Autumn has such a special and unique pallet of color other parts of the year lack. I love the sun-yellow leaves of the aspen, the reds of the wild plum and the golden glow of the cottonwoods, all in contrast to the dark green of the Douglas fur, cedar and lodge pole pines. The mountain tops are dusted white, hinting the coming of winter snows and the crisp air echos the calls of migrating geese and sand hill cranes.
Sometimes work takes me out on the trail to places I have traveled before. No matter how many times I have ventured through the Lolo Pass in Montana, it always seems to reveal some new beauty and snippet of history I haven’t noticed before. Here, along U.S. Highway 12, the winding road follows a crystal clear stream, running smooth and quiet in places and rugged and rough across boulders in others. These waters flow through lands touched by centuries of cultural change. Once the home to the Nez Perce and the Salish people, the native peoples referred to the creek as “No Salmon waters, named during their beginning-time stories. In 1805, the Lewis and Clark Expedition passed through here on their way west and in their journals called the stream “Travels’ Rest Creek.” In 1810, David Thompson wrote in his travel journal that he had met a free trapper known as Lolo (Lawrence Rence) who lived up along the creek in the canyon. The Salish, who also lived in the area, pronounced Lawrence as Lou Lou or Lo Lo and so the creek became known as “where Lo Lo lived.” I find it interesting, that years later, Lawrence Rence, killed by a grizzly bear, was buried beside another stream not far from Lolo Creek and it became known as Grave Creek, because of Rence’s nearby grave ... one man who touched history because of two mountain streams.
In the last century this land has been claimed and managed in many different ways. The bottom lands along Lower Lolo Creek are mostly owned by small private landowners, while the upper reaches of Lolo Creek near Lolo Hot Springs and along U.S. Highway 12 are a “checkerboard” of National Forest and private timber company lands.
During my trip through the mountainous Lolo Pass, I stopped along the highway where two interpretive signs stand quietly beneath towering pine and cedar trees. They stated that this was an ancient grove of Red-Cedars, hundreds if not thousands of years old. It is most likely these trees saw the men of Lewis and Clark’s expedition pass by or perhaps, the troop camped beneath them at this spot. As I wandered alone along the paved pathway into the maze of soaring cedars, I learned that this majestic grove is dedicated to the memory of Bernard DeVoto, conservationist, author and historian of the West (1897-1956). Because cedar trees grow very slowly, they are long lived, reaching maturity in 400-500 years and if left undisturbed, can survive for 3,000 years. While DeVoto was studying and editing the journals of Lewis and Clark, he would often camp along the creek, under these trees ...” to touch history.”
The quiet here was deep and could be felt ... almost holy and speaking would be only in whispers. The rippling of the nearby creek seemed like an accompaniment to the breeze’s symphony high above my head. I discovered a bird nest, empty now, nestled among the branches of a low hanging limb and wondered where the birds had flown to after this pine-needle ’n feather nest wasn’t needed any more. Beside the pathway, one of the huge ancient cedars had long-ago fallen over, toppled from its forest thrown by some storm, its roots exposed in a giant ball of dirt, rocks and forest-floor debris ... yet growing from those very roots, I saw new cedar trees, reaching for the sunshine far above them and I knew the giant cedar had not died. I stopped to breath in the heavy smell of earth, water and trees, feeling as if I was walking along a pathway of history, wondering if others had paused in the same place over the centuries and been awed by the same trees, enjoyed the same smells. I understood now why Bernard DeVoto requested just before his death, that his ashes be scattered in this cedar grove ... forever a part of the beautiful forest landscape.
I hopped in my car and continued my drive west through Lolo and along the Lewis and Clark trail. Along the whole route I was treated to the spectacular autumn color of the Larch pines, who change their green pine-needles to golden yellow in the fall. The setting sun sparkled in the creek and lit up the whole pine-covered mountainside, a mixture of dark green and the glowing gold Larch. I realized right then that sometimes you just have take a moment ... see the marvel of nature around you ... and know that you are traveling along the trail of Time. ❖