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FR290 summit(u): Monument Ridge

When traveling up the Madison River Valley between Enis and Raynolds Pass, you can't help from being distracted by the left side of the road - the far left side, the Madison Range and all its straight alpine lines, sitting over a carpet of green. The view towards the right is less interesting. That would be the Gravelly Range on the west side of the valley. It looks more like your average collection of forested hills from this particular vantage point. But the Gravelly Range has other advantages. For one, it has roads going up towards its summits. These roads are located not just across from the Madison Range, but also another picturesque mountain group, that just cries out for a perfect viewing point, and the Gravelly Range is that point. Also, many (but not all) of these roads have a smooth surface with really very little gravel, despite the name. The ride is also relatively peaceful due to a lack of ATV trails in the area.
I probably should have started the last paragraph with the simple observation: This is my favorite bike ride in Montana so far. Granted I am biased, I had excellent, cool weather after a prior, raging heat wave. I have been told by other visitors of the area that commercial touring companies lead mountain bikers up here. I am not sure why this should make the area seem more (or less) attractive, but apparently I am not the only one who likes this ride. But it's safe to say there aren't that many who have tried it out. The fishermen outnumber cyclists by at least a million to one. This is a well signed route with little chance to get lost. Still - the "Bearverhead National Forest - southern part" map is the perfect companion for all the route numbers and landmarks along the way.

1.(00.0km~00.0mi, 1805 m~5922ft) START-END SOUTH: Lyons Bridge across Madison River
2.(02.4km~01.5mi, 1873m~6145ft) route turns uphill onto FR237
3.(32.6km~20.3mi, 2736m~8976ft) turn right onto FR290, Gravelly Range Road
4.(36.2km~22.5mi, 2922m~9587ft) TOP: Monument Ridge
5.(50.9km~31.6mi, 2608m~8556ft) turn right down Johnny Ridge Road FR324
6.(75.0km~46.6mi, 1684m~5525ft) START-END NORTH: Mc Attee Bridge across Madison River
7.(76.5km~47.5mi, 1667m~5469ft) START-END NORTH ALTERNATE: jct US287 - Johnny Ridge Road


From South. There are two Lyons bridges across the Madison River. One is a modern bridge at the Highway Rest area. The profile starts at the other one, a lovely old rickety bridge that is still good for four tons. Once on the other side, FR209 stays uphill of the river. The road directly adjacent to the river is filled with fly fishermen, sometimes so many it's a wonder their flies don't get tangled into each other. Soon FR237 forks to the right into the hills. It has a smooth surface and very little traffic.

On my traversal of the route on a Sunday in July I saw no vehicles of any kind before the junction with FR290 Gravelly Road. A number of curvy climbs lead through forested hills. They open slightly and the Madison Range across the valley begin to take on a new character through the trees. A shallow downhill leads into the Standard Creek drainage. After a long climb the Gravelly Range itself starts to take on a rocky character, first when approaching the Wolverine trailhead. The road becomes less traveled. Less traveled may be the wrong word, since I already encountered no vehicles up to this point - a little narrower and a more tenuous road bed then. The road drops a few feet but then climbs again between two small sedimentary rock outcrops resembling cake layers. Black Butte comes into sight, the shape of a crowning gable on a roof of green. Another road comes up from the south side, and the road I am traveling (FR237) gives up its number to it. The journey now continues right up FR290, Gravelly Range Road. Passing through a grove of horribly, yet picturesquely dead trees, the road takes leave from trees in general and keeps on climbing. Turning left into irregular switchbacks, a great scenic surprise waits on the other side. The Greenhorn Range doesn't make it into any Montana travel guides that I know of, yet from this vantage point it's a very scenic view indeed, a range composed of ramps that crest into a harmonious grand landscape. On top is a sign stating "Monument Ridge", together with the elevation.

From North. (described downwards). The picture above was taken at the point of highest elevation. But from here it's far from downhill all the way. Instead a long traverse follows with many minor ups and downs along the ridge top, and the route is obvious. From the summit a white ribbon cuts across the green ridge ahead, interrupted many times by folds in the landscape, surrounded by small dots that turn out to be trees - the road ahead.

Both sides of the road seem to compete for views, and it's pretty near impossible to come up with a favorite. In the Madison Range a glaciated horn becomes more clearly visible as the road progresses, while on the left, the late afternoon light makes the Greenhorn Range stand out with more shadows. There is more traffic on this part of the road (not a lot - but more than none), and the surface also has a hint of gravel, but nothing that I would call gravelly. The route takes on more of a plateau character, as it passes Clover Meadows campground. Shortly thereafter, the route described here, leaves the main ridge by turning right down Johnny Ridge. As the descent approaches timber line, the same dead tree spectacle from the ascent repeats in reverse. Finally trees obscure the majestic Madison Range views and a long, fast downhill traverse through the trees, leads to the junction with Madison Gulch, and onward, terminating - surprise - at a mining operation.

Mc Attee Bridge is used to cross the Madison River and get ack to the paved road. It carries much more water than upstream where the ride started. There is a secondary road on the west side of the river that also looks like an alternative to return to the starting point. But it dead ends. The profile ends at the bridge, but if traveling back to the starting point north on US287, the shoulder is really not bad, but it is rumble stripped as is common in Montana. The space to the right of the strips is adequate for riding, but not spacious.


Dayride with this point as highest summit:

campsite on FR237 a little distance above Lyons bridge > up FR237 > Black Butte > FR290 Monument Ridge summit(u) > down FR324 Johnny Ridge > Mc Attee Bridge > north on US287 > Lyons Bridge > back to starting point: 66 miles with 6000ft of climbing in 6 hours (VDO MC1.0 m3:10.8.15).