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Sawtell Peak is beautiful this time of year. Have you been up yet?

Living the Wild Life

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Wandering around the top of Sawtell Peak surrounded by beautiful vistas on all sides of the mountain and surrounded by thousands of flowers, I wondered if its namesake had been on top. Named after Gilman Sawtell who settled on the shore of Henrys Lake just north of the Staley Springs in 1868, the mountain stands on the southwestern corner of the lake.

From the top one can see Red Rock Lakes in Montana, view the Teton Peaks, see the sand dunes near St. Anthony and even look into Yellowstone Park. Mount Jefferson, just west of the peak, is the tallest mountain in the Centennial Mountain Range. My last trip to the top of Sawtell occurred in 1988 during the Yellowstone fires as I watched the fires at night.

This week while staying in a cabin at Ponds Lodge, some of our family decided to go to the top of Sawtell; some hiked, some ran, some biked and some drove to the top. My wife and a granddaughter, Ruby, hiked the last two and a half miles to the top. The rest of us flaked out and drove to the top.

After photographing many of the beautiful scenes surrounding the mountain, it was difficult not to notice the tough flowers that grow on the 9,866-foot elevation. A persistent cold wind is usually blowing across the flat top that surrounds the Federal Aviation Administration flight traffic radar station. Those winds determine the type of flowers that are hardy enough to survive the elevation and elements.

Some of the flowers are cushion flowers like Alpine forget-me-nots and phlox which only grow a few inches above the ground. Patches of hardy flowers like the striking purple Silky phacelia and the bell-shaped flowers of the prairiesmoke dominate the small ravines where their seeds accumulate. In a month the prairesmoke flowers will turn the bells skyward and hatch into the “old man’s whiskers” flowing flowers. I observed as two bee-like insects appeared to be fighting over an American bistort flower in the midst of a patch of prairiesmoke.

I also enjoyed watching two pair of Mountain bluebirds play tag while some Copper and Lesser fritillary butterflies were busy pollinating the flowers. Several Golden-mantled ground squirrels and chipmunks were busy gathering grass seeds to store in their dens for the cold weather to come much too soon.

The 13-mile road from the valley floor near Island Park Village to the top of Sawtell is well maintained as it wanders through the Lodgepole pines then the Douglas fir forest and into the wind-and-snow shaped Whitebark pines. Just over a mile from the top is a turnout for the Sawtell Peak Trailhead that leads to Mount Jefferson where mountain climbers enjoy their sport.

About half way up the mountain road are the Sheds where road equipment is stored. This area has large meadow areas containing thousands of flowers, much different than those on top. Indian paintbrush, sticky geraniums, sego lilies, Mountain lupine, Western columbines and Little sunflowers cover the gentle slopes and ravines.

After enjoying the mountain, it was time for lunch and for a float down the Buffalo River which was interrupted by a “moose-jam” as a cow and her two calves took control of the river for a bit.

As I thought about Gilman Sawtell, I assume he did not climb the peak as he was too busy harvesting up to 40,000 pounds of fish each year to ship to the Montana mines or Salt Lake City during the 1800’s. He was also busy developing roads and a guiding business to take people into Yellowstone Park before it was a park. But the mountain named after him is a beautiful trip and should be one item on your bucket list if you have not been there.

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