Text and Images by Pam W. Barbour
While looking at a map of Montana, if you draw a diagonal line between Yellowstone and Glacier National Parks, the center of that line nears a special place called the Pintler Scenic Byway (recently renamed the Pintler Veterans Memorial Scenic Byway). This byway is about 60 miles long and unlike many byways in Montana, it’s completely paved for its entire length. This scenic spur gives you a break from interstate driving but at the same time doesn’t deviate too far so you can get back on track if you’re headed somewhere specific. Also known as MT HWY 1, it was the first state highway to be paved. Going east on I-90 from Missoula, you can start at the north end of the byway in the town of Drummond. Going west on I-90 from Butte, you can start at the south end near the town of Anaconda. We’ll start in Drummond.
Drummond is a very small cow town known for cattle and specifically angus bulls, so much so that it has the title of the “Bull Shipper’s Capitol of the World”. Around the 4th of July, there is fabulous rodeo there too that is an awesome photographic event. It’s even in the PRCA circuit; for those that don’t know that’s the Professional Rodeo Cowboys Association.
Continuing south on the byway, the valley opens up with rolling hills and large ranches spanning both sides of the road. To the east are the Flint Creek Mountains, with peaks up to 10,000 feet. As you travel the Flint Creek Valley, watch for wildlife and specifically deer if it’s late in the day. The speed limit is 70 so if you’re enjoying the view be careful as the locals do move along. Bald eagles, sandhill cranes, and golden eagles can be seen in the valley as well as coyotes, elk, moose and red fox too.
The town of Hall comes up quickly and demands you slow down to 30 mph. Here you’ll find a really small town with the one room school house still in operation, although updated. Also, the Hogan Ranch store has just about anything you need from salt licks to grass seed. Just past Hall, be sure to pull over on the left to read about the Flint Creek Valley at the marked historic point. Continuing on, the road gets curvy and the mountain hillsides come in closer as the Flint Creek comes into view among the willows that border it. Be on the watch for moose and deer. Soon, you’ll come into another open valley where you’ll get a glimpse of the Pintler Mountains which will take your breath away. This is about the mid-way point of the byway and the town of Philipsburg is there to greet you. This little ghost town is hardly a “ghost” town and has everything from food, shopping, lodging, friendly faces, and the best candy store in the world, the Sweet Palace. There’s so much to tell about this town, they created a newspaper for it called the Philipsburg Territory and it’s full of history and current event information too. It was once a very rich silver mining town of over 3,000 people.
After a visit to Philipsburg, continue south through the switch backs of the little Flint Creek Pass to Georgetown Lake. This lake sits below the gorgeous Anaconda-Pintler Wilderness Range and is known for some great fishing and kite boarding in the winter. There is also Discovery Ski Area to the east of the lake which you can see as you drive the byway. This is a great winter hangout with great powder and not so crowded like many of the more popular ski locations. Near the end of the drive, you’ll come to the town of Anaconda. Here stands the tallest free standing masonry smoke stack in the world. It was once home to the Anaconda Copper Mining Company which ran the smelter operations for the mining from nearby Butte, MT.
The journey can be as long or as short as you desire. I enjoyed it so much that I spent 6 years photographing the area and created a book about it, The Pintler Scenic Highway, A Photographic Journey Along Montana’s HWY 1. It’s sold on Amazon.com and also in the Philipsburg Museum in Philipsburg, MT.
For further details, you can find Pam at www.pambarbour.com.