BIGHORN and a Little Bit of Eden

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)