart. We recognized the temperature was low, and grabbed a cheap blanket to supplement the bedding we'd brought. As we ate a mediocre Subway sandwich in the Walmart, we copped some wifi, and investigated where we would stay the night. After finishing our web-browsing and sandwiches, we decided to head over the Washington-Idaho border, and stay at a rest-stop just over the Idaho side. It was a cold night in the Civic, but not horrendous.
The next morning we ate cereal in the car and then continued west, through the Idaho panhandle, and into Montana. Once in Montana, we continued to follow the I95 for some time, until departing onto state highway 135, and then 200. The scenery was beautiful as we followed rivers and passed through rolling hills blanketed in snow. After about three hours, we arrived at our destination, The National Bison Range.
Due to it being the off-season, the Range wasn't completely open (no pun intended), meaning the ranger station was closed, no fees collected, and part of what is a loop in the summer, closed. However this didn't dampen our spirits whatsoever, as the place was absolutely gorgeous. With rolling, white hills with rivers meandering through them and jagged snow-covered peaks forming the backdrop, the landscape was breathtaking. Danielle and I slowly drove along the Range's scenic road, stopping often to take in the view. Of course, we did see bison not terribly far away, behind the fences of the Range. Unfortunately, the harsh light and my lack of super-telephoto lens didn't lend to the best photos. This however didn't take away from the near-magical experience.
After eating lunch at the Range in its picnic area and then touring around for a few hours, Danielle and I left and headed to south to Missoula. In Missoula we made our first stop at a Starbucks in order to grab some caffeinated beverages, cop some wifi, and do a bit of research and other computer work. While at Starbucks we decided to get a hotel room for the night in order to shower and get out of the cold. Satisfied with our decision to not sleep in the car, we had some time to kill in Zootown as Missoula (Mizz-zoo-la) is called. I did some research and found a popular hike in town at the University of Montana, where one 'hikes to the M' up Mount Sentinel. Looking at photos of the hike and the sunset times, we decided it was a great idea to give it the old college try (pun intended).
We left Starbucks and headed to the campus in the late afternoon and began the steep switchback riddled climb. The trail was somewhat crowded but not unbearably, and didn't take us very long. While we could have continued past the large concrete 'M' and to the top of the mountain, we decided against doing so as darkness wasn't far off. At the 'M' we admired the view of the campus below, the city beyond it, and the Clark Fork River cutting between Mount Sentinel and Mount Jumbo across from us.
As we descended the mountain and the sun began to fall from the sky, we headed to our hotel, checked in, and unpacked a few of our belongings. I ran across the street and grabbed some huckleberry beers from the gas station, and a pizza from Mac Kenzie River Pizza Co, a Montana chain. We ate the delicious pizza while watching the Olympics on the television, and then had a comfortable and warm sleep.
People in this blog: Danielle's Instagram.