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The Spokesman-Review Newspaper
Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883

When is neglect a good thing? When it keeps people from traveling a scenic forest road

Clouds breeze by mountains hours before ganging up and unleashing a cold, spring drizzle.  (Brett French/Billings Gazette )
By Brett French Billings Gazette

BILLINGS – Neglect is usually a bad thing.

Neglecting to keep your home in good repair could mean it will lose value or, worse, become too disgusting to live in. Neglecting to check your vehicle’s oil might lead to a highway breakdown and an unexpected and uncomfortable night sleeping in the car.

But in at least one instance, neglect may have its benefits.

This thought was literally bouncing around inside my skull on a recent weekend.

At the same time, my kidneys were also being repeatedly pounded while driving up a neglected Montana forest road. Cantaloupe-sized rocks, potholes the size of a pool table and mud bogs 12 inches deep littered the route and repeatedly jarred my truck’s suspension.

The road wasn’t all that had been neglected. In the remote valley the road led to trail signs pointed into tangles of branches with no evidence of a path. One steep trail was littered with deadfall. The campground had only one site with a fire ring and picnic table.

This lack of repair is understandable considering the Forest Service must prioritize where to spend its limited funding when faced with hundreds of miles of roads spread across this expanse of nearly 3 million acres of foothills, valleys and forests.

Here’s the good part: On a summer weekend, we had practically the whole area to ourselves. (Maybe the forecast of cold, rain and possible snow in the high country also had something to do with our isolation.)

There were signs the valley sees heavier use in the fall during elk hunting season, including torn up ground where horses had been tied up and a hand-built hunting blind overlooking a flower-filled meadow. But as yellow glacier lilies bowed their heavy heads and purple clematis blooms peeked out from graying spruce branches, most of the landscape looked quite content to be forgotten by recreating humans like me.

Rain fell in a steady drizzle and the temperature cooled as I explored. The wet weather prompted concerns about being stranded in such a remote valley with the measly amount of food I had packed. Packing along a fishing rod just in case I needed to supplement my diet would have been a good idea, although as wet as all the wood was I would have had a hard time getting a fire blazing. Raw trout doesn’t sound great, although I remember watching television adventurer Bear Grylls tearing into an uncooked fish.

Lightning flashed and its boom echoed across the canyon walls. Soon after, the smell of wood smoke wafted on the breeze. “Oh great,” I thought, “the lightning started a forest fire and there’s only one road out.”

Investigating nearby, I found a campfire smoldering and sighed in relief, although it was stupid of my fellow outdoors folk to not completely douse their fire before leaving.

A ruffed grouse flew into a nearby fir tree in a loud rush of wingbeats. It seemed unconcerned by my presence, and later I heard one drumming in an attempt to attract a mate.

I was going to provide more details about how to reach this secluded forest road, but it seemed like a bad idea to send anyone else bouncing along this axle-busting route. Better off to let other road warriors experience the sense of discovery and concern on their own.

I’ve driven worse routes, but maybe none so long that seemed to eat up hours as my vehicle crawled along at 5 mph. Now covered with mud, my pickup looks neglected.