We rarely swing through Dillon without stopping at the Patagonia Outlet. Patagonia, of course, is the upscale outdoor gear clothier; Dillon is a stunning middle-of-nowhere college town in southwestern Montana surrounded by a whole lot of nothing (I.e., mountains, rivers, valleys, etc.). The outlet store is the town’s shopping highlight and focus of commercial activity. Inside is the near-full array of jackets, fleece, pants, down, long undies, and more. You can never be sure that they will have what you want – or what you want in the color and size you need – but when you do find the right item it’s a keeper. A few times a year the store has a massive (and well-publicized) clearance sale, when the low prices are slashed. Then, make sure you show up early.
We pulled in late at night and backed into the first camp spot we found. The tent went up in a few minutes, brush your teeth, roll out the bags, and fall asleep almost instantly. With the sunrise at 5:30 the baby was awake and so were we. Brekkie and strong coffee – in the Rockies in midsummer, 7 a.m. can feel like midday. Soon we are pushing kayaks out onto the lake, taking turns while one stays on shore with Cooper. Not far from shore the quiet noises of the campground fade, the smoke from morning campfires blends into the forest, and paddling into the clear shallow water feels like true exploration.
Medicine Lodge is the next door neighbor to the Sheep Creek Trail. It's almost as pretty but has slightly less on offer, largely because much of the land along the main road is private. There are access points, however, and as you move south and uphill toward the Medicine Lodge-Sheep Divide, the land opens and is public. This is big country, and remote. The Beaverhead and Tendoy mountains line the valley, and the Lima and Italian peaks poke through to the south. I biked 65 miles of the Medicine Lodge in a long bumpy spectacular fall day and saw less than a dozen cars in eight hours. Pronghorn antelope far outnumber people, and actually there may be more abandoned log homes than living souls these days.
Here stands William Clark on August 13, 1805, looking south at the route ahead. The Beaverhead River meanders down the valley, and the Pioneer Mountains darken the skyline to the west. Today, of course, those sights are still there, but so is the fun town of Dillon. Clark’s Lookout is a state park, with short trail to the lookout, and a compass embedded in the earth. The site commemorates a small slice of the epic Lewis and Clark journey; the team passed here on their way west and half of the team passed this way once eastbound. The park is just 8.2 acres, and is 1 mile north of Dillon on Montana 91.