Border To Border

The wildly angular Mission Mountains, rising to the east of the Flathead Reservation, were named for a Roman Catholic mission established in the 1850s at St. Ignatius, a small town midway between Polson and Missoula. Like most reservation communities, it’s a poor and fairly depressed place, worth a look for the imposing St. Ignatius Mission church (daily, donation), just east of US-93. Built by Flathead laborers in 1891, the church holds over 55 religious frescoes painted by Joseph Carignano, the mission cook. Along with the church, St. Ignatius holds the Flathead Indian Museum and Trading Post (406/745-2951, daily), a large gift shop, a motel, and a drive-through espresso stand right along US-93.

West of St. Ignatius, 18,500 acres of natural rolling prairie have been set aside since 1908 as the National Bison Range, protected home of the 500 or so resident bison (a.k.a. buffalo), along with deer, elk, pronghorn, and mountain goats. Allow around two hours to drive a complete circuit of the park; the entrance and visitors center are on the west side of the reserve, off Hwy-200, six miles west of the crossroads town of Ravalli. At the southern edge of the Flathead Reservation, Arlee hosts an annual 4th of July Powwow, one of the most popular Native American gatherings in Montana.