The Big Hole River Country
The Big Hole is known as the “Valley of 10,000 Haystacks” for the stacks of loose unbaled hay that the local ranchers persist in using for hay storage; the ranches don’t have much truck with laborsaving technology. Time has not forgotten this isolated valley, but neither has it been thinking of the Big Hole very recently.
The Big Hole Valley is some of the highest and flattest land in Montana. Almost all of the farm and ranch land hovers well above 6,000 feet in wide valley swatches 15 miles across.
Lewis and Clark named the three forks of the Jefferson River Wisdom, Philanthropy, and Philosophy. In time, Wisdom River became the less abstract Big Hole River, so named by later ranchers who were impressed with the vast real estate hemmed in by towering peaks. The Big Hole River flows north, draining a huge high valley lying between the Bitterroot Mountains on the west and the Pioneer Mountains on the east. After bumping into the Anaconda Range, the river does a U-turn and flows south, picking up the east-slope drainage of the Pioneers.
For anglers and floaters, the river’s the thing. Fishing in the Big Hole is superlative, and the rafting is challenging. For hunters, this is the best hunting ground for pronghorn in the state, outside of the prairies of eastern Montana. History buffs can hike the trails and war fields of the Battle of the Big Hole, where in 1877 the Nez Percé fought the U.S. Army as the Indians tried to flee incarceration on reservations.
To comprehend the Big Hole’s allure, understand that this is still the West. Resorts haven’t yet replaced ranches. You can catch trout elsewhere in Montana, but here you can share a drink and tell your fish stories to a hired hand or cowboy, not a conventioneer.
© W.C. McRae & Judy Jewell from Moon Montana, 7th Edition