Wednesday, February 22, 2012

The Nameless Range

      Between Butte, a city once known as "The black heart of Montana", and Helena,  the state capitol, there is a nameless  mountain range. Within this geologic ocean of decomposing granite and quartz, the continental divide follows the high peaks for over 40 miles. Rounded mountains, forested to the top, create long dark gulches, soaked by the blood and sweat of miners, abandoned and rediscovered. The soil is poor, the country is high, and the weather extreme. The Mountains are perpetually blasted by winds, fueled from the west and the high peaks of the Flint Creek Range. Before that, the winds scoured the divides of the Sapphire and John Long Mountains. And even further west of them, it was born on the crests of the Bitterroot Mountains. Prior to that it was in Idaho, which for all intensive purposes means it never existed. 
     The Mountains themselves were born around 75 million years ago, when an enormous magma intrusion cooled just beneath earth's surface. Referred to as the Boulder Batholith, geomorphologic processes have exposed the bones of this Cretaceous uplift. If you were to remove the trees, grass, and critters, you'd be left with  quartz, scree, decomposed granite, and boulders. Thousands of boulders. Descriptions of the Boulder Batholith shouldn't be reduced to strictly igneous thoughts though. Hundreds of high meadows and parks, which in winter are windswept snowfields,  provide summer wildflower displays unlike any other in Montana. The dark and lonely northside faces of the Mountains are covered with nearly impenetrable, shadowy, Lodgepole forests. Fish filled streams drain the snowfields of the high divides, and a few lakes and even a rock glacier can be found in its shady basins. There are also human residents of the Batholith, as rough and beautiful as the country they live in.
     One of the most fascinating things about this region is that,as a mountain range, it is geographically anonymous.  Maps of yesteryear are inconclusive, labeling them the "Boulder Mountains",  the "Deerlodge Range", and others. Often times they are shamefully referred to as "those hills south of Helena". Certain present day geographers have made a push for the name " The Heritage Range", while others have simply recognized its unacknowledged status as a little known, seldom visited chunk of the Rocky Mountains.  How is it that over 1800 square miles of Montana goes undistinguished to present day Montanans? Why is it?  Surely every mountain range deserves a name.