Montana's Alpine Red-Rock Desert
WIld peaks, canyons, and caves in southeast Montana
Tucked in the southeast corner of Montana, along the Wyoming border, the Pryor Mountains feature 8,000-foot peaks, deep canyons, and year-round ice caves. Climbing up the range, you ascend from Montana’s largest desert – with red sandstone, cacti, and only five inches of precipitation per year – to alpine meadows of lush lupine, bright yellow Arrowleaf Balsamroot, and even glacier lilies. This fault-block island range is home to nearly 1,000 species of plants and animals, many of which are found nowhere else in Montana and some of which are found nowhere else in the world.
The Pryors are only an hour’s drive from Billings, Montana’s largest city, yet remain relatively unknown to the general public.
This special place has been revered since time immemorial, indicated by the many pictographs etched into the sandstone. The Pryor Mountains, known as Baahpuuo Isawaxaawúua, are a critical piece of the Apsáalooke peoples’ (Crow) traditional and contemporary homelands. The Apsáalooke are spiritually tied to Baahpuuo Isawaxaawúua, where people continue to practice traditional cultural rituals such as vision quests and medicinal plant gatherings, fueled by the many sacrosanct stories rooted in the mountains.
Managed in sections by the Bureau of Land Management, the National Park Service, and the Forest Service, and far from the nearest management office of any agency, the Pryors have fallen victim to inadequate and uncoordinated management over the years. While huge sections are nearly impossible to reach except on foot or horseback, the surrounding perimeters have been badly damaged by unchecked motorized recreation over the years.
The Pryors are largely wild and untamed, but their fragility puts them at risk. Without proper protection and unified management, destructive OHV use and invasive weeds have become increasingly problematic, resulting in habitat disruption for many species and the disturbance of culturally sacred sites. Despite these threats, tens of thousands of acres of canyons, drainages, meadows, and plateaus remain untouched by human forces. That’s why now is the time to protect this special place.
The Forest Service is in the process of revising its management plan for the Custer Gallatin National Forest, reworking a document that will dictate how its section of the Pryors are managed for the next several decades. This is our chance to show the Forest Service how important, unique, and special this mountain range is, and to pursue a management plan that protects the Pryors’ wild nature.