Hidden Treasures, For Sure

Jerry Schuster

It’s that time of year. Time to put away the skis and snow shoes and get out the summer gear. Oh yea, time to think of all those fun summer activities, events and places to explore, like floating the Madison, hiking Blackmore and Hyalite peaks and relaxing at beautiful Bozeman Beach. I just can’t wait to …excuse me, I am looking at the end of my prior sentence; I believe it must have just slipped out, but yes, it does say relaxing at beautiful Bozeman Beach. Oops.

Wait, I should treat this as a sign. I am tossing all my notes and references for the travel guide recommended Montana summer attractions . They’re gone, in the wastebasket, in the shredder, in another place and time. Gone, all gone.

Montana has many treasures which are “hidden,” not generally known to locals unless they live right next to them. Certainly, not sought out by tourists!

Well, that is about to change. The fog is lifting, the cat is getting out of the bag and the truth is about to be revealed about some of Montana’s less known caches.

Yes, if you want to take a more adventuresome path, get out of your car and off the Interstate, you can discover some of these diamonds in the rough. So interesting, so inviting, so captivating.

Let’s take a jaunt with several stops along the way, as we explore these little known nooks and crannies that usually get no attention. Pack a lunch, bring a cooler of beverages and well, items for personal comfort since most of these places lack “facilities.”

HIDDEN STOP #1: Prairie Dog Town
Yes, this is a surreal place, and it is in your backyard, just a bit off the Interstate, near Greycliff. Just exit when you see a big tract of pockmarked prairie with plenty of sagebrush and yucca. I know what you are thinking—that fits the description of most of eastern Montana. Keep your negative thoughts to yourself.

We took the family there once, including two of the kids, ages four and eight at the time. We had picked up Theresa’s folks in Billings, and were out for a daytrip. First questions when we pulled in: “Where are we?” and “Why are we stopping here?” Just curious, I replied.

Then we started to see them—dozens, hundreds, thousands of quite large and aggressive rodents surely related to what Bozemanites affectionately refer to as “Richardson ground squirrels.” In eastern Montana generally referred to as “gophers,” those rascally furry creatures have ruined many a pasture and garden in this state.

“Dad, let’s get out of here! I have to go potty! Bad!”

I kicked up the vehicle speed to the maximum 5 MPH allowed to complete the “loop,” trying at all times to avoid the inhabitants of this prairie wonderland; what is officially called “Greycliff Prairie Dog Town State Park.” Oh, the critters themselves are officially “Black Tailed Prairie Dogs.” My father-in-law, Louis, just had one of those old-timer eastern Montana grins on his face as we rounded the last curve of the washboard gravel road. “I’m glad those critters are camped out here, don’t think they would be very happy on the ranch.”

Travel hints: Just another reminder to bring your own snacks and beverages and have everyone use the toilet facilities along the Interstate. The entire self-guided tour, very entertaining, will take approximately sixteen minutes. The prairie dogs will stand at attention and salute as your vehicle exits. Really cool.

HIDDEN STOP # 2:  Bozeman Beach
Close your eyes. All the way, no peeking. Breathe in and out slowly. You are enjoying a warm summer day in the Gallatin Valley. Think mountain scenes and hiking trails, wild flowers, beautiful waterfalls.

Stop, open your eyes, this article is supposed to be about getting out of your comfort zone. Let’s hit the beach! Yes, this is Montana and you can enjoy the white sands of Bozeman Beach. This pearl is nestled along beautiful Glen Lake, a converted gravel pit, on the north edge of, duh, Bozeman. Come on, give me a break, what did you expect, Kahului Beach on Maui?

The locals know this as a swimming hole, but not many go there. This isn’t due to the murky water, or that the teenage set would rather hang out at the bikini hatch on the Madison; no, there are no dogs allowed, which is about as uninviting as you can get in Bozeman.

Tourists who enjoy a more traditional Montana water experience will probably want to canoe, kayak or paddleboard at Hyalite Reservoir or enjoy Yellowstone Park’s water features from one of those giant tour buses, which is about as much fun as can be fomented at one time.

Problem with tourists coming to Bozeman Beach---it can accommodate only about 15 people at a time. Therefore, locals should not really talk about this attraction openly in the cafes and bars. We have to keep this prize local.

Moving on, a true Montana hidden treasure, very rare experience, off the beaten path……..

HIDDEN STOP # 3---Beaverhead Rock State Park in Madison County, near Twin Bridges
Theresa and I came upon this sparkler while exploring southwest Montana after moving here. We actually drove by this epitome of an unassuming “park” several times while looking at a map and trying to find this feature as presented in the travel brochures. Back and forth, up and down the road several times we meandered along the lonely road. Finally, having exhausted all resources, we stopped at a gravel turnout to observe what appeared to be a bronze rendition of some birds, which turned out to be “Dancing Cranes.” No benches, no trails, no other facilities. Then it hit us—this is the Park, we have arrived! As I tried to contain my excitement at the discovery, we gazed upon the park’s prime attraction---a gigantic boulder. I am being serious here, stop laughing.

This is a really big rock, supposedly resembling the head of a swimming beaver. It is okay to use some imagination here. The story goes that Sacajawea recognized this landmark while guiding Lewis and Clark around in 1805. She said to them, “See this big rock which resembles a swimming beaver. Many locals and tourists will come by here in the future and not recognize the importance of the beaver to my people. Therefore, we must commission a bronze for the site which depicts some dancing cranes. This will keep the invaders very confused and they will move on to something else, thus preserving this sacred spot.” Or words to that effect.

Anyway, this outcrop had previously been spotted on the Lewis and Clark journey, when they climbed up Pompey’s Pillar near Billings. While Clark was busy carving his name in the sandstone monolith, Lewis stood at the top, pointed westward and said “There is Beaverhead Rock near Dillon. Let’s do lunch there.” This little tidbit is not to be found in your history book, so don’t waste the time looking.

If you are into ornithology, this is a mandatory destination according to the brochures. Could be a misprint.

As we pulled back onto the highway, our senses were overloaded with the thoughts of what we had just experienced. All that beauty, all those birds, all that rock history.

There are other Montana attractions which are explored only by the very adventuresome, or very lost. You just have to go out and find these for yourself. I am tired of doing all the research for you.

Have a great uncommon experience in Montana this summer.   

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