After over two weeks up on the Beartooth Plateau getting snowed on, I needed to find a new spot to camp. Montana is very generous in its dispersed camping rules, allowing you 16 days in any one spot, and then you have to relocate at least five miles away. I decided we’d head downhill and warm up a bit.
After our usual visit to Red Lodge, Montana for food, water, laundry, and propane, we headed back up Highway 212, getting off the road at the site of the 2015 Montana Meetup. This is at the base of the switchbacks where the highway climbs up onto the plateau, and where Joe Morales took all those beauty shots of our rigs at the vista point near the top.
The road follows Rock Creek, famous as the route Chief Joseph took in his run for the Canadian border, and I have done dispersed camping here back igathering.
The highway slopes up gradually (well, gradually for Montana – it’s about a 5% grade) from around 5600 feet in Red Lodge to 7700 feet where the switchbacks begin. This time we got off at Parkside, Limber Pine and Greenough Lake campgrounds, where we gathered in 2015, and I followed Forest Service Road 2421 on up the creek for a couple of miles, almost all the way to M-K Campground. It’s an unpaved road in better shape than it was three years ago – eminently driveable if you dodge the potholes and take it slow.
This is right where Hellroaring Creek joins Rock Creek, and you can hear the noise easily, since the creekbed is full of giant rocks and there’s plenty of splashing white water. We are at the fork formed by the two creeks, each about fifty yasrds away, so we are surrounded by the constant sound of running water.
I noticed that there are giant rocks all over the place, and the ground is very uneven. Of particular note are the many huge rounded light gray granite boulders, some half buried and some sitting atop the ground surface. I have seen this granite before – up on the plateau.
Fifteen thousand years ago, the entire area was covered with glaciers coming down off the plateau into the river valleys, and as they flowed they carried debris they had picked up on this journey. The boulders went to the bottom of the ice, being heavy, and were rounded as they scraped along the bedrock surface. When the ice melted, they dropped where they were. The uneven ground is because of moraines, piles of glacial debris bulldozed by the ice as it advanced and retreated.
Rock Creek picks its way through theses mounds, washing the smaller rocks downstream in flood condition, and leaving the huge boulders where they settled thousands of years ago.
The ground surface is covered with good sized rocks – great if you need to build a firepit, bad if you’re trying to farm. The trees here just do the best they can, putting their roots down around the rocks. Whenever you see an uprooted tree stump you notice the rocks tangled in the roots, pulled out of the ground as the tree toppled over.
Because it’s a deep north-south valley, the sun doesn’t hit the valley floor until a good two hours after sunrise, and it’s gone again over the western valley wall by mid-afternoon, but I’m good with that – my satellites are almost straight south, so I’m shooting down the valley and can hit them easily, and I don’t lose much solar since the early and late sunlight is not what I count on to recharge my batteries. 95% of the solar power you harvest is collected in the four hours around solar noon – 11 AM to 3 PM at this longitude in the summer.
Fiona the Fearless Kitty is right at home in this terrain, clambering up and down the slopes and drinking out of the streams. She is giving the chipmunk and squirrel population the attention they deserve, and we are on the lookout for mountain lions, bears, birds of prey, coyotes, and other occupational hazards us mountain dwellers face. It’s mid-70s to 80 during the day here, and about 40 at night. Snow won’t start at this altitude until we are long gone. It’s a great place to spend August.
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