Mountain High 

How long does the foliage usually last in Missoula? Five, six minutes?

Not even.

All we know is that fall is almost gone and we can already feel winter’s presence breathing down the valley’s neck. In fact, we can practically pinpoint the moment last Saturday evening—right about the time those ominous clouds settled over the Moon-Randolph Homestead during the annual Fall Gathering—when a grab-the-coat gust of wind came blowing into the valley and the seasons unofficially changed. We haven’t seen a shindig empty that quickly since Operation Party Patrol.

But don’t just take our word on the seasonal shift: The Trailing of the Sheep Festival, an annual celebration of moving the wooly creatures from summer pastures to winter desert areas, kicks off Friday, Oct. 10, in Idaho’s Wood River Valley. The good folk in Ketchum mark winter’s arrival with two days focusing on everything sheepherding. There’s Grammy-winning folklorist Rosalie Sorrels, the Oinkari Dancers and master Navajo dyers, spinners and weavers on hand. Oh, and lots and lots of actual sheep. Arrive Friday evening for cooking workshops (mmm, lamb) and stay until Sunday morning for the 1,800-strong sheep parade. It’s all free. Call Linnea at 208-720-0585 for more information.

Animal encounters, of course, can also be had closer to home—but at different hours. We’re talking about the National Bison Range, which switches to its winter schedule Tuesday, Oct. 14. (See, I told you winter arrived.) Basically, the Red Sleep Mountain Drive closes for the season and the Winter Drive must be started by 5:30 PM. The Bison Range still opens at 7 AM each morning. Call 644-2211, x207.

If watching birds is more your thing, then take a moment to kneel at the altar of Gary Swant, Montana’s reigning birdwatcher champion. Swant is to birds what Joey “Jaws” Chestnut is to hot dogs—or something like that. In 2007, Swant set out to best the American Birding Association record of seeing 293 different species in Montana in a single year; Swant is such a stud that he hit the mark by July. On Monday, Oct. 13, at 7:30 PM, Swant shares how he broke the record—328, by the way—with a PowerPoint presentation in the Gallagher Business Building on the University of Montana campus. We’re guessing he’ll talk about eating his Wheaties and drinking lots of Gatorade in hopes of a well-deserved endorsement deal.

The Rocky Mountaineers usher in the change of seasons with a gorgeous view of the foliage from Petty Mountain on Sunday, Oct. 12. The 7,270-foot hike—all on a trail—covers 10 miles and includes about 4,000 feet of elevation. Call Steve Schombel at 721-4686 for the details.

Get prepared for the Rocky Mountaineers’ next hike—and colder weather—by attending Campus Rec’s Used Outdoor Gear Sale Wednesday, Oct. 15, from noon to 5 PM, inside the University Center. If you want to sell your wares before stocking up, arrive anytime between 7–11 AM to register. The UM Outdoor Program collects 15 percent of the sale price, but chances are you’ll still get enough beer and pizza—or lift ticket—money to come away happy. Call 243-5172.

If you get lost on the way to the University Center, perhaps you should consider the Basic Map and Compass Skills class offered by Missoula Parks and Rec. The $10 course runs 6–8 PM Wednesday, Oct. 15, at Currents Aquatic Center. Call 721-PARK.

You shouldn’t need a compass to compete in the 2008 Fall Mack Days. The ongoing competition—held every Friday, Saturday and Sunday through Nov. 16 at Flathead Lake—saw 832 trout turned in after the first weekend by 350 registered anglers. Look out for 15-year-old angler Stephen Naethe of Pablo—he led after two weekends last year and tallied 81 lake trout the opening weekend. We could consider him the Gary Swant of Mack Days, maybe. Anyway, challengers can register any time during the tournament—which helps to slowly reduce the number of non-native lake trout in Flathead Lake—by logging on to www.mackdays.com.

For the rest of you, bundle up and stay outside. While the foliage may be disappearing, the pow pow should be falling soon.
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