Priest Butte Becomes Last Hike Before Statewide Shelter in Place
Today was a test, a test to see if we could hike but at the same time maintain a socially safe distance in light of the coronavirus threat. We didn't always pass this test. It was too hard not to help one another when scrambling over rocks, or not to hold another's poles or hand off a camera for a quick picture.
But we had an excellent time on what is to be our last hike in light of Governor Bullock's shelter in place proclamation that was to go into effect the next day.
We left Great Falls at 6:30 a.m., just a few minutes late to see the snow geese lift off, but in time to have quite a show of wings overhead on our drive. We had a caravan of eight cars, too many really to keep track of, and Bonnie W got separated. We caught up to her at Priest Butte Lake, but the parking lot was full so we couldn't turn around. We finally found a place and backtracked to the road with Bonnie in tow this time.
Then we parked, and nine of us entered the gate, clearly marked "state land," including Sooz's sister-in-law and Kuntzie's husband. The wind pelted us a bit but it was a fairly warm wind as we headed up the main butte, the one with the three white crosses (one blew down two weeks ago in a week of particularly strong winds).
The staircase leading up the top and the area of the crosses is a bit rickety and at a steep angle. It didn't give anyone too much of a scare until the way down. Several tried different ways to keep from falling: backing down, going over the side to the rocks or sitting down on each rung. At the top, we marveled at the views of the gorgeous snow-capped mountains of the Rocky Mountain Front and the beauty of Priest Butte Lake in the other direction; with its shore lined with swans and pin-tailed ducks hugging the ice line.
After we descended, we looked at the dinosaur tracks before saying goodbye to Sooz and sister-in-law.They had had enough and didn't want to climb the other three high points on the butte.
The rest of us continued, climbing the other high points, seeing the inlaid stones, placed carefully by the Blackfeet Indians for ceremonial purpose, which point toward the sacred Sweet Grass Hills, seeing the shed snake skins clinging to bushes, scrambling up rocks on the last butte, and enjoying the views. On the third butte, Kunzie climbed on top of a hoodoo, giving us and her husband quite a fright as the hoodoo was on the edge of a cliff. But she made it up and down safely, posing with sticks in the air, even.
Then we retraced our steps, some needing help on the back scramble, checked for ticks, used hand sanitizer to protect from coronavirus; then we headed home in our separate cars. Who knows when we will be hiking together again? The lockdown starts tomorrow.
Interesting facts: The crosses were erected in commemoration of the three Jesuit priests who started a mission to convert Indian children. The crosses were replaced by iron crosses by the Jaycees, who later erected the steel ones we see today.The original courthouse in Choteau was built with sandstone mined from Priest Butte. Read more
Who went: Sooz and sister-in-law, Kuntzie and hubby, Susan W, Debra, Judy, Bonnie W, Katie