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After the Party – Hanging Out in Montana

The Montana Photo Safari is over, and everyone has scattered to the four winds, but we are still here, because there isn’t really any reason to leave. The weather is perfect, we could use a few days of down time with nothing to do, and the easiest thing to do was just hit the grocery store, dump our tanks and get some fresh water, and head back on up the valley.

. This is looking east. The cut in the mountain is Highway 212, the Beartooth Highway, climbing up to the plateau. Those aren’t ski runs on the mountains, they’re avalanche trails.

The valley is technically called Rock Creek Valley, famous for being Chief Joseph’s escape route off the Beartooth Plateau after he had traumatized some of Yellowstone’s first tourists, and came down on his almost successful run for the Canadian border. The Forest Service campgrounds we had the Montana Photo Safari at are at the end of the pavement, but an unpaved Forest Service road goes on up the valley, you can clearly see it from the overlook at the top of the switchbacks.  When I was up there for the photo shoot I saw this road, and decided to try it out once everyone had left.

So we headed on up, past the “passenger vehicle use discouraged” sign just on the other side of Limber Pine campground, and picked our way along, trying to avoid the potholes and foot-across boulders sticking  out of the road surface. One thing about a glacial valley is that there are large rocks everywhere, including in the middle of the road.  By carefully selecting a path, we and our low ground clearance and 170 inch wheelbase were able to go  few hundred yards up the road, where we began to see stone fire rings and other signs of dispersed camping activity.

Now we’re not just heading out blindly into the National Forest and camping wherever we choose, we are following the rules. As I explained in my dispersed camping in national forests blog post, you need a Motor Vehicle Use Map, available online or at the ranger station, which tells you where dispersed camping is allowed, and what the rules are.  These rules typically involve how far off the road you can go or must be, a 14 day limit, and any fire restrictions in effect at the time you’re camping.

All the basics of backwoods primitive camping – a fire ring built out of local rocks, and an internet satellite dish.

I also had another rule of my own, and that was that I had to be able to hit the satellites from our campsite.  Trees and mountains often make that difficult in this part of the country, but because of the solar panels I wanted to be out in the open, and the valley is pointed in the right general direction (south), so this didn’t really restrict our choices much. The spots right down on the main creek bank were too wooded, but we were able to find a nice level grassy patch on a small creek, and in a matter of minutes were set up and enjoying the wilderness.

Here’s our little creek. It’s the only thing that makes a sound out here.

We woke to deer grazing right outside our windows, so close we could hear them chewing.   Inspired by Yan Seiner’s fearless outdoors adventures, I actually got out of my Roadtrek and hiked up our little creek a way. The thin air and uphill slope definitely tell you you’re in the mountains, but I got far enough to satisfy my curiosity about what it drains – it drains a small valley to our west, starting with snowmelt near the ridge line and coming down through conifers and aspens to the valley floor, where it runs through sage, past our campsite, and into Rock Creek. It makes a soothing sound out our back door, even though it’s only three feet wide.

Just the place for a little down time.


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