My Montana

My Montana
My Montana

Saturday, August 11, 2012

Seduced by the Snake

I didn't know what I was in for when I followed the directions to a place called Swan Lake Dam. I only knew I could find a free place to camp there.

My first clue that this might be a special place was when I stopped a place called Dedication Point and saw a trail that lead to the Snake River George. I was wowed even in the still harsh light.This is a conservation area for raptors. It is especially important for prairie falcons. But Paiute ground squirrels, their main food, were estivating so the prairie falcons have dispersed to find food.

The trail to the Snake River Gorge at Dedication Point

Which ends in this view

The next clue that this was going to be a special encounter, was when I got to the end of the  road  and turned onto a road leading down into the gorge. The river wound through a gorge that looked black until the light hit it.  Then the rock walls turned a brilliant orange. This river was an artist. And so strong and persistent.  It had carved this gorge five times, each time just starting over after volcanoes filled it back up.

The canyon walls along the road to the river

Swan Lake Dam

Canoe/kayak put-in

The further along the river I went, the more I fell in love. I stopped often to walk down the many eroded roads to the river.  The young osprey, still on the nest, provided for by the river's fish, was exciting to see. And when I found a camp where the river,  accompanied by frogs and insects, sang to me, I fell even more in love. Once, during the evening, it even had a coyote group add a soprano counterpoint to its full tenor canticle.

Just another view

Young osprey feeding on nest
I  kept driving further down the river, looking for a place where I could at least bathe in the river.  I also wanted riffles to make a little night music.  Finally I cam to Fisherman's Point.  There a short hike showed me a plethora of  wonders and the wave train coming around the bend gave plenty of loud water music.

Sign for my camping area - even had fire rings and a bathroom

A few wildflowers were feeding sweat bees

This river-carved sitting area was almost against the shore

Bedraggled rose bushes were storing rose hips for birds

One pretty flowering plant among the willows

 The wonderful massage it gave me was completely over the top.  It vibrated out all soreness from my muscles,  as I clung to an underwater boulder to avoid being washed downstream.

A view of my bath/massage area from slightly upstream

I waded in here and worked my way towards the wave train until I could stand up

I didn't want to be shut in a tent so I just got out my sleeping pad, sleep sack, and sleeping bag to made a bed where I could watch the sky over the western rim of the gorge turn pink, and the rock turn dark while listening to the river's song. Later I watched the stars come slowly out and then sorted out planets from stars and planes from them both.  I watched so long, I started to think I could see the new stars appearing off the eastern side of the gorge as the earth spun. The rock cliffs my lover had carved for me kept the air comfortably warm all night and I barely needed a cover.

Pad, sleeping bag, and pillows with my ice chest to store my flashlight, Kindle Fire, and glasses was all I needed

Almost bedtime
 I finally got to sleep, but a few hours later, a bright light shone in my face. I awoke with a start to find that the quarter moon had risen over the gorge. I enjoyed its beauty for a while, then finally got up and re-oriented my bed so I had the moon behind me. But soon after that, a dark and cloudy dawn came and I found it was already six o'clock.(I had a cloudy day all the way to Montana and found most of it was due to a large wildfire in southern Idaho.)

I wanted another dip in the river and time to find out more of its secrets, but I had a long day of driving and needed to get to my friend's house by early evening.  So I went into my (rare) disciplined mode and quickly packed up my camp.  I grabbed a bottle of coffee I'd bought for when I might need it and not have a store or stove available, and drank it with a breakfast bar and then started off. I had to stop several times to just  see yet another view of the river or its impressive cliffs.

I almost escaped its seductive grasp before the sun rose over the gorge to light the canyon walls. I had to screech to a stop to watch the light climb down the western walls and turn the dark rock bright orange. Finally I was able to tear myself away and finish the climb out of the gorge and head towards Bozeman, Montana to spend a day and a couple of evenings with my friend, Kathy. But I'll keep beautiful memories of a one night stand with a wonderful seductive river.

This area could make one take several days just to visit the attractions. And then it would be fun to run a stretch of this beautiful river, maybe as a camping trip. And there is lots of hiking here.

A map of the area's attractions. 

I want to thank Kris Crowley, the refuge staffer that sent me here. Here is a link to his directions if you would like to visit.