I do believe that the back of beyond is my favorite spot on earth. And one of the swell things about Montana is that you can get to the back of beyond on a road trip – you don’t have to hike to get away from pavement and people. This weekend we started in the ghost town of Bannack, camped Friday night near Bannock Pass, drove 50 miles on the Sheep Creek Backcountry Byway to have lunch at the Calf-A in Dell — best pie in the world — continued to Red Rocks Lakes National Wildlife Refuge, spent the night along Long Creek, and returned to Dell. Nearly all on unpaved roads, and the scenery is just stunning. Montana in summer. Just can’t beat it.
Bannack was founded in 1862 when gold was discovered on Grasshopper Creek. In 1864 it became the first territorial capital of Montana. It’s now a state park, but it’s so out of the way that you usually have the whole place to yourself.
The road to Bannock Pass (and yes, it is spelled differently than the town) goes through ranches with great examples of old jackleg fences and gates, as well as some good examples of “beaverslide” haystackers. I think that beaverslides are only used in southwest Montana: the farmers pile the hay at the bottom of the ramp and then winch it up until it falls over the top and forms a big (like 15 tons big) stack. They’re pretty cool.
We camped off the road at the top of Bannock Pass, and the next day drove back down to head to Dell on the Sheep Creek Byway. The picture at the beginning of this post is from along this road: it’s absolutely gorgeous. And we had it pretty much all to ourselves. Some ranchers were moving cows along the road, but other than them, we didn’t see anyone else for 50 miles.
It was time for lunch when we reach the tiny town of Dell, so we stopped at the wonderful Calf-A. The Calf-A is in the old schoolhouse, and their pies are legendary. If you’re driving from Salt Lake City through Montana, be sure to stop – I-15 goes right through Dell, so it’s not out of the way!
After lunch we headed for Red Rock Lakes. Our plan was to head up into the Gravelly Mountains, but by the time we started up the dirt road that follows the Ruby River, it was thunderstorming, and the road was quickly turning to a slippery mess. So we pulled off the road along Long Creek, and did not see another soul until late the next morning. As we drove out the Centennial Valley on Sunday, a couple of Swainson’s hawks followed us from fencepost to fencepost…just making sure we were really leaving, I guess.