BY RACHEL A. SEIDENSTICKER
To the west of crazy 93, with its motor homes, motorcycles, and motorists, on Flathead Indian Reservation lies another serene stretch of land most probably don’t realize exists. Farm land as far as the eye can see stretches along the eastern side of the Lower Flathead River as if straight from a scene in eastern Montana.
A few weeks ago, my Fatootsin partner and I headed southwest out of Polson and found ourselves on a gravel road twisting along while we watched fields of wheat and other grains, grazing cattle, and mustard and canola go by—a far cry from the green and crimson cherry orchards along the lake. I am sure my smile was infectious as I watched the Mission Mountains in the distance with rolling field sprinklers in the forefront. It’s just not a view you get everywhere, especially in Western Montana.
However, before we headed out through the farms and ranches, we first decided on a stop at Kerr Dam. This 194-megawatt dam is located five miles southwest of Polson, and every time I’ve been there to check out this gem, I rarely see any other people. Run by PPL and the Confederated Salish and Kootenai Tribes, Kerr Dam generates power for the greater Mission Valley. We took a hike down the 1000-foot boardwalk to the vista point and watched the water drop 241 feet and pour over the 541-foot concrete berth. This man-made spectacle happens to be 54 feet higher than Niagara Falls. Trust me, you won’t be disappointed by the views in either direction including watching the white stream behind all the jet boats coming down river from the lake. However, I do suggest packing a picnic so you’ll have enough energy for the walk back up to your car. Be sure to pack the dogs a treat as well.
After our little detour, my ‘Rez’ tour guide slowly moved us along the back roads winding through fields, but we were ultimately headed back to the river at Buffalo Bridge. There is nothing better than driving with your windows down to listen to big field sprinklers watering crops, to gravel crackling under your tires, and smelling the openness of the land. The best, unexpected surprise came in the form of a horned family in one of Marchi Family Ranches’ fields. Nope, not a deer (those are antlers). Rather, we had the privilege of watching a family of Great-Horned Owls hunting off fence posts and hay bales.
Once we reached Buffalo Bridge, we received a nice reminder of our stay at Kicking Horse Reservoir while we witnessed a mayfly swarm lingering over the bridge. Our friends were still around (See Part 1). Since this was an old stomping ground of my partner’s, he took us where I never thought Darth could go—through rut infested, clay soil roads down to the embankment of the Lower Flathead River. We finally reached our destination after several jaw-clenched sucked breaths and mental close calls between Darth’s oil pan and the hardened clay soil beneath—we actually never bottomed out. I’m pretty sure this is probably a frequented spot by local teenagers for weekend debacles, but nonetheless we appreciated the leftover palettes for our fire that evening.
I was a little nervous about a midnight visit by said teenagers, but instead, we saw virtually no one. Instead the only “sign” of other humans came with the low growls of 4-wheelers on the other side of the river riding their own rutty roads through the Camas Prairie.
The evening was full of my ‘Rez’ guide’s memories, swims in the brisk water, an unbothered bike ride, and a raging kegger-esque bonfire. The dogs were happy, Darth sat relaxed he had survived the drive in, and I couldn’t get enough of the peace. The only thing to worry about—would Darth make it back out?!
This article is part of Rachel’s blog:
byway [ˈbaɪˌweɪ] n
1. a secondary or side road, esp in the country
Fatootsin [‘fə tʊt sɪn] v
1. The art and science of traveling to a destination even when you are unsure of what that destination may be and the path that will get you there.