Once you find where you should be to climb to Hyalite Peak, you would be good. The first mistake was to miss the turn just out of Bozeman. It is poorly marked for Hyalite Canyon and I found myself way past. Then when you get to the campgrounds for day use, the trailhead is across the reservoir way at the end. Not my first stop. They say get going no later than 10 and it is true.
You might be distracted by the water use, the day camping and the pavilion plus the myriad of trails. You might think that all trails lead to Rome, but maybe 20 miles from the Blackmore Peak around back country might get you there. For opals, it is across and down a merry path to the right.
The trail upwards leads to Grotto Falls first which is gorgeous. Upwards from there is hiking straight up in a creek bed full of mini boulders. About that time picking up a walking stick works well. This leads to a rather nice trail for many miles with more people on it than you could meet in downtown Townsend on a nice day.
But as the day wears on you figure out that you really aren’t going to make your destination above the tree line especially when you meet up with people who have a trail book and they show you a map that yes, indeed, you might get there before dark up top.
As you come parallel with the higher elevations of the Hyalite Peak you can tell that you are better off finding Hyalite opals somewhere else. Your rock pick might just have to be used some other time. No rocks anywhere look like the bubbly ones pictured on the internet.
The descent is interesting because you get the drift there are other ways to take. The path of the babbling brook and the crisscrossing of the water flow add flavor to your experience. The rock slides spread awe in your eyes. Adding another walking stick brings a steady style of picking your spot ahead of you.
When you finally reunite with the rushing river, you know you are soon to see the parking lot, and the trail is to your back. The stillness of the forest beauty lays in your heart and you know you could not have been in a better place, opals or not.
Now when you are into rocks, you stop along the trail and seek to satisfy your curiosity. On several occasion, I pulled my rock hammer from my shoulder bag and whacked at the rock in question.
I was told that people could walk right by the opals and wouldn’t even notice these rocks, so I was on guard asking myself, “Could this be one?” Sometimes I just had to swing my hammer and find out.
With one swing, you wished you had protective goggles on, as the chips could fly in a wanton manner without regards to eyes. But to think you are making sparks fly in the forest with one whack is interesting. The pointy end to the hammer can unearth those rocks from their nesting points very easily. I thought it was worth carrying even with its weight.
Keeping my eyes down on the ground for hints of the unusual rocks brought out my pockets being able to spew their cash while in the most unusual places. It isn’t just the opal that is attractive.
Getting proof of your finds takes a few whacks. Some were left behind but, other rocks got carried down the mountain for further exam.
With the difficulty upward soon the hammer got familiar with the walking stick then walking sticks. They seem just as good as the fancy mountain climbing rods experts carried to propel them fast.
Ranking: From Easiest to Most Difficult
Some of us would like to drive up to a spot, hop out of our vehicles and dig rocks right then and there. But sometimes there is a trek to the destination. This search for opals in Hyalite Canyon is one of those that takes hours to get to your destination up over creek beds, snow covered ravines, and scaling the mountainside about the tree line. Not the drive by sort.
A scoring of light to most difficult, this one would be on the top of the list for agile, youthful wizards who have no difficulty hauling heavy equipment up and adding more for the trek downward.
Timing is of the essence. When you measure how long it takes you to get to the top, look at that applied to your return to the bottom. Um…that is the deciding factor as to your turn around point or completion of your destination point.
Because this recommendation was given by a rockhound, no mention of the level of difficulty was ever established. After hours of scaling upwards, you stop to access whether seeking out your finds in local shops would be better than a do it yourself kind of experience.
This excursion would be considered the most difficult on any list because of the miles of treacherous “trails” (some were crouching down and crawl over unclear water rushing pathways.
When some can’t even tell where the trail is, why push it? Dialogue with others along the trail and experience up ahead will tell you for sure…this is not it for today!!
Sights And Sounds
Even though the gem in mind is the focus for the day, oh, those pretty little pieces of forest flowers full of color are so tempting to take photos of. Their adornment of the mountainside is such a delight.
Family conversations while hiking the trails were about columbines.
Yep, the yellow shooting star and purple bluebells added to the beauty of the wild strawberries growing in the rocks. These beauties thrive everywhere along the trail.
Apparently the Forest Service just cuts down trees to make a path and just leaves the logs from side to side to decay. They are strewn everywhere, but what I like the most is when the trees fall over because their base is full of rocks and dirt to pick through. The design as well is startling sometimes.
As you climb up the trail there is the sound of rushing water, in a hurry to get down to the Mississippi.
The waterfalls are pointed out to be multiple ones from either direction of the trails. If waterfalls are what you want, this canyon has plenty and they are well marked.
Some creek beds are dried up, others are still gushing.
But the best part is the babbling brooks that gurgle up from the side of the forest running across the trail and a perfect spot to fill your depleted water bottle.
Wetting your feet and watching the meandering is a perk of this aspect.
People U Meet
All ages set foot on the trails zig-zagging the mountainside. Summer hiking camps with their leaders saying, “I don’t know what happened, but I missed a turn somewhere.” Another saying to exhausted kis, “We are a third of the way up.”
But when I spoke with a Wisconsin visitor to Montana and her husband, she said about 2 miles ahead she had to turn back because she couldn’t traverse the thawed and refrozen ice and snow in order to get up higher on the trail.
It was just about then another couple hiking for the trail with their book said, “Aren’t the opals way down past this last falls that we couldn’t even find where the trail picked up as we had to duck down to get even the simplest photo.
Hm…I am not that avid of a seeker for this! I enjoyed the pause, took a moment and headed back knowing it was as the Forest Service employee and his wife had told me across the mountain that the rest of the trail past Grotto Falls was pretty steep. No truer words were spoken.
But the student waiting for his family deleted about 900 photos from my phone as I discovered right then and there at Grotto Falls I was out of storage room. I have photos thanks to him. There are so many nice people who hike.
But the best part was to see all the family dogs who enjoyed their day out too whether they were after opals or not. Even with their tongue hanging out, I got sniffs, licks and rubs of greetings. So sweet.