Monday, July 2, 2012

Ever Heard of The John Longs?

 Slide Rock Mountain and Ridges of the John Longs

     In the middle of western Montana, sandwiched between the Blue Ribbon Trout stream of Rock Creek and the Flint Creek Valley, there sits a mountain range, quiet and alone. Named after one of the first pioneer miners of the region, the John Longs are where you ought to find yourself sometime. I've only been acquainted with them for a couple of years now, but have made over a dozen visits. To the north are the Garnets, to the south the Pintlers, and to the west and east respectively the Sapphires and the Flint Creek Range. Surrounded by higher, larger, more well known ranges, the John Longs are a diamond in the rough surrounded by rough country. They are fairly unknown in Montana, and very little is written about them, despite the fact that they are over 300 square miles of beautiful public land, where solitude is easy to come by.
     The John Longs are high, smoothly rounded mountains with deep gulches and irregular ridges that trend east-west but could really go any which way. The southeast slopes are often grassy and open, filled with sweet smelling Montana sagebrush. The northern and western slopes hold thick conifer forests, and a lot of blow down. Between the peaks are high, forested saddles. Much of this range was logged in the late 19th Century, but on the ridges can still be found old growth Doug Firs, in the shadows of which the bear grass and flowers grow along the deer and elk trails. Though west of the Continental Divide, the John Longs don't get get the big rains or snow. Because of the Sapphires to the west, and beyond them the Bitterroot Wall, most east bound air masses have lost much of their moisture by the time they hit this range, and 12-15 inches of precipitation a year is about all they see.  The highest peak in the John Longs is a ridge east of Quigg Peak named Butte Cabin Ridge at 8468 ft.
      Geologically they are mostly Proterozoic Belt Rocks that were intruded in the later Cretaceous by Granite, helping to create the rich minerals that once motivated people to live in a now largely abandoned mountain range. After all, they are located in Granite County. The remnants of mining are all over these mountains but very hard to find. The mining was over by the early 20th century, and the places forgotten, but at one time great towns like Quigley, supported by the Alps Mining District, were bustling with over 1,000 souls. These places were in the middle of nowhere, and today almost nothing can be found of much of them. Amazing and bizarre stories of the ultimate boom and bust can found here. I highly recommend Terry Halden's Ghost Towns and Mining Districts of Montana, not only for exploring the John Longs, but for the whole state.
      Part Lolo National Forest, part Beaverhead-Deerlodge National Forest, the mountains have ample public land. And though they lack lakes and wilderness areas, they have a good balance of Roadless Lands and seasonal roads. Babcock Mountain has a Bighorn Sheep viewing area that has as beautiful sheep country as you will ever find in all of Montana. It's a high rounded summit  covered with grass, sparse trees and rock outcrops, surrounded by a sea of mountains, definitely worth the trip. Higher areas like Tyler Point, Sandstone Ridge, and Sliderock Mountain all offer wonderful top-of-the-forested-world hikes that even on a Saturday in June, you will probably be the only human being on. Every big game animal in Montana, short of the goat can be found in the John Longs.
     From the Bangtails, to the Long Pines, to the Lima Peaks, Montana has quite a few ranges that are rarely a thought in peoples' minds, and even less are they trod upon. The John Longs are one of those ranges, containing quite a bit of the thing that we often value most in the people we love: Character.