By Robert Lucke
The Nine Pipes area of the lower Flathead Valley is a good place to get away for a weekend and if bird watching is your thing, there is no better time of the year to visit Nine Pipes than now.
Nine Pipes is a dozen miles south of Polson and stretches on the west side of Highway 93 almost all of the way to St. Ignatius.
The setting is one of the most spectacular of all of the long Flathead Valley. When glaciers carved out Flathead Lake, they stopped at the Polson edge of the lake but left scattered like Lego blocks on the valley floor, huge icebergs. As those icebergs melted, they left massive pot holes that since that time have been filled with water and are an extraordinary habitat for birds and waterfowl.
Add to that scene the sheer majesty of that part of the Mission mountain range with peaks that spire above valley floor and you have some of Montana's best scenery.
In the Nine Pipes complex of tiny lakes are several self guided nature tours for bird watchers. In addition, this time of year, the area is just loaded with many different birds winging their way north for the summer. With such beautiful scenery and such wild habitat, funny that more do not nest there for the season. Must just be habit that drives them further north than this peaceful and idyllic place.
In addition to bird watching, there are at least three good museums and pioneer villages to visit along with the history of the KootenaiSalish tribes who make that part of Montana home yet today.
And just to the west of Nine Pipes is Moiese, home of the National Bison Range. Throughout this area are long auto roadways and short roadways to see buffalo, antelope and birds and with waterfowl along the banks of Mission Creek that runs through the range. Don't miss this place. The museum there is interesting as well but the wildlife in their own element and free to roam, they are spectacular.
For places to stay, work out of Polson or Ronan. Both have good lodging. Polson has the added attraction of having Flathead Lake and lake activities right in the middle of town.
There are plenty of places to dine along the way and choices range from Oriental to steak and seafood houses and plenty of hamburger joints stuck in for good measure.
For folks who want a more urban feeling tied to their time with nature, Missoula is just about 70 miles south on 93.
Nine Pipes is a great place to visit, bird watch and fish anytime of the year, but right now, it is incredible.