Cattle Shooing, High Winds Add to Fall Adventure on Square Butte
We expected snakes might be an issue, but we faced some pesky cattle instead. They had just been moved to lower pasture but wanted to go back to their former pasture, greener grass and all, but luckily, we had several former ranch gals not afraid of shooing those cows away from the gates as we entered Rancher Brad's land for a hike up Square Butte by Cascade, a gem of a laccolith out on the plains.
We left Great Falls at 8 a.m., despite predictions of 60 mph gusts. Canceling due to wind wasn't even considered; we didn't want this opportunity to slip by us as Katie had tried for over two years to get permission to go up Square Butte. The stars aligned this year: Rancher Brad Hamlett got his cattle moved; it wasn't raining (gumbo roads), and the election was over (unfortunately, Katie's friend and representative didn't retain his seat, so she felt a bit sad as we approached his spread). Usually, Brad comes out to greet us but probably due to COVID-19 and the election, he told us to call instead when we reached the gate.
We arrived at the gate at just after 9 a.m. Katie chatted on the phone with Brad as he explained the cattle situation. We had to be very careful at both gates not to let any cattle out or any into different areas as they would be trying to get back to their old pasture. They were also unsettled due to the not-so-gentle breezes. Carol, Viki, and Katie shooed the cows while Susan manned the gate, preparing to quickly close it if any critters decided to make a break for it. We all got all eight cars through without any events or runaway livestock, luckily.
Then we continued on. Katie took a wrong turn by the house as she couldn't remember the way, necessitating another call to Brad. She finally got us on the right road, which was more of a path though the field, very rutted from prior mud. At the third gate was where Brad had told Katie to have park. So we all parked there except Carol, who had a car instead of an SUV and thought it best not to drive the last 10th of a mile due to deep rutting and not enough clearance on her vehicle.
The wind was really picking up. We took turns using the "facilities" between cars before heading up the hill in two groups, one of four led by Jo Ann and one of five by Katie. As we continued to climb, Gail decided she just wasn't up to the incline, so she found a place to sit and enjoy the views while the rest of us continued. And the views were worth it. We kept turning around to enjoy the expanse across the plains, dotted with buttes, clouds swirling above in a blue sky.
Once we reached the gully with the path to the top, the groups broke up as one intended to walk at least part-way around the butte, while the other was going to the top and back down. Once on top, the wind really buffeted us, in fact, knocking us to our knees at times. During one large gust, Katie's pack blew open and her jacket flew out. Luckily, Viki was alert and was able to grab it before it sailed over the edge. The group hiking around went to the "fingers" area and walked out onto one to get views into Sun River and Fort Shaw. As the group turned around, they saw a lone hiker coming in our direction. We were surprised she was by herself. She reached the last two in our group but then continued on a different direction, when we thought she was joining us.
This group continued around the edge, turning by the gully to connect back up to the path down, when the lone hiker caught back up to us and continued with us as we went off the butte and took a direct way back to the 4WD track. We were relieved to have her with us as so many have been lost on the butte, including one who needed medical attention. We didn't want anyone to end up in that situation again, possibly from a snake bite. Katie reminded that we stick together for safety sake.
On the way back down, we stopped on the side to eat lunch, the ravine providing some shelter from the roaring wind. We were happy it was a warm day, so we never felt cold. Then we continued and ran into the other group and then Gail. So we all reached the cars together, traveling by the original homestead buildings and old rusty vehicles and farm equipment as well as a silo. Some of us glanced in and saw old china, furniture and a piano as well as much garbage and ruined items strewn around the old house and silo.
Then we faced the cattle and gates again. This time the cows were really congregated by the gate, Katie led the cars, nudging the cattle along, wondering how we would ever shoo so many away when one of the hired hands came over on his horse along with two cow dogs! What a relief. Katie talked to him and asked if he needed us to help shoo the cattle, and he said no. He, his horse and dogs would handle the animals while we drove through. So getting through this gate was so easy and so fun to watch a cowboy, his horse and dogs at work.
The last gate had no cattle, but it posed a bit of an issue with the closure. It took quite a bit of arm strength to close it. Suzie and Katie leaned into the fence as Susan did the honors of pulling and pushing until the latch was in place.
Then it was on to the final part of our journey. Instead of driving through Cascade and home, Katie led everyone on a loop drive through Sun River; giving us views of Crown Butte. Usually, one can see others, but clouds covered them today. Still, it was a lovely drive.
However, when we arrived in Sun River, we were one car short. Bonnie wasn't with us. Katie told everyone to go on to Great Falls while she either called her or went looking, thinking she may have had a flat tire. Suzie and Susan said they would stay too. Luckily, Katie was able to call her to find out that she was okay. She was stopping to enjoy the scenery and take pictures. So Katie told her how to get to Sun River and the rest of us drove home.
Our adventure got us away--for a while anyway-- of the uncertainty of the presidential election as the votes at this time were still being counted; however, we couldn't help but notice the Trump Train flags flying in Sun River and elsewhere, showing the red nature of the state of Montana.
And no snakes! The first time for Katie being on the butte without seeing a rattler.
We arrived back around 2:30 p.m.
Who went: Jo Ann, Gail, Shelley, Susan, Suzie, Carol, Bonnie Jorgensen, Viki, Katie