South of Hamilton, Montana there’s a left turn onto a road near a powder coating and manufacturing shop with a small gravel parking lot on the right hand side of the road before you cross over the railroad tracks. That turn takes you onto Montana Highway 38 – Skalkaho Road or Skalkaho Highway. (All pictures used are taken by me. The gif from the Disney movie Mulan is from WordPress’s gif plugin)
Built in 1924, this winding drive through the Sapphire Mountains is inconsistently paved for approximately 50 miles. This is not unusual for many state roads in Montana – it’s expensive to maintain road surfaces through freeze-thaw conditions. The most harrowing portion of the road, a 15 mile section from Daly Creek to a little past Gem Mountain is closed late November through Memorial Day as it is inaccessible to snow plows and rescue workers.
Through this stretch signs specifically state no vehicles towing trailers are allowed on this road. This is because rescue vehicles won’t be able to get to you, or your horses (or snowmobiles, or whatever other tomfoolery you get up to). Even so, I still encountered someone torturing a pair of terrified quarter horses in a cramped single horse trailer as they were speeding through a pot hole ridden muddy narrow back switching little more than a single lane with blind corners mountain road that, again, specifically states towing trailers is specifically prohibited. I should emphasize that, having driven this road in its entirety, this individual behaved in a way that was not in the best interest of themselves, rescue workers, or their horses. For Shame. There are pull off areas for parking your toy trailers and horse trailers and disembarking on your trip prior to entering this more intense part of the roadway. The only reason someone would take this reckless behavior is to try and use this road as a shortcut between Philipsburg / Anaconda and Hamilton. Given that you could kill your horse, yourself, and others on the road doing this, please don’t. I was not amused by almost being run off the road down a sheer cliff with no guard rail.
I beg anyone that decides to explore this beautiful part of Montana to please GO AROUND to Route 43 or to I-90 to Route 93 with your horses for their safety unless you’re trying to run up a very large equine vet bill at the least. Listen, it’s only a problem for you and your family if you die from your behavior, but it’s a problem my family has to deal with if your recklessness kills me. Got it?
Now that’s out of the way.
I look forward to sharing the scenic drives of Montana with readers. Route 38 is a special one. I was able to capture some of the color changes and this is an early sample of some of the photographs.
We begin this journey forking away from Sleeping Child Rd.
Hang on little dude! I found multiple species of lichens in the forest.
I found an old coffee can that seemed to have been lit on fire during a wild and crazy camping trip. I wish I had been there. I bet it was a great time when this happened years ago.
Practicing with the new macro lens I zoomed in on bark and explored the secret language of trees.
I also discovered a lichen forest inside a little cavern hidden within the trunk of an ancient tree at least 200 years old based on the trunk diameter (though a coring sample is the better way to determine its actual age).
This picture was fun. I got bits of spider web and my brain fills in the image of a skull in the tree bark, do you see it too? I tried to add it at an angle.
Not to get too sappy, but I’ve needed to get out on an adventure, and even though I may have worsened my tendon injury during this exploration session, I managed to find all kinds of beauty. I also collected a lot of animal bones for some future art projects!
On the left side of the road is Skalkaho Falls. It’s a lovely waterfall with a roaring chill soaking your senses through.
I pulled off at the Fuse Lake trailhead for dinner. Here, after reading some and preparing to embark toward Fuse Lake for sunset I realized my right leg was… not going to cooperate.
So I got back on the road and found that the weather system that moved through downed some tree limbs. If you see this, please pull over and take a moment to move the limb out of the road. As previously mentioned, services don’t get to this road very often, so you’ll be helping protect the safety of your fellow humans.
This branch was easy to drag to the side of the road. It’s never a bad idea to keep a hatchet or saw with your camping supplies for larger branches and fully downed trees on these backcountry roads. There is no cell service here, so don’t expect anyone to come along and help you.
The sunset on the eastern side of the Sapphire range was worth it. The saturated colors as the sun brushed over the mountain tops to the west created cotton candy lemonade and blue raspberry hues. It looked like a landscape scene from James Twitty.
As the sun finally set behind me I reached Potter’s Corner. From there I turned left (North) on MT Route 1 and proceeded to Philipsburg and then to I-90 back home.
I hope you enjoyed this photo adventure! You can follow more of my photography over on Instagram. If you would like to see more write ups of my photo adventures with early previews into the photo sets, please like, comment, and share this post. I would love feedback on my photography.
If you see these photos posted elsewhere, please let me know. At this time they are only posted on my instagram or on this page. I am still developing a unique watermark. If you would like to use any of my photos:
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- For paid projects please send me an e-mail and we can exchange a fair use contract with more details.