No Snow or Rattlers, but Eagles, Snowgeese and Swans
With no snow on the ground in the low country, the GiG decided to hike instead of snowshoe this week. So Katie contacted Linda S, who contacted Dave Shea, a retired ranger and naturalist, to see if Priest Butte were a possibility, and it was!
So three people from Great Falls picked up Viki in Fairfield and then we met Linda and Dave at the Priest Butte gate, for our climb of the four peaks of Priest Butte. With those of us planning on 20 peaks in 2020, we were happy to cross off another. (Katie's husband Tom was a tagalong too. Dan Bennett was also going to attend, but then his wife wasn't well, so he canceled).
On the way up (600 feet of easy climbing), Dave told us how Priest Butte got its name from Jesuit missionaries who put up a school for Indian children. Then the crosses were put up and Easter services even performed on top. The crosses were wood, replaced by iron and finally by steel.
Dave also told us about the snakes that frequent the area to mate and shed their skins as well as showing us dinosaur footprints. He pointed out the native grasses and some of the plants. He has catalogued over 90 species on the butte.This butte was used for vision quests by the Blackfeet.
From the butte, we had fantastic views of the Rocky Mountain Front with its snow-capped peaks as well as soaring bald eagles. We could also hear the cries of the snowgeese on Freezeout Lake.
To get to the top with the crosses, we had to ascend a rickety wooden ladder, but it wasn't too bad. But boy, we had a surprise on top: One of the crosses had toppled over; Linda and Dave had been on the butte two days ago and it wasn't knocked down then, so it must have happened the last two days of "storm-warning" winds that we had had with gusts of 50+ mph, which closed the highway to Fort Benton. We then summited all four of the "peaks" of Priest Butte, the last one requiring a bit of scrambling on hands and knees.
We could look over to Rattlesnake butte, its twin. Both buttes provided sandstone for the Choteau courthouse, first Priest butte, but that courthouse burned down. The current one is constructed from Rattlesnake Butte sandstone.
The hoodoos were amazing. On the way home, we saw tundra swans, snowgeese and six bald eagles thinking they might have goose for dinner.The birds are just starting to show up on their migrations, two weeks earlier than usual.
Who went: Katie, Viki, Paula and Linda
From the Choteau Acantha
Priest Butte and its companion Rattlesnake Butte to its west are local landmarks three miles southeast of Choteau along U.S. Highway 89. Visible from 40 miles away, the buttes, or detached tableland, have a long history with the community. Native Americans, and later, pioneers, used the buttes as an invaluable guide in their travels through this section and they served as one of the best lookout stations in the neighborhood. Priest Butte got its name from a nearby early Jesuit mission that was established to serve the Blackfeet tribe in 1859-1860. Rattlesnake Butte was once called Table Rock or Grindstone Butte, a tribute to the iron-rich sandstone ledges that top the butte. The conspicuous rimrocks are capped by a dense layer of sandstone, the fi ne-grained Virgelle Sandstone, underlain by the Telegraph Creek Formation (mudstone and sandstone) and Marias River Shale. Settlers in 1893 opened the fi rst stone quarry in the area on Priest Butte. That year, contractors blasted out rock and carted it to Choteau where they built the fi rst county court house and jail. That courthouse burned down in 1897. The courthouse seen today was built in 1906 from rock quarried from Rattlesnake Butte. In the 1930s, the Choteau Methodist Church started having an Easter sunrise service on the promontory. In 1942, a church group erected three wooden crosses there. In 1961, the Choteau Jaycees replaced the wooden crosses with iron crosses, and in 2002,