I’ve had a problem this summer: lack of time. I found myself with very little opportunity to claim multiple days in a row for recreating or exploring. I know I am not alone, and I am sure I am spoiled, but that doesn’t change the fact that I’ve been craving remoteness like I crave Posh Chocolat bars. (That says a lot!)
Luckily, there is the Centennial Valley and the Red Rock Lakes National Wildlife Refuge. Okay, so it’s a little bit of haul to get there from Missoula: 4 or 5 hours, depending on how you want to pace yourself. Head east on 90, then take 15 south towards Dillon and keep going. Take the Monida exit and then take a breath. A big deep breath—of sagebrush and expansive sky. Drive through Monida and follow the dirt road into The Refuge.
Right now, the roads are lined with yellow—sage is blooming and dust is flying, so drive slow. The drive itself tugs you skyward and roots you in the dry earth at the same time. Distant bodies of water float like mirrors in the rolling swells of sagebrush. Birds—charismatic, powerful birds rise up from nowhere and hold your gaze.
Red Rock is certainly a place for anyone with even a remote interest in birds. You will see red tail and rough-legged hawks by the dozens. Sandhill Cranes will tease you with their rapturous calls that echo and bounce from undetermined directions. Innumerable ducks and swans will push life into your lungs with their passing fluid flight.
Antelope, elk, coyote, deer, wolf, bear; all there—along with a remarkable lack of discordant sound. In the expanse of that valley there is room for exploration. What’s magical is that you feel equally explored—somehow it cracks you open and there is no such thing as time. The problem is, you may never want to leave. I didn’t, so I left part of myself there instead.