The Sheepman Cometh


This is how to get lost in the Targhee National Forest of Northern Idaho. . .

Oh, but you aren’t all from here, so first I’ll tell you a little bit about the Montana highway system. I-90, the interstate that runs from Massachusetts to Washington State, is the only 4 lane interstate that runs the full breadth of the state. The western half of the state is located in the heart of the Rocky Mountains.

The mountains don’t run in any particular direction but in every direction. Between ranges a series of interconnecting valleys follow the rivers as they make their way either toward the Gulf of Mexico or the Pacific Ocean depending on which side of the divide you live. The valleys are longer than they are wide with the widest that I traveled through that day being about 15 miles across and some tapering down to a mile or less at the passes.

I left my home just south of Stevensville and drove through the Bitterroot Valley to the Missoula Valley, then east through the Clark Fork Valley East to the Butte Valley. From Butte I drove further east over Pipestone Pass, with it’s half a zillion rounded rocks, before heading south down the wide open Jefferson River Valley. Just past the town of Twin Bridges I headed east over through Virginia City (Montana’s original capital) over the Virginia City Hill to Ennis, then south by southeast, through the Madison Valley to where Highway 287 meets up with Highway 87 just west of Quake (Hebgen) Lake before running into Highway 20 which takes you into Idaho and the Targhee National Forest.

I did this without getting lost and without a map but by following signs to Yellowstone. I had driven it in reverse starting at The Warm River Bar at the beginning of our break a week earlier. It went as planned until I started looking for the short cut Randy Miller had told me about that would save me about 30 miles.  I knew it was a left hand turn off of Highway 20 but didn’t remember the name of the road. I saw a sign that said Warm River and it was to the left, so I took it. Another sign said Warm River 7 miles. I was sure I was on the right track. 7 miles later the road ended at a river, the Warm River to be exact. I turned around and instead of re-tracing my route I saw a sign that said Warm River 3 miles so I followed it and again I came to a river at the end of the road. This happened several times until the only thing I was sure of was that I was lost. The worst it got was when I went down one hill and up another. At the top of the second hill I came to a tee in the road. The sign said:

I turned around yet again and rolled back down the hill I had just come up. I ran out of gas in between hills and Larry (my old van) sputtered to a stop. Frank wasn’t due back to Warm River for another day so he wouldn’t know if I got there or not. I had no solid plan with the Millers so they weren’t expecting me. I was lost in the middle of nowhere with no one knowing I was missing. It was very peaceful.

I took stock of my life. I always thought for some reason that I would end up back in my hometown of Newark New York. It didn’t occur to me that I would be able to spend the rest of my life living in a way and a place that I loved. From the moment I first moved to Montana it was my home and for the first time I realized it. It didn’t matter where my travels with Frank led me, I would go home to Montana to live.

What happened next I consider in the realm of the angel on my shoulder looking out for me. I heard a vehicle approaching and as I stood outside my van in the waning daylight a half ton flatbed came over the rise. As it pulled over I noticed he had a gas tank on the back of his truck. A cowboy got out and walked toward me with a puzzled look on his face. He inquired as to why I was alone in middle of nowhere and I told him I was looking for Warm River. He waved his hand around and said, “It’s all around here.” Like I was some sort of rube from back east. I told him my pathetic story and that I was specifically looking for the Warm River Bar. He laughed and told me I turned about 25 miles too early.

I asked him what a cowboy was doing out in this area and he informed me that he was not a cowboy but a sheepman. If I was willing to help him gather his herd he would give me gasoline and help me find my way to the Warm River bar. I did as he instructed and helped him for about an hour. I am not sure what we accomplished but he gave me the fuel I needed and directions back to Highway 20.

I was once again back on the road, but this time with a new resolve: whenever the tour with Frank ended I would move back to Montana and pursue my life living in the west.

Next up. The Rocky Mountain Front. “Taste It” homepage , see the entire Taste it Blog Archive, or check out his recipes.

Bio:  Bob Zimorino is a full-time real estate agent with Lambros/ERA Real Estate, a retired Certified Executive Chef, a Musician with the popular local band Hellgate Rodeo, a dad, and a grandpa. He shares the experiences from his life that helped shape his careers and hobbies. His weekly “Taste It” blog is his take on the evolution of food in his lifetime.