Tuesday, August 07, 2007

Montana's Boulder River Valley

The Grand Hotel - Big Timber, Montana
Situated at the confluence of the Boulder and Yellowstone Rivers, and in the shadow of the Crazy Mountains -possibly Montana's most scenic island mountain range- The Grand used to be a sheepherders' hotel, and it's been here for over 100 years. It's red brick, a nice substantial building with a regular lobby and a good ol' western saloon, complete with booths, above which loom large but authentic mounts of trout. The 40 or so original sheepherder rooms have been remodeled into half that many. The place is decorated for the angler, which is what I just happened to be when I stayed there. In the saloon you can order a sirloin steak or a Crazy Mountain stuffed burger but the main dining room is operating on an entirely whole different level altogether.

The West Boulder - High, Wide & Lonesome
The West Boulder River is the largest tributary to the main Boulder and it's valley is one of the more remote corners of Montana where the Old West still flourishes in a mix of fierce independence and neighborly welcome. I'm pretty sure I've never seen anything else quite like it.

The McLeod Basin
The Boulder River Road runs 50 miles south of Big Timber to the abandoned mining town of Independence. This partially paved road fingers it's way into the Absaroka-Beartooth Wilderness along a non-wilderness corridor and for the entire distance one is treated to sublime views of rivers, peaks, canyons, gorges and meadows. Here, the cosmopolitan views of visiting anglers and hikers are tempered by the rock hard, conservative politics of Sweetgrass County and the ways of ranchers who have raised sheep and cows here for over a century. Oh yeah, the fishing is purty good too.
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The Main Boulder Ranger Station
Located along the Boulder River Road about half way between Big Timber and the ghost town of Independence, this recently renovated ranger station is the oldest existing one of it's kind in the US Forest Service. Ranger Harry Kaufman first came into Boulder River country in 1905 and built the original one room ranger station.

Good Eats - McLeod, Montana
The mix of folks chowing down in the Road Kill Cafe is nearly as engaging as the landscape that surrounds it. It's a quaint bar in a majestic setting where you can still order a buffalo or elk burger.

End of the Road
This barn sits at the southern end of the West Boulder Road and just north of the boundary for the Absaroka/Beartooth Wilderness. You gotta put on your walkin' shoes here and take the Forest Service trail 3 miles upstream to the West Boulder Meadows to access some of the best public fishing on the river as well as some spectacular scenery.

Burnt Leather Ranch
Tommy Brokaw's neighbors on the West Boulder. One of the choicest sections of the West Boulder River runs in the draw just below the rimrock in the background of the above photo. Few, if any, outsiders will ever get to see it as it takes a little savvy to legally access the West Boulder below the wilderness boundary. Crow Indians once roamed this country.

Two Mile Bridge
Public water on the main Boulder River upstream of the Natural Falls. In addition to the 4 official fishing access sites provided by the state of Montana, there are 5 bridges that cross the river and 6 campgrounds that also provides access as well.

Burnt Leather Ranch
This enigmatic Montana Ranch is featured in the novel Yonder: A place in Montana by John Heminway although it's named has been changed in the book to the Rawhide Ranch.

Upper Boulder River
Here the angler is surrounded on all three sides by wilderness with a capital "W". Had the Boulder River been located in any other state it would be a world famous fishery. Here in Montana it's just another freestone trout stream.

Rainstorm on the Upper Boulder River
The rainbows and cutts up here get very little fishing pressure compared to some of the more famous rivers in the state and they're just chock full of piss and vinegar. Don't forget your bear spray though, this is still grizzly country and your not that far from the Slough Creek/Buffalo Fork Divide