Adventures in the Pryor Mountains
Have You Explored the Pryors Yet?
When you think of the mountains near Billings, you probably think of the Beartooths. They’re the most prominent that we can see, they’re the biggest nearby, and they are indeed spectacular. But we have more ranges than just the Beartooths.
To our north are the Little Belts, Big Belts, Little Snowies, Snowies, and a few more. To our west we get to experience the Crazy Mountains. South of us are the Beartooths, and their cousin the Pryor Mountains.
Exploring the Pryor Mountains
Growing up in Billings, I knew the Pryors were there. But I never actually explored them (except for one time, when I was real little, I have a bit of a vague memory of fossil hunting with my dad and a group of people), instead spending most of my time hiking from lake to lake in the Beartooths. It wasn’t until after college that I really became interested, and discovered the magic of these mountains.
With a drier climate than their westardly neighbors, the mountains are almost desert-like on the southern slopes. This bodes them well when it comes to preserving the history of the area. For hundreds of years Native American tribes passed through setting up camp in the foothills. They carved petroglyphs on the rocks, set up teepee rings in the flats, flint-knapped arrowheads, spear points, and dart points leaving thousands of rock flakes laying about. They left traces of their legacies that we can see and wonder what life was like in the area hundreds of years before we came along and built up cities.
Wildlife in the Pryors is unique as well. Wild horses roam freely across many of the open areas, and while many have said, “I would love to see the horses in the Pryors” it only takes one day trip to go see them. Overturn rocks and you can find Jerusalem crickets and scorpions. Head up high, or on the northern slopes, where the trees grow and you can find cougars and black bears. There are big horned sheep, deer, and I have found wolf footprints in the mud.
The biggest mystery of the area, however, isn’t what you can find on the Pryors, it’s what you find in them. The mountains themselves are made from an upheaval of Madison formation limestone. Limestone, unlike the granite of the Beartooths, is “easily” etched away by water. Over many thousands of years rains and melting snow have carved immense caverns throughout the mountain. Some are shallow shelters, others are deep caverns filled with speliothems. If you’re interested in exploring the underground wonders of the Pryors, you have to go with someone who has been there before. There’s a certain cave etiquette that needs to be adhered to.
Get Out and Enjoy the Pryor Mountains
Whether you want to wait until the summer and take a highway ready SUV up some of the more maintained roads, or if you’re an adventurer and would rather drive up in an off-roading Jeep, there’s a lot of adventure awaiting in these mountains. Bring your binoculars and cameras to snap some pictures of amazing wildlife, cliffs, formations, and creeks. Bring your hiking shoes and a pair of gloves to sift through some of the eroded hillsides in search of fossils. And bring your water because there’s not a lot of it in the dry mountains to our south.