Wednesday, June 15, 2016

A flurry of short trips

This gate has allowed the Sawmill Road to be reclaimed as Trail 730 in the Little Belts east of Monarch
The sandstone cliffs on the Milk River in Writing on Stone Provincial Park in Southern Alberta
The limestone ridges above Lime Gulch in the Front

The Running Rabbit trip really ran me down, and so I shifted gears to do more relaxing hikes.
On Sunday I did the Lime Gulch hike in the Front for the first time in nearly 20 years, on Monday an exploratory of Sawmill Gulch in the Little Belts on the Hughesville Road, and Tuesday I shot up to Alberta and walked in the hoodoos along the Milk River at Writing On Stone Provincial Park just north of the Sweetgrass Hills.
Here's a summary and some observations:

Lime Gulch

Lime Gulch was a lime green 
This is located in the Rocky Mountain Front west of Augusta on the Willow-Beaver Creek Road about 3 miles north of the Benchmark Road turnoff.  It is near the old Girls Scout Camp and sits across the road from Fairview Mountain.
It is a 7.2 miles roundtrip to the Cutreef divide on a pretty good trail that's marked from the road.  It travels between the Lime Ridge and an unnamed limestone ridge to the west.  It is open grass land most of the way, following a small stream.
This is obviously great elk country, although I didn't see any this day.
The trail gets very little use, despite its high scenic value.  It does get grazed by cattle.
The high Teton peaks, like Rocky and Baldy, are visible to the north once the divide is reached.  To the south it's Crown and Scapegoat mountains.

Sawmill Gulch off Dry Fork/Hughesville Road

Sawmill Creek was dry at the beginning and grew larger and stronger upstream
This Trail No. 730 in the Little Belts, 5 miles east of Monarch on the Dry Fork/Hughesville Road, is hard to find.  
It is an old road that has been blocked and is pretty much reclaimed as a little used hiking trail.  It lies below the west flank of Mount Barker, and it is possible to climb Mount Irene using this route.
It is not visible from the Dry Fork Road, and it is unsigned, and you have to cross private property to reach it, which isn't any problem.
The trail appears to be the rocky floor of a dried streambed until entering the trees, where there is a gate blocking motor vehicle access.  Then, for several miles before it peters out, it is a pleasant walk along the dry stream in a road bed, now overgrown with grass.
Then, within a mile the stream appears, and for the next couple of miles grows larger.  I'm told there are native cutthroat trout here.
The Forest Service has done a great job clearing deadfall from the trail.
A caution:  you have to ford the stream some 7 times before the trail runs out, but it isn't too difficult.
In several spots the trail opens into gorgeous, large meadows, but otherwise stays tucked in a narrow canyon.
I found moose and elk sign and a lady slipper wildflowers on this hike.
In the spring greenery it was gorgeous.

Writing on Stone Provincial (Alberta) Park

The hoodoos are cut in many odd sandstone shapes
This is a a gem of a (historical) park just over the Montana/Alberta border along the Milk River that is run by the province and advised by the Blackfoot Confederation.
It is about 150 miles from Great Falls (2.5 hours each way), and since I regularly travel that one way to get to Glacier, I figured what the heck.
The park derives its name from the Indian pictographs carved into the soft sandstones of the hoodoos.
It is located on river valley just north of West Butte in the Sweetgrass Hills.
The hoodoos line the Milk River rims for miles.
There is a good sized campground, a beach area, and hiking trails, as well as a backcountry without designated trails, but this area is accessible only by wading the river.
There are signs that indicate that river is used by floaters from Aiden to Del Bonita.
There are also signs asking visitors to be careful to look out for rattlesnakes, of which there are many.  I didn't see any on Tuesday when I went.
The visitor center is full of historical and archeological artifacts and interpretations of the park.
There is also a rebuilt Royal Canadian Mounted Police post, which I didn't visit.
The park has been nominated for a World Heritage Site Designation.
I walked the main trail, the Hoodoo Interpretive Trail, some 4.4 kilometers roundtrip and got splendid views of the park, the river, and the Sweetgrass Hills along the way.  The hoodoos are in many eerie shapes and one can see why the Blackfoot consider this a spiritual place.
There are two sites on the trail where the pictographs can be seen:  one depicting a beer, a bison and claws; and the other, a large battle scene, probably fought in the 1870s between the Blackfoot Confederacy, Crow, Cree and Gros Ventre tribes, the Blackfoot triumphant.
Unfortunately, over the years many have also carved initials and other things into the sandstone as well.
I plan to return for more exploration.
There is no entrance fee, but there are charges for camping.

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