08 December 2008

Winter on the Prairie: Twin Bridges, Montana

The town of Twin Bridges was named for the two historic bridges (1865) that crossed two tributaries -- the Beaverhead and Big Hole Rivers -- near the confluence where they formed the Jefferson River. Twin is home to our favorite restaraunt, The Old Hotel (built c. 1879), as well as to Jan Munday's employer, A New Arrival (an adoption agency). Jan was there for work but wanted to stay for the town's Christmas stroll, so I tagged along and went off for a hike. It's a pleasant 50-mile drive from Butte (when the roads are good), as seen by the scenery of these eroded hills above the Jefferson River valley:

West of Twin Bridges lies mostly prairie land broken by a few hills and ringed by the ridges of the Tobacco Root Mountains and (on the Melrose/Big Hole side) Mount McCartney. Dave Carter and I have camped and explored some of the area, particularly the Rochester Basin (a historic mining district), so I elected to explore another spot on the map around Nez Perce creek. Though not much of a creek flows out of these high desert hills, it probably received the name because it was a good shortcut to the Big Hole River route to the Nez Perce homelands in Idaho.

It's deceptively broken country--featureless at first glance, but a fence-line becomes an interesting feature to show off the subtle topography:

This is horse country, and here I am on foot. Yet I think of my friends with horses, that ride them occasionally on some road or not at all. Oh well, a small butte becomes a good reason to hike a mile or so:

Watch out for the abandoned mine shafts, though:

Here we are, ready to climb the little butte:

Interesting that moose travel miles across the prairie from the river bottoms to hang out here. I guess they like a reason for a hike too:

Or maybe it's to browse on the succulent curl-leaf mountain-mahogany (Cercocarpus ledifolius):

The leaves are coarse and foul to us, but mule deer and other hoofed browsers love 'em:

The butte was also dotted with skunkbrush (Rhus trilobata) shrubs:

Aptly, named in Latin for the three lobed leaves. It was only at home, looking at this photo on my computer screen, that I realized how beautiful was the lichen-encrusted quartz rock that I'd laid the leaf upon. As William Blake said, "To see a world in a grain of sand, And a heaven in a wild flower" or, in this case, a leaf and a rock:

RTD (aka Roly The Dog) is more into landscapes (or good smells). Here she is, looking out over the prairie (and giving those paws full of prickly pear cactus spines a rest):

Afer lunch and a quick nap, it was time to head back to the car, and thence to the town.

I'll close with more excerpts from Blake's "Auguries of Innocence" (you Jarmusch Dead Man film buffs will also remember some of these lines):

Hold infinity in the palm of your hand,
And eternity in an hour....

Every wolf's and lion's howl
Raises from hell a human soul.

The wild deer, wand'ring here and there,
Keeps the human soul from care....

Every night and every morn
Some to misery are born,
Every morn and every night
Some are born to sweet delight.

Some are born to sweet delight,
Some are born to endless night...

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