What happens when you put three adventurous, self confessed photography buffs in a truck and send them off to Bannack State Park? They stop for gas near Lima, Montana and take a look at the map. Their eyes wander over to a car symbol indicating a scenic drive. They look at each other and take about ten seconds to change plans for the day. After all the Big Sheep Creek National Backcountry Byway is only two miles up the road.
This 55 mile scenic drive begins a mile and a half south of Dell, Montana. It swings west/southwest then heads north ending at Clark Canyon Reservoir with easy access to I-15. This is BLM land mixed with private ranches. There are several BLM campsites and hiking trails throughout the route. We checked two of the campgrounds and our trailer would fit some sites so we saved the location on the GPS. These are free campgrounds without facilities and are on a first-come-first serve basis.
As you will see in the photos the weather was sunny when we first started the drive. By the time we reached the end in the late afternoon it was overcast with threatening storms. That’s not unusual for Montana. The weather can change several times in a single day.
We drove along a valley with sage and tree covered hills on one side and a fast running Big Sheep Creek on the other. In one I used Steve to give you an idea of scale for the height of the hills (back East we’d call them mountains). The texture and colors were beautiful. We didn’t need the sign to tell us to go slow since we were stopping for photos every few minutes.
Along the way we found wildflowers, what appeared to be an abandoned eagle nest and an unidentified structure built into the hills: An old mine shaft? A root cellar? A sod house? Then there was a talus field from what we think was an avalanche area.
As we drove further the canyon flattened out to a fertile valley full of cattle ranches with mountains in the distance. Before leaving the scenic drive we passed an elk ranch with some large bulls showing off new antlers. The last leg of our trip brought us around Clark Canyon Reservoir where Lewis and Clark camped. This was where Sacajawea realized she was back in Shoshone country and was reunited with her brother. The park offers some historical information, a life-size model of a Corps of Discovery dugout canoe, fishing, boating and camping. If you ever are heading through Montana on I-15, take time to get off the interstate and enjoy this scenic drive.