Mountain High 

I always thought a pocket gopher was a specialty item you had to order from an adult bookstore, but apparently they’re real animals, and they may be in danger.

Now, don’t go rushing off to www.xxxpocketgophers.com just yet, as I’m referring to a specific species, the Wyoming pocket gopher, identified as threatened in a report released last week by the Wyoming Natural Diversity Database. It seems Dick Cheney’s home state has a difficult choice to make, one which the former Halliburton executive will no doubt toss his heft toward. You see, the little three-ounce subterranean beasts, among the world’s least understood mammals—Dubya included—like to live in areas favored by oil and gas developers.

And there’s the rub. If it’s not massive herds of majestic foragers, it’s bound to be trivial little blind-eyed, buck-toothed furballs getting in the way. No wonder we can’t seem to get anything done around here.

In other news, the south zone of Mount Jumbo reopened last week, which means you can go ahead and drill for all the gas and oil you’d like, resident elk herd be damned.

Actually, you still need to keep your mutts under control and the derricks in the driveway, and don’t even think about hiking to the north of the saddle trail, as the elk are calving right now and need some time away from prying eyes. Let’s give them until, say, May 1, shall we?

As winter/spring reluctantly gives way to actual spring in a matter of days here—until it snows again in June, that is—I offer a humble reminder that UM’s Outdoor Program is the place to go for all kinds of recreational offerings, most of which are available to students and “regs” alike. For example, Thu., March 20, marks the deadline to register for a bike maintenance class, the fundamentals of whitewater kayaking and the intermediate river running kayak class. Prices vary, so give a ring over to 243-5172.

The ski resorts are starting to notice a melting and warming trend, so they’ve got some tactics to lure you back for just a few runs more. On Fri., March 21, and Sat., March 22, Whitefish Mountain Resort (WMR) offers their Moonlight Dine and Ski program, in which you can ride a gondola to a sweet and luminous dining experience, then plunge back down the hill either on skis or again in the comfort of the cab. Call 862-2900. 

On Sat., March 22, Lookout Pass ups the ante with a special appreciation day for season pass holders, the highlight of which has to be the King and Queen of the Mountain Downhill. I’ve no clue what this entails, but perhaps you should pack an extra starched collar just in case. Or call (208) 744-1301.

WMR isn’t about to give up that easily, as they host a two-day, lift-ticket-buyer magnet known as the ninth annual Nate Chute Hawaiian Classic beginning on Sat., March 22. This snowboard fest features banked slalom on day one and the biggest boardercross in Montana on Easter Sunday. Praise be. Registration starts early, so get more info at 862-2900.

Montana Snowbowl gets in on some of that on Sat., March 22, when they invite us all to experience the Best of the Bowl, their annual speed and style contest with alpine, telemark and snowboard divisions. Call 549-9777.

Yes, the roads are again clearing, which means bikes, bikes and more bikes. Missoulians on Bicycles (MOB) offers two rides this weekend, the first being the Frenchtown Frenzy for French Fries and Frolic on Sat., March 22. You’ll meet at 10 AM at Mullan Station for the 30-mile round trip, which involves lunch at the Coffee Cup in Frenchtown. Call 728-8319.

The MOB celebrates the fact that Jesus could have turned Huffies into Konas with their 16th annual Easter Ride on Sun., March 23, which carries the subtitle “Ride the North Hills.” Meet at 10 AM in the Eastgate parking lot for a chance to lay rubber up Marshall Grade and along Rattlesnake and Grant Creeks. There’s a prize at the top of each hill, and the total mileage is around 35–40 miles. Call 728-4963.    

My eyes will be firmly directed upriver on Mon., March 24, which is destined to be known locally as Milltown Dam Breaching Day. That’s right, they’re planning to let the water run its new course, and there will be lots of extra sediment in the Clark Fork for quite a while, so behave appropriately. If you want more info, get in touch with the Watershed Education Network at 541-WATR.

The next evening, Tue., March 25, my favorite troupe of estrogenated trompers, the Dirt Girls, gather at 5:45 PM at the Blue Mountain trailhead for a scouting jaunt to examine choice routes for this spring’s mountain bike rides. Watch out for canine land mines, and visit mtdirtgirls.tripod.com.

Finally, all you scholarly oglers of wild beasts have an opportunity to get paid to indulge your fantasies when you apply for an internship with Grand Teton National Park’s Wildlife Brigade. The 5–10 person team is charged with “promoting ethical wildlife viewing practices,” which means helping with wildlife jams, scooping up unsecured food, rapping with visitors and collecting data. And they make $12 an hour, which any calendar editor will tell you, is good money. E-mail amy@greateryellowstone.org or call 586-1593.

May your trails be happy and your pockets well-gophered.
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