Reflections On Driving the Yaak Highway: ‘A Vivaldi-Like’ 4 Seasons

Reflections: A Column By Tony Smith



“Spring has arrived with joy, welcomed by the birds with happy songs, and the brooks, amidst gentle breezes, murmur sweetly as they flow.”

– Lyrics ascribed to Antonio Vivaldi, 18th century Baroque composer of the world-famous string instrumental “Four Seasons.” 


“But don’t you just hate the drive?,” is the normal response to my 95-mile round trip to Turning Winds where I teach year-round; in fact, one of the most enjoyable aspects of my job is “the drive!” Each and every month driving in the Yaak has its own challenges and pleasures, but June, second only to October as my favorite, is particularly rewarding. Driving Northeast up the Yaak highway, Cyclone, Red Top, Meadow, Spread, Whitetail, and Pete Creek in that order, have become less turbulent and flow with perfect clarity into the main Yaak River, itself a visual feast of clear, deep pools, and sparkling ripples in the early morning sunlight, while the Yaak Falls has a mysterious deep shade of gray, contrasting with the surrounding sunlit mountains. The endless fields of fragrant purple Lupine, wild roses, and aromatic white blossoms of Ceanothus Snowbrush, also known as Mountain Balm, alluding to sticky, scented leaves, are especially prolific this June given the moisture, providing a veritable banquet of lushness and color. And the Larch, in needle clusters of 14-30, as soft to the touch as a baby’s cheek- swaying to and fro in the breeze- are turning from lime green to a pale green color before turning gloriously gold in the fall.


It was years before I recognized the value of wetlands, most pronounced in the Yaak from Whitetail Campground to Pete Creek. Prior to Whitetail campground was a destroyed wetland, surrounded by mounds of dirt that would have, in a flood event, eventually silted the river below. How and why the destruction of that irreplaceable wetland occurred was beyond my understanding (one recently restored, however!). Directly above Whitetail Campground are “model” wetlands, ones sustaining a huge number of microbes, plants, animals and insects, while improving water quality and reducing erosion and flooding. The Yaak wetlands are comparable to rain forests and coral reefs, providing critical habitat for birds, fish, reptiles and mammals, as well as preventing mud and silt from clogging lakes and rivers downstream. It is estimated that freshwater ecosystems cover only 1% of the earth’s surface, but hold more than 40% of the world’s species, including 12% of all animal species. In the early morning hours, deer are occasionally standing in knee-deep water,  grazing in wetlands near the Yaak Highway, while a solitary moose stands in the still-shaded “moose- hole” below Whitetail.

It is my utmost faith and conviction that due to the sustained efforts of youthful conservationists like Anthony South, Ashley South, Ben Palmer, Pete Leusch, and Shawna Kelsey, the purity of the Yaak wetlands will remain intact long after I depart this earth.

Admittedly, spring driving the Yaak Highway is not without its DEER hazards, especially at dawn and dusk (in the fall, the hazards are of a more insidious nature: out-of-state hunters, primarily from Washington). Anyone born and raised in Western Montana is surely aware that deer are “depth-perception” challenged. However, the opportunity to see the progeny of every species of wildlife existing in the Yaak  at the time of the the Lewis and Clark Expedition (1804-1806), is more than worth the risk. New-born fawns on still-wobbly legs, mountain lions kittens, still with spots, attempting to pull a deer carcass between the posts of a highway guard-rail (get away from the road, little ones), encountering a fearless bobcat on the South Fork Road, elk grazing cautiously on hillsides near the highway, numerous grizzly bear sightings at Long Meadow, moose feeding placidly along the river bottoms, and wolves crossing the fields behind Turning Winds. The key to visual awareness and appreciation of the Yaak Valley flora and fauna is a simple one: slow down and focus. It is nature’s banquet right in front of you, and the length of June days allows one’s senses to experience all of it!


“And what is so rare as a day in June? Then, if ever, come perfect days.”

James Russell Lowell, American poet and literary critic


*** Author’s note: For the more adventurous traveler, opposite the Teepee Mountain Road, just past the 4-mile marker, is a road down into the spectacular canyon below Stonechest Grade where, in the 1960’s, early Yaak pioneers Rosy and Gus Schultz, hitting patches of ice, were killed in separate accidents. It is better to park above and hike down, as the road is treacherous with little turnaround room. And this is not a place for children. The narrow canyon walls, with spectacular rock formations and back-water pools carved out of the sheer rock cliffs are stunning, but one misstep is inevitably fatal.

Libby Logger vs. Kalispell Lakers Split Double Header
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Caden Williams would retire the side in both the third and fourth innings. Striking out five of the six batters he would face. Williams and the Loggers would find themselves in danger of losing their lead in the fifth inning. A bases loaded walk would tie the game at ones. With the bases still loaded and no outs, Williams would force a pop up. One out.

The next Laker batter would hit a grounder to third baseman Caleb Moeller. Moeller would step on the bag and fire to first. Double play. threat ended.

Th loggers would regain the lead in their end of the fifth inning. Buckner walked to start off the inning. Zhangs rising liner looked like a sure hit. Until the laker shortstop made a great leap catch. A Caden William single would place runner on first and second base.

Aiden Williamson’s fielders choice would move Buckner to third base.

With two outs and the score tied at one a piece Cy Williams single brought in Buckner from third and the Loggers were back on top two to one.

The loggers would add an insurance run in their half of the sixth inning. One that would prove to be needed.

Gillespie’s double would start off the inning. Bret Osbornes sacrifice bunt Drew a throw to third. Gillespie was safe and Osborne was left standing on first base with runners on first and third. Buckners groundout would bring In Gillespie from third base. The score after six innings. Libby 3 Kalispell 1

Facing their potential last on bat. The Lakers wouldn’t go away. A walk and a Logger error would place Laker runners on first and third base. A a sacrifice fly would bring in the run from third. With two outs and the potential tying run ow at third, a laker ground out to third would end the game. Final score Loggers 3 Lakers 2.

A pair of Kalispell pitchers would strike out Logger batters while also walking three. Laker pitchers would also give up five Logger hits both teams would commit three errors a piece.

The williams brothers would combine for four of the five Logger hits.

Cy Willimas was 2-3 with a double and two RBI’S. Caden Williams would finish 2-4 along with a run scored.

The Loggers next Home tilt takes place June 23-26. Where they’ll be hosting their annual Big Bucks Tournament.


Baseball Trivia Question: What pair of brothers have the most combined home runs in major league history? How many a piece? How many total? Answer on Page 9.

By Jim Dasios, The Montanian.