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Jun 11 2015

Sentry to the Wildland

Writer Allison Linville pays homage to the Wailing Wall, on the Rocky Mountain Front

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The sun was setting behind the Continental Divide as I drove north along Highway 287. Above me, smooth lenticular clouds invoked one of my favorite weather descriptions—“high winds aloft.” But it was the shapes behind these clouds that had me squinting through my bug-splattered windshield.

Between the soft layers of lenticular clouds, I caught glimpses of bulbous cumulus clouds punching up into the atmosphere. The sky has never looked so multi-dimensional to me. Below the solid cloud layer, I noticed dark shapes that touched the ground. It seemed like another Montana rainstorm until I followed the dark grey lines up into the clouds. They outlined a monster of a mountain, and because I couldn’t see the sides begin to converge, the monster seemed to go up forever. Welcome, I thought, to the Rocky Mountain Front--our newest protected wild place in America.


Sunset over the Rocky Mountain Front (photo by Ted Brewer)

Highway 287 is a challenging place to drive not only because of the distractingly beautiful scenery off to the west, but also because it feels like you’re on a roller coaster and you can’t tell where it’s going. “Sounds fun,” a friend said when I explained why I couldn’t talk on my phone while driving there. “Remember, they used to not even have speed limits in this state.” I managed to stay on the road long enough to turn off at Dupuyer, near where I would be staying the night.

The Wailing Wall, a massive rock escarpment on the Front west of Dupuyer, was an expansive presence in my dreams that night, probably because I spent a good part of that evening staring at it from my lodgings a few miles away. I dreamt the enormous cliff face was crashing deeper and deeper into the ground. No one can control this rock, I thought in my dream. Upon waking, I realized it was startlingly true. Parts of the Rocky Mountain Front are Montana’s first new wilderness in 31 years. It’s looks powerfully dangerous and beautiful at the same time. No one can control this rock, I thought again, with glee this time. It will look this way for the rest of my lifetime, only to be changed by Earth's natural forces.

I went on a hike that morning. It’s an understatement to say I was enamored with this place. My hike took me up Dupuyer Creek a few miles. The new wilderness boundary sign is a good goal to aim for, at about four miles up the trail. However, I stopped earlier to sit in the tight grove of small aspen that shimmied up the entire hillside. The Wailing Wall stood tall and magnificent above me. It was a sentry to the wildland, extending alongside the creek all the way up to a bowl, still snow covered despite the unusually dry Montana winter.

As I studied the Wailing Wall, I noticed that it was nearly impossible to climb up to the plateau on top of it. There were deep trenches of scree that fell down, but nothing even close to an easy way up. That’s just another thing that makes the Rocky Mountain Front wild. It’s challenging and intimidating, but also easy to access, like the gorgeous hike I was on that day. Anyone can enjoy our newest wilderness; all you have to do is go.

- MWA state council member Allison Linville received an MFA from the University of Montana. Her writing has appeared in High Country News and conservemontana.org.