Monday, August 6
The crew and I leave Red Mountain Campground with the goal of finding a new camp along the Big Hole River or maybe the Wise River, both to the west. First stop is The Used Book Barn on the outskirts of Bozeman. I pick up some more of the western series I’ve been reading, and visit with Rich, the bookseller, a man of curiosity with an infectious smile.
Rich asks me how my float trip went.
When he shows interest in my life on the road, I take him outside to see the Perfect Tow Vehicle and the Best Little Trailer. Rich says he’d like to do what I do. “I have to convince my wife. She says if God wanted us to live in campers, he wouldn’t have made hotels.”
I explain I write about my travels at rvsue and her canine crew. “Maybe reading my blog will change her mind.”
Next stop is the thrift store on the same highway.
Wow, this is the mother of all resale shops . . . huge, organized, and clean. I find it’s chock full of good buys. I discover a lightweight rain slicker with hood, plus two shirts, and a fleece pullover. I could spend all morning here. Better get going . . . . The crew and I need to find our next camp.
The town of Belgrade is on Interstate 90.
I’ve been told there’s a free dump station behind the Exxon station. I can’t find it. I look around for a propane tank, too. No luck. I’ll have to deal with all that later. Time to put some miles behind us. We get back on the interstate, pushing westward. I wonder if I’ve made the right decision. Without internet at the campground, I couldn’t research as much as I usually do.
We exit the interstate at the town of Whitehall.
I find a city park (with electrical outlets!). I get some turkey slices out of the fridge and share them with Bridget and Spike. They love parks. There are lots of smells left behind by other canines. I grab my laptop and air card, get online, and answer some blog comments.
The drive to Butte, Montana, from the east takes you up several, long grades and then down the other side.
The PTV, chugging along in second gear, makes friends with two semis in the slow lane. In Butte I find a dump station in spite of the crazy traffic. We turn south onto Highway 15, and then turn west again onto Highway 43, which follows the course of the Big Hole River. My map shows BLM land along the river, so I’m hopeful I can find a good, inexpensive or free camp.
Divide Bridge National Forest Campground ($8 regular, $4 Senior Pass) is on the way.
Might as well take a look. I find a campsite with river access via a path through some trees and bushes. The crew and I check it out. The river’s edge is beyond a wide area of rocks and black muck. A few mosquitoes find us. With all this brush and muck, I bet the mosquitoes are thick in the evening. I decide to keep on going.
There is no river bank suitable for camping.
Rocky cliffs and cut banks make camping impossible. At Dewey, which is no more than a collection of old buildings and a fisherman’s bar, the terrain softens. Further up the road a dirt road goes down to the river. I spot two campsites. A camper is in one. I park in the other. Bridget, Spike and I check the vicinity. This looks good.
I set up my chair at the river’s edge and settle in for a bit of reading.
Occasionally a raft goes by with a guide and one or two people fishing. Just as I’m getting up to finish setting up camp, a man walks down the path toward us. “Hello!” I call out. He doesn’t respond in kind. Uh-oh.
“Did you know this is private land?” he asks.
“Oh, no. I didn’t realize that. I’m sorry. I’ll move out right away.”
“There are signs posted private,” he adds with annoyance. “ I don’t own this land. I stay here to keep watch on it for the owner.”
“I didn’t see any signs. I thought it was BLM land. That’s what it looks like on my map.”
He leaves without further comment. Geesh. Nice meeting you, too, pal. I put up my chair, remove the chocks from the wheels, and pull out. I look around for the “private” signs, but I never do find the rocks they’re hidden under. Our first roust!
Up ahead I’m faced with a decision.
Shall I continue along the Big Hole River or turn south along the Wise River? I turn south, and, after checking a few National Forest campgrounds along the way, I set up camp at Boulder Creek ($8.00 regular, $4.00 Senior Pass). By now it’s late afternoon. The campground is pleasantly shaded by tall lodge pole pines.
I’m disappointed that the creek is down a very steep bank. I visualize myself scrambling up the bank, clawing the earth with one hand while holding a wiggly Spike in my other arm. I choose a site away from the bank.
Rick, the amiable camp host from eastern Montana, immediately comes over.
“I just want you to know that we have a bear visiting us every day. We’ve got a trap set down at the end of the campground.”
I ask him what kind of bear it is.
“Oh, it’s a little black bear. He hasn’t caused any problems. We want to get him away from here before he does. I don’t mean to scare you. I thought it best you know.”
I thank him for telling me, and we visit for a little bit.
Before he leaves I remark, “It’s pretty here, nice and cool, but we’re only going to stay one night.”
The next morning the PTV surprises a deer as we exit the campground.
We continue on Forest Road 73, also known as the Pioneer Mountains National Scenic Highway, passing more campgrounds as we climb to more than 7,000 feet.
I don’t know why I don’t stop. High, cool forest and creeks usually appeal to me. Not today. I have this feeling something better awaits us.