Originally, we planned to meet up with Jeff’s parents in Ennis for a week. They are avid fly-fishers and have visited Montana many times. Unfortunately, a last-minute event prevented their coming. Nothing too serious, but they would not have been able to fish, which was one of the main reasons they were meeting us here. We decided to check out Ennis anyway and enjoy some peace and quiet away from the trains and highway! Ennis is a cute little town on the Madison River just west of Yellowstone.
People mostly visit here to fish. The town is in a valley between the Madison Range and the Tobacco Root mountains. This causes some interesting weather. Every afternoon we were there, around 4:30, a tremendous wind picked up, often (but not always) accompanied by a thunderstorm. We had to make sure to secure all the outside furniture and retract our awning before this happened so nothing got blown away or ripped off! Soon after the storm the sun came out again, creating a rainbow, or often a double rainbow (what does it mean??). There were no bike trails that we found, nor much in the way of mountain biking that wasn’t an hour’s drive away. The area is mostly ranches and mountains.
On Saturday we paddled about 5 miles from town to Ennis Lake. Of course we timed it perfectly so our paddle across the lake was into the afternoon wind! Sunday we arranged to have our truck shuttled for us (the local companies shuttle 80-100 vehicles a day!) so we could paddle 16 miles down the rushing Madison River above the town. It was very exciting and beautiful – the depth varied greatly as the river twisted and turned, and there were lots of rocks to avoid. We also had to avoid all the fishing boats! People hire guides who provide boats and row them down the river while they fly fish. There are supposed to be 800 residents of the town and 10,000 trout, but we only saw one little fish get caught all day.
The highlight of our visit there was a trip out into the mountains to Cliff Lake (6 miles of wash-board dirt road!). Because the lake is spring fed, the water is super-clear and the bottom white as sand, creating a beautiful turquoise blue color. Being in a national forest, there was no development on the lake. We brought our kayaks up and saw not only a bald eagle but two double rainbows. One of them was less than 100 yards away and went right to the surface of the water! Cliff Lake was a pot of gold – perfectly quiet and a very memorable experience.
Once we made it out the dirt road, we traveled up to “Quake Lake”. Just 55 years ago, a 7.5 earthquake in the area caused a mountainside to crumble into a narrow park of the Madison Valley, immediately creating a natural dam. Sadly some 28 people camping in the area were killed – many were never found. It was amazing to see how the landscape was changed.
One evening we stopped into a bar downtown to experience some local flavor. It was full of locals who were very friendly and boisterous. They clearly loved living there. It seemed to be a norm for them to buy each other rounds, because the bartender had little cups she placed in front of everyone to keep track of how many more drinks were already paid for! We met a couple of construction workers (one who used to be a school teacher but couldn’t make enough money to survive), a house cleaner and the superintendent of schools. They all hunt and fish.
We also took a side trip one evening to Virginia City. This is a town that prides itself as an “Olde West” village. Many of the buildings along Main Street are original. Some are mini-museums – you can step inside the front door and see what the building was 100 or more years ago. Apparently during the weekends there are period actors roaming the town.
Our final day there we drove down Bear Trap Canyon below Ennis Lake on a one lane, windy dirt road to a hydro-electric dam. While it was a very hairy drive in a dually, the views were beautiful.
We can fully understand why Jeff’s parents are drawn to the area! Maybe next year we will meet them here.