Next stop is Tower, which is one of the many little lodge/cabin sites. It has a tiny general store - where you can make your own hot chocolate from a packet, and a cafeteria as well. As we head towards the store, we are alerted to the presence of a red fox, trotting swiftly away. It is the one and only fox I see in the US, and quite a handsome fellow - larger than I expected, with long legs and a rather bushy tail. Alas, like most of the interesting wildlife, he's gone by the time the camera finally whirs to life.
We pause to look at the petrified tree:
Further along more people are illegally parked as they observe a couple of bear cubs playing in the long grass. We do not pull over, but the scattered sprawl of cars gives us an excuse to slow long enough to take an almost-decent picture. If only the cubs were looking up! Mother bear is nowhere in sight, but I scan the far side of the road, thinking that it would be quite worrying if the cars (and onlookers) were between mother and cubs. From the two bear encounters we've had - however slight, I cannot help but wonder if I'm perhaps a wee bit paranoid about these extremely large, strong carnivores. But, then again, probably its more that the other "bear spotters" are too caught up in the thrill of seeing a wild bear to truly appreciate its awesome size and strength. I wouldn't want to be too close!
Elk graze on the patches if lush green grass, and praire dogs stand so still in sentinel position that I at first think one is a statue. Until it turns its head.
The Mammoth Hot Springs are quite imperssive. The colour of the structures is gorgeous.
Heading south now, we stop at the Sheepeater cliffs. These are quite impressive, but the wind is fierce. Tim is feeling a little exhausted, and I decide this is prime pika territory, and thus begin to stroll down the path. Then I remember this is also bear country, and one should not wander in bear country alone. Plus the wind is annoying, and thus I turn back. I doubt there were any pika about, anyhow.
They are named the Sheepeater cliffs after the tribe of Indians how lived here. And ate sheep, obviously!
Montana has several claims: "The Treasure State" certainly trumps Idaho's "Famous Potatoes" but it does seem to live up to its Big Sky Country Monniker. Like Wyoming, it is pink and green, unlike Wyoming, however, it is not flat and dull, but bumpy and pretty. Whilst the sky does indeed seem mighty (and rather stormy looking), the mountains seem to roll away over the horizon. And they farm bison here as well as cattle, I believe.
Of all the States we visited this trip (except perhaps for Idaho), I feel Montana is the one we did the least justice to. We spent only one night here, and I only took a handful of pictures through the window of the car, thus I cannot capture the Big Sky feel. The weather was drizzmal. We stopped for lunch outside of Livingston, where we ate pizza and then headed towards Bozeman and into torrential rain. Dismounting from the car and unloading in the rain, Tim somehow managed to injure his leg and because the rain did not cease, the remainder of the afternoon was spent watching cooking shows on tv* and the snow falling and melting before it hit the ground. We ate dinner at the adjoining Mexican restaurant and had an early night. There's a six hour ahead of us tomorrow.
* 30+ channels and there's still nothing worth watching