All I needed to hear from Mark Amundson was, “Take Tom Miner Road.” Before a large curve on the road to Yellowstone there was a green road marker off to the right with that name on it. The road led to a campground 10 miles into the woods.
The road was dotted with old stone homes built around the turn of the century when mining was popular there and Yellowstone National Park was a tourist attraction then. The stones were similar to that of the arch over the entrance to the park.
Along the road was a photographer and her husband in a wide open clearing waiting for grizzly bears to photograph. Somehow I didn’t think the grizzlies were coming to her. But the road was drying out after days of rain and the hunter camps abounded long into the campground as the hunting season is upon us.
The road ends with a small parking lot to the right where many cars of hikers were parked so they could access the Trailhead to the Petrified Forest. There were many choices of Forest Service bathrooms right along the road so prepping for out of the way facilities was not necessary. They are all right there. Nice.
The Gallatin National Forest is home to this Petrified Forest. The trailhead has the usual forest service signage at the beginning next to the easily accessed chained metal gate. You take the chain off that has no lock and put it back on as you enter the area. There is a map of the trails you can follow in the area and there are many.
The trails available means you can spend several days there especially if you camp in the campgrounds provided because the length is extensive and the sights are many. I hope to come back next year and follow more trails. The one I followed ended not before I got to the top of the mountain.
The trails are narrow foot paths with signage along the way that explain what you see. The creekbed was dry but indicated a rushing river at one time in the spring. The rocky remains looked perfect for prospecting and I would have loved to take some gravel home, but that is not possible under the conditions.
As you follow the trails you come upon these unusual rock formations. There are giant boulders stuck in the middle of huge petrified volcanic rocks. This forest area is marked with remains of the upheaval of a volcano and has remnants from days of formations millions of years ago. Somehow some of it is preserved along the hillside for visitors to hike around, photograph, and be amazed at the length of time it took to create such oddities.
I was told that this is the only forest where trees are petrified standing up. I thought I would photograph one like I had seen on the internet, but figured it was to be found on another trail I did not take. You jump across logs crossing your path, climb up high atop the mountain to a cave, but my trail ended with a giant rock formation with no further path to take. You could see the cave above the area from the parking lot, but the trailhead to that was 2 miles as a family mentioned to me on the exit.
The view from the top coming down was grand as you can see across the mountain tops that form the entrance down into the park. The fall colors of the deciduous trees make for great fall viewing while hiking the park trails. The excursion was so worth the time it took and has its call to return again.
Because a trip because with an exit out central Montana for us the route is dotted with Hot Springs. One cannot leave from Great Falls and not stop at White Sulphur Hot Springs for sure. They are open until 11 PM with 3 pools all varying in temperatures. The pools are emptied each night and refilled before their 6 AM opening. The smell of sulphur should not disturb you as this is a healing mineral that can exhaust your body but rebuild it at the same time.
Then on the way to the Petrified Forest one can stop at Chico Hot Springs as well. The attraction of deer strolling the hillside and the one large pool for family fun has a definite appeal. The possibility of a flaming orange dessert with warm chocolate inside or snails where many a celebrity has dined is also a draw. The turn of the century buildings with the new are also worthy of stopping to see while in search of the forest.