by Polly Poindexter
“Winter is coming.” As I pull out my woolen sweater and start looking for my leather boots, I’m thinking about spending one last spectacular day in the mountains before the rain, snow and ice arrive. It is October and I still have time to venture to the Pryor Mountains.
Nestled between the Big Horn Mountains of Wyoming and our own grand Beartooth Mountains, the Pryors are a worthwhile fall trip.
Once you visit this diverse landscape, you are hooked. The topography is spectacular as you climb out of the red dirt dessert plains to the sagebrush flats. As you pass through a corner of the Crow Indian Reservation, remember that the Pryors are sacred to the Native Crow People. They have a legend about “little people” living in the mountains and protecting the Crow Tribe.
The Pryors are formed primarily of limestone which produces many outcroppings and caves. The big ice cave is one of these which take you down a steep paved trail to its cool, dark entrance. The Forest Service has erected a sturdy deck to view the area, but remember to bring a flashlight so you can look down into the ice and see the back quarters of the large ice cave. (I bet that’s where the name came from!).
From the big ice cave travel can be rough and slow-going to Dry Head Overlook. Make sure to absorb the 360 scenery…it is awesome, but you are just getting primed for the view over the edge. Once you arrive you will be treated to the most awe-inspiring vista of the Pryor Mountain drainage into the Bighorn Canyon. Few sites are as breathtakingly beautiful. This is a great place to spend time exploring the rocks, looking for shells and watching for wild horses.
This is where some of the majestic wild horses roam most of the summer. As it gets cooler they head south into the trees for a less harsh climate. They gather in small bands of 3 or 4 horses, sometime reaching as many as 15 into one harem. The harems consist of a stallion and “his” mares, their colts and sometimes a few young stallions waiting to be kicked out to form their own harems.
The wild horses are descendants of the Spanish horses that were traded to Natives by the Spanish conquistadors. Some of these beautiful animals simply escaped and now roam free. In 1968 the Pryor Mountain Horse Range was the first wild horse preservation site in the United States.
If you take a few extra minutes to plan this trip you will have a fun fall adventure.
It’s your journey so enjoy it!
Starting at Laurel, head south on Hwy 310 to Bridger, Montana. Go through the town of Bridger and continue south approximately 2 ½ miles. Look for the Forest Service Access road which is a left hand turn onto the unmarked Pryor Mountain Road. You will travel through dry, harsh country. There are several smaller roads marked as BLM, private or Forest Service roads that shoot off in different directions. Make sure to stay on the main road
After traveling approximately 15 miles you will be approaching the Custer National Forest boundary. Sage Creek Campground is here. Sage Creek has shelters, picnic tables and restrooms. Check along the creek as it is loaded with small brook trout. This is a great place for a snack and stretch, but continues on the main road for your lunch at the Big Ice Cave camp area.
Another 6 miles on the main road and through a forest will bring you to an intersection marked Crooked Creek Road. This road takes you to Lovell, Wyoming. This is a great place to explore, but if you find yourself short on time go directly to the Big Ice Cave camp area.
Remember to always pack everything back into your vehicle. You are in prime bear country and this time of the year they will be foraging for any food they can get their big paws on. They have a long hibernation ahead.
Tips: Stay on marked roadways, as the landscape is very fragile.
Most roads are not very suitable for low clearance cars.
For more information or a map of the Pryor Mountain Area, call or write:
Bureau of Land Management
P.O. Box 36800
5001 Southgate Drive
Billings, Montana 59107
List of Must Haves: A good map of the area
A bird ad wildlife identifying book
Water and snacks
Hopefully no bear spray
Curiosity and keen eyesight!