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Backpacker Magazine – August 2009

Natural Wonders: Ice Caves, Bison, and Huckleberries

Three treks to life-list phenomena

by: Jayme Otto

(Photo by Ken Archer)
(Photo by Ken Archer)
(Photo by Chuck Haney)
(Photo by Chuck Haney)

MONTANA'S HEAD-BUTTING BISON
See North America's largest terrestrial animal.

The Wonder

The National Bison Range, one of the oldest wildlife refuges in the nation, protects 350 to 500 American plains bison, a species whose population once totaled 50 million. The breeding season from mid-July through August is one of the best times to visit, when bulls walk to within 20 feet of each other, lower their heads, and charge. The result is a circus of roaring, head-butting, and horn-locking surrounded by a mini tornado of churned-up dust. Their thick foreheads allow them to collide without apparent injury, and they do so until one of them decides enough is enough and loses the girl.

The Way
The 18,500-acre range, 50 miles north of Missoula, lies in the shadows of the glacier-carved Mission Mountains. From the visitor center, take Red Sleep Mountain Road 19 miles to a turnout on the right. Pick up the High Point Trail here for a one-mile out-and-back to the range's high point, atop a bluff. You'll get expansive views of the bison (most active in early morning and late afternoon) roaming 2,000 feet below. fws.gov/bisonrange


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