Tuesday, October 09, 2012

A quick trip to Russell Wildlife Refuge

Katie hiking above a bend in the Missouri River on the Charles Russell National Wildlife Refuge Sunday
We're finally getting some moisture with some snow in the high country late last week.
That meant I wasn't going hiking in the mountains and I opted for a car trip to central Montana to take a look at the 1.1 million acres Charles Russell National Wildlife Refuge about 60 miles north and east of Lewistown.
It is about 160 miles from Great Falls. Considering that it is roughly the same distance to St. Mary in Glacier Park, this is a reasonable day trip.
We explored several abandoned homesteads on the refuge
This is Missouri River Breaks country and while there is plenty of hiking and canoeing, this is very harsh, snaky badlands country where the only shade you'll find is on the bottomlands along the river.
Ostensibly we went to look for elk at the Slippery Ann Elk Viewing Area, an auto tour area just north of the James Kipp State Park on the river.  The road (if not wet) is excellent gravel two-track that follows the shore line.
We were lucky to have hit the autumn colors, which I think were about a week before the peak.
Considering the good weather (about 60 degrees, calm winds and sunshine) we saw few cars on the road looking for elk, but a considerable number of car and truck campers.
The 20 mile auto tour winds through the badlands and drops you off several miles north of where you start on Highway 191.
We got out of the car and did some climbing and ridge-walking and enjoyed the fall colors and the amazing wild country.
We didn't see the elk, although we were told they come out in the early morning and early evening and more than 250 gathered on the bottom we passed.
A hike in the breaks
We stopped and enjoyed looking around at the abandoned homesteads and marveled at how tough the people were to have settled this harsh country.
This is wild in a different way than the Bob Marshall is wild because the topography is so different:  mountains versus badlands.
It is an area that I plan to explore more thoroughly after I retire next year.
The area is just one of many that I haven't accessed, though living so close.
The red marks our Sunday route

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