After leaving the Garden of One Thousand Buddhas, I wasn't quite ready to go home but I needed to thaw. My GPS tells me that the National Bison Range is only about 15 miles away so I decide to drive over with the heat on high and see what that is all about. I think in my head I had something in the way of a zoo in mind but that wasn't the case at all.
There is no admission fee charged, at least not in the winter. I couldn't tell if they charge in the summer when the main road is open.
There are some nature trails here where you can get out and explore but I don't because I am still cold. You can also picnic here and there are a lot of composting toilets available.
The ranger station/welcome center is also not open due to the season. Outside there is a large board with information about the park and some brochures. There are no other cars in the parking lot. There is however, a large antler tree.
I assume they collect these from around the range but I didn't see anything that indicated how this is done. Did the animals die? Do they shed their antlers?
The main road - Red Sleep Mountain Drive - is closed and won't open again until May.
So I follow Buffalo Prairie Drive. It says to allow 20 minutes. Later I learn that this is a gross understatement. Since Red Sleep Mountain is supposed to be 2 hours, I assume it will take much longer someday when I come back to do that.
Along the drive, there are markers that correspond to the brochure I picked up.
There is only one problem. I didn't fill my gas tank up and I have no idea how far it is to the end of this road. I have already been in here more than 20 minutes and, based on the map, I haven't made it that far.
While obsessing about my gas situation, I almost drive right past the my first wildlife, a pair of deer laying down in the high grass.
The brochure has a list of wildlife I can expect to see. Notice what is conspicuously absent from the list of wildlife at the National Bison Range?
I always think these are hawks but now, based on list I wonder if it is actually a golden eagle. After him, I turn around, too stressed about my gas situation to enjoy the drive.
This place is pretty remote and I have no idea how far I will have to go once I leave to find a gas station.
Almost to the last gate on the way out, I see two more deer, including this one which appears to have been gored in the side or otherwise injured in the past.
I am pretty sad that I went to the National Bison Range and didn't see a bison.
Which isn't altogether true. This is thawing for dinner.
But then, on the drive back towards home (no longer on the Range but circling around the perimeter on the highway), I think I see something in the distance.
There he is! A bison!
I know he is kind of far off but I am still happy. But not happy enough. So....
The very next weekend I talk David, Diana and Gerry into a trip back. This time I hope to check out the nature trails (it is warmer and I am more prepared) and to make it all the way to the end of the road (I filled up with gas closer to the Range this time).
We explore the nature trails first. These consist of two paved loops, one that goes around this pond.
There is a cattail marsh here and two more trails listed as discovery trails. These are unpaved but easy to follow. We watch for wildlife but mainly see birds.
Like the rare and elusive do-do bird.
And what Gerry declared "The First Robin of Spring". Gerry is an eagle-eye, all throughout this trip he is the first one to notice the animals.
Diana looking for a photo op. She might need Gerry to come point out the animals.
It is Gerry who suggested taking the short loop off the main road and that is where we see the first bison. Sadly, he was also the last.
Gerry was also the first to notice the large herd of elk. My first elk! Rumor has it that there is a large herd of elk that roam the area near our house but I have yet to see them.
This time, we make it to the end.
Which happens to be Antelope Ridge where we didn't see a single Antelope.
If this is where "the deer and the antelope" play as David suggested, I think they must be playing Hide 'n Seek and the deer are "it". We see plenty of deer on this trip.
When my parent's visit in May, I plan to come back. The landscape will look a lot greener then and maybe the antelope can be persuaded come out in the open to play.
P.S. If you are tired of stories about Montana now, take heart...I am off to Phoenix and my first Spring Training game.