by Dave Hanks
There is a place just north of Missoula, Montana in the Mission
Valley by the Flathead River – a place I love to visit. In fact, it would rank
in my top ten. It is the National Bison Range. In addition to the Bison, one of
the greatest attractions is the Bighorn Sheep that reside there.
The range covers several levels: from the river bottom, to prairie steppe, to
a steep climb into a mountainous terrain. There is a 19 mile road that you can
drive to view the area. However, once on the road you cannot turn back as it is
narrow and therefore one way. It is on the descent off the mountain (which is
steep enough to give one a thrill) that you will come upon the sheep. Groups of
magnificent rams are often within camera view. Their view and ours extends out
over the surrounding valley and the small town of St. Ignatius to the east.
Ovis canadensis stands 3 to 3 ½ feet high and weighs between 125 to 200
pounds. Its name comes from the male’s massive, spiraling horns. These can be
very impressive on the more mature animals. Bighorns are a grayish-brown with a
white rump. They are excellent climbers and in summer seek the security of
cliffs that are difficult for predators to transverse. They use the habitat in
conjunction with Mountain Goats – each utilizing it in a different season. Sheep
go up in the summer and down in to the valleys in winter, which is opposite to
the goat’s movements.
Bighorn, Bison, Pronghorn, Mule and White-Tailed Deer, Coyote, and sometimes
even bears are some of the mammals. There is a great abundance of birds and
wildflowers to experience. There is also a nice park by the river to rest in
after the drive over the mountain. The bird, deer, and turtle activity in the
park will add interest if one is inclined to picnic.
I marvel at the excitement and anticipation we experience each time we visit
this place. It has never disappointed us!
(At rest in the shade)