Bouncing Down the Boulder
Just listen. The wind caresses the ears with a subtle song of possible thunderstorms echoing for the afternoon. Birds sing to each other in harmony much like a duet of a famous power ballad. The river screams down from alpine and bounces down the boulders of its very namesake. The trees dominate the landscape soaking up much of the sound and distributing it like natures version of a radio show. And the mountains stand tall on either side holding in all the beautiful noise like the walls of a sound proof recording studio. These are the stories of the Boulder River.
The Boulder River is a 60-mile watershed from one of the numerous drainages down from the alpine of the Absaroka Mountains. Sitting on the north side of the mountains and in the middle of the range, the Boulder offers the adventurous a playground of solitude. Horseback riding, backpacking, fly fishing, camping, hiking, and 4x4 adventure just to name a few. Even for the religious, a half dozen or so camps to bring the family and heal for a week.
Despite all the activities, caution flags need be raised for this is a wilderness area. Elk, moose, and most importantly black and grizzly bear inhabit the area and call it home. It is a winter ground for elk and can be a popular place for hunters to chase their game. However the real draw to the Boulder is of the river itself, and its trout.
“Eventually, all things merge into one, and a river runs through it.” To quote Norman Maclean on his book and eventually film that did have scenes filmed on this very river, the Boulder is one of the tributaries to the mighty Yellowstone River. From the mouth of the river where it meets the Yellowstone to Natural Bridge Falls Picnic Area, the river flows gently and subtly through farmland with a few access points for the general public. A popular section for anglers to float as the access from private land gobbles of most of its banks making fishing from a boat excellent. Both rainbow and brown trout swim up from the Yellowstone and take advantage of the solitude to spawn, all the while enjoying the splendor for themselves waiting for the grasshopper blown in from the farmland or the explosion of an evening hatch.
Natural Bridges is an appropriately named location because it is a giant waterfall naturally carved out of rock that cascades the upper section of river down to the lower, cutting off the large rainbow and brown trout coming up from the Yellowstone. What the upper reaches of the river offer however, are of National Forest and abundance.
The road turns to dirt and with every mile now driven up the bumpy, pot hole ridden path, the forest thickens, mountains sky rocket, and fish get smaller. With rainbows and brook trout on offer behind the small buckets pouring over the larger boulders and cool crystal clear water, the abundance and color of the fish are what draws anglers upward and deeper into the mountains. The average fish size range from 6-10 inches but what they lack in size, they make up for in color. Spots, stripes, and shades of color so vibrant one almost needs polarized sunglasses just handle the glow.
With 22 miles of vacant dirt road scattered with a few campgrounds, picnic areas, bible camps, and cabins, the solitude is often all an angler needs to be happy. While continuing to bounce up the dirt road, the fourth specie of trout inhabiting the waters dominate the pools. The gorgeously colored Montana native, the Yellowstone Cutthroat, thrive in the equally gorgeous and highly oxygenated waters of the upper stretches. With the arrival of the cutthroat and the now louder squeaking sound coming from the under carriage of the vehicle, the road dead-ends at a Forest Service camp and a trailhead where the birds chirping add to the choir of solitude. The mountains stand in the distance with the snowmelt that drain down creating the very waters casted in, making it all worth while to take a couple bounces along a dirt road up the Boulder River.