By Robert Lucke
Looking for a weekend destination that is something different than going to Glacier or Flathead Lake? Try the Little Rockies located just 90 miles south of Malta or 60 miles south of Harlem. This gem of a mountain range offers wonderful hiking, history, wildlife viewing opportunities, great campgrounds and trout fishing that rivals any in eastern Montana.
Zortman, on the east end of the Little Rockies, is the hub of many recreational activities. There is a restaurant, bar, motel and rustic cabins to stay in along with the Camp Creek campground which is as nice as any in this part of the state.
Zortman itself is nestled in the middle of a limestone canyon giving it a Swish look. Even the little white church atop of a hill in the middle of the town is rustic and beautiful. Zortman is located at the apex of two beautiful canyons, Ruby and Alder. Mining history abounds in those gulches and a tourist can keep busy for hours on end just finding past glories, amidst the tall lodgepole pine forests of that part of the range.
For an added bit of history, visit the cemetery and see the monument to the Whitcomb family in their own private burial ground.
A road leads from Camp Creek Campground over a divide and down to some of the greatest brook trout fishing ever in Beaver Creek. Not only that, but the area is not well fished any time of the year.
On the south side of the Little Rockies is the town of Landusky, famous as the site where Kid Curry killed Pike Landusky outside of Jew Jake's Saloon. Pike is buried in Boot Hill, just down the road from the town. Landusky is all but a ghost town these days, except in the summertime when its campground, Montana Gulch, is full of recreationalists and people seeking out the history of the area. Evenings are spent in front of campfires spinning yards about Jim Winter's ghost and who killed Winter's partner, Abe Gill, in a ranch stolen from Johnny Curry.
If scenery is your thing, the west side of the Little Rockies is home to one of the greatest of the natural wonders of eastern Montana. Mission Canyon is its name and its cliffs rise up from a narrow canyon floor hundreds of feet. Sometimes in the canyon, it is difficult to tell where the road ends and Mission Creek starts. Once through the canyon, Mission Creek lends itself to many campgrounds and the Powwow grounds for the Fort Belknap agency.
And at the mouth of Mission Canyon, just between the town of Hays and the canyon, lies St. Paul's Mission, one of the oldest missions in that part of Montana.
Big horn sheep, deer and antelope along with elk, are seen frequently in the Little Rockies and, as is the case with most island mountain ranges, the entire area is a bird watcher's paradise.
The Little Rockies can be glorious during fall foliage season which is around the tail end of September and early October as a rule.