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A Weekend Get-away

Tom Minor Basin
by Dan Hartman

Oct. 3, 2010

We’ve been busy working on the cabin and cutting wood this week, so I haven’t gotten out much. I did hike above Pebble Creek, but really didn’t find anything of interest.

  I did come across an old article I wrote and had published in Montana Magazine July-August 1983. It was cool to see what got me excited all those years ago. 

  Here it is:     A WEEKEND GETAWAY   (Tom Minor Basin)


        It's always satisfying to find a secluded spot where one can enjoy the scenery, wildlife, peace and quiet.

        A few years ago, my wife and I found such a place and have returned again and again.  Set in the Gallatin National Forest, 37 miles southwest of Livingston or 16 miles northwest of Gardiner on U.S. 89, then another 15 miles southwest on County Road 63, is Tom Miner Basin.  On the drive up the gravel road, moose, deer or coyotes are sometimes spotted along the roadsides.  At the end of the road lies the Tom Miner Campground containing 12 sites equipped with tables, fire pits and firewood.  A pit toilet is situated near the center of the campground as is a hand pump with good drinking water.  No fee was charged in "82.

       The Tom Miner Campground lies in the unique Gallatin Petrified Forest.  Here a succession of 27 petrified forests lies layered one on top of the other, a phenomenon found nowhere else in the world.  Many of the petrified trees are standing as they were when covered by volcanic ash, dust and lava millions of years ago.  The hobbyist may collect petrified wood in a special management zone.  Collection is limited to 25 pounds per day and 150 pounds per year.  A $5 permit is required, obtainable at the Gardiner, Bozeman or Livingston Ranger Stations.

       There are two ways of looking for specimens.  You may decide to follow the many streams, searching in the water for petrified wood.  Although it looks like a rock, closer inspection reveals rings and brightly colored agate deposits.  The pieces worth saving may range from dark brown to green or black.  The rust color, which indicates iron deposits or a bleached white color are most common.  These, while easy to find, are not as sought after by hobbyists as are the darker colors.  Since others are also combing the streams, it's a good idea to look in obscure places - under banks or below waterfalls.

       You might also pay attention to areas where the sun hits the water.  The rays will highlight otherwise dull looking rocks.  Specimens taken from the water have been polished glassy smooth.  One of my most exciting finds was brown on one side and green on the other containing 150 yellow rings.

        To keep the shiny look your samples have when wet, spray them lightly with clear acrylic after cleaning.

        The other method of collecting will take you to the dry washes and cliff edges.  Many huge log sections and stumps are imbedded in the ground.  They are, of course, too large to collect, but very interesting to observe.  The smaller pieces found in the hills are mostly rust colored but with a little luck a beautiful rare dark green stump or maybe a limb cast (entire unbroken section  of limb) might be discovered.  I've often found a layer of quartz connected to the better specimens.  It's also a good idea to look in the exposed soil of uprooted trees.

         People lucky enough to find flawless sections filled with jasper or agate sometimes cut grind and polish them into small inserts for belt buckles, rings, buttons, etc.  Whatever your reasons for gathering petrified wood, remember the beautiful country you're passing through and take only what you need.

        For the wildlife enthusiast, Tom Miner offers a variety of mammals and birds representative of nearby Yellowstone National Park.  An excellent all-purpose trail (hiking, horseback riding and trail bikes) starts at the back of the campground and climbs the 2 miles up to Buffalo Horn Pass.  Once reaching this grand overlook you have the choice of hiking down the other side to explore a system of trails or following the ridge trail up to Ramshorn Peak.  Deer, elk, coyotes and bear can by spotted at he forest's edge and bighorn on the high cliffs.

        Another good spot for wildlife viewing in Sunlight Road, a logging road which forks off the Forest road a short distance from the entrance to the campground.  Although recommended for 4X4 vehicles, it also makes a nice hike as it winds up a hillside covered with young lodgepole pines and shrubs.  This area, formerly logged then burned over, is a favorite hang out for black bears during berry season while moose inhabit the marshes.  One morning in late August, my wife and I left the campground to go berry picking in the burn area.  As we topped the hill behind camp we spotted two huge black bears feeding on blueberry bushes.  Of course we let them have first chance at the berries and sat down to watch.  An hour later they ambled slowly off into the forest and we got our turn.  By noon we returned to camp with two quarts of wild strawberries and another quart of blueberries.

       Smaller wildlife abounds in the forests around camp.  Right in our campsite I once watched a long-tailed weasel hunting through the many chipmunk burrows then heard a sound above me and spotted a porcupine sitting high in a pine.  It remained there all day then left sometime that night.  Of course one must be an early riser to spot such secretive creatures.  Dozens of squirrels and chipmunks dart about and golden mantled ground squirrels and pika are often spotted on the high cliffs.  Its' a rare night the campground isn't serenaded by coyotes.

        The Rand McNally Campground Directory says Tom Miner Campground is open from June 1 to September 15.  Snow flurries and cold nights relieved by warm sunny days should be expected in early June and again in September.  Mid-summer afternoons can by very hot.

       Tom miner Basin is just one of the weekend discoveries that make Montana so much fun to explore.




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Petrified Wood (Redwood)

Petrified Wood (Rings)