On to Great Falls MT through White Sulphur Springs MT and the Little Belt Mountains

Trip: Rapid City SD to Montana, Memorial Day 2017
More Flowers:  We headed for Great Falls MT on MT HWY 86 (Bridger Road) to Wilsall. Along the way, we stopped on the Fairy Lake Road to add to our collection of wildflower photos. What a spring! 

White Sulphur Springs:  In Wilsall, we turned north on US HWY 89 to White Sulphur Springs. The wonderful ranger there at the Lewis and Clark National Forest ranger station handed me enough flyers about pollinators for each of the students in the class I'll be teaching when we get back home. Wonderful service!

Also in White Sulphur, we found an amazing convenience store with wine and cheese and organic snacks. Like a bit of California shopping in Montana!

Kings Hill Scenic Byway: At this point, US HWY 89 became the Kings Hill Scenic Byway, seventy-one miles of mountain beauty in the Little Belt Mountains and the Lewis and Clark National Forest. The highest mountain in the Little Belts is Big Baldy, west of the town of Neihart and near the Smith River. The mountain rises to 9,175 feet. The mountains are home to expansive conifer forests, mostly ponderosa-pine and douglas fir. Other species, like lodgepole and whitebark pines are found at higher elevations. Wildlife includes black bear, elk, white tailed and mule deer.

Our first stop was at the Jumping Creek Campground. We were astounded at the tree damage apparently caused by a high wind micro burst. The forces of nature! 
The highway continued over Kings Hill Pass and the ski area, Showdown Montana. Neither one of us remembered every being on this road; Montana is a huge state, there's much we haven;'t seen even though we grew up there.

Memorial Falls:  The road now followed Belt Creek along its deep canyon as we continued north between in the Little Belt Mountains. Our next stop was Memorial Creek and a short hike to Memorial Falls. 

Sluice Boxes State Park:  Belt Creek turned northwest at Monarch MT, and our highway headed north and then northwest to Sluice Boxes State Park. We rejoined Belt Creek at that point -- another spectacular view down into the canyon.  From the website:  "Bring your camera to this rugged area of pristine beauty and see the remains of mines, a railroad, and historic cabins lining Belt Creek as it winds through a beautiful canyon carved in limestone.  Soaring cliffs and precipitous ledges mark the Belt Creek Canyon as it slices out of the Little Belt Mountains and winds toward the town of Belt. Remains of mines, a railroad, and historic cabins line Belt Creek as it makes its way through the beautiful canyon carved in limestone. This rugged area has seen its share of prospectors searching for precious metals, miners, muleskinners, smeltermen, and railroaders building bridges. The Barker mines and the Montana Central Railroad are just a part of the rich history of Sluice Boxes State Park.
A primitive, unmaintained trail provides access to fishing, challenging floats, and wildlife viewing. Steep cliffs, rugged terrain, and cold, swift water may pose risks to visitors. Please use caution while hiking and floating in the park."
I think we'll have to visit here again and explore this park!

 US HWY 89 followed Belt Creek north to Armington Junction with US HWY 87. 
Great Falls MT:  We turned west, getting ever closer to Great Falls, once Montana's largest city after the decline of mining in Butte and before the rise of Billings. At Belt, Belt Creek headed to the Missouri River, and we headed west into Great Falls., until I was twelve. When we went to the big city, we went to Great Falls. Absolutely nothing looked familiar as Brian and I drove along 10th Avenue south to our motel. Nothing except the view -- on top of the world looking down to the horizon in all directions, nothing but grassy hills in three directions and the Bob Marshall Wilderness mountain front to the west. My grandmother was the Home Demonstration Agent for the Montana State College (at that time) Extension Service; she traveled all around Pondera (pronounced ponder-ray) County and often took me with her. This open country with the strip farms of wheat was very familiar.


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