BOZEMAN, Mont. (AP) — Of all the great day hikes in Hyalite Canyon, the 2.4-mile round trip route to History Rock is one of the finest. Rising 300 vertical feet through open meadow and timber, the trail offers spectacular views of the southern Gallatin Range and a unique cultural site that traces the history of Gallatin Valley.
History Rock is a large sandstone boulder that rests along the trail 1.2 miles from the trailhead. The rock is covered with inscriptions, carvings and signatures left by early explorers and later visitors to Hyalite Canyon.
“History Rock sits on a site that was along a Native American travel route through that country,” said Wendi Urie of Custer Gallatin National Forest. “It was a stopping point and was used as the place to sign your name, to say ‘I was here.’ It has names that link to a lot of the early loggers and explorers that used Hyalite Canyon.”
Among those early visitors to Hyalite Canyon was the Flanders family, for whom Flanders drainage is named. The Flanders homesteaded in Hyalite Canyon in the 1870s and established a logging camp called Lousetown, which remained a local landmark until the 1920s.
On Aug. 21, 1966, George W. Flanders spoke at a meeting of the M.I.A. History Group in Hyalite Canyon. Meeting at the home of Melva Morris, the group shared early photographs of the area and stories of the old days. A transcript of the meeting notes provided by the Forest Service sheds some light on the history of History Rock.
“In the early days there was an Indian trail across the mountain which passed by a large sand stone outcropping with a flat side,” the transcript states. “This was a bulletin board by old timers. Some of the names go back to the 1870s.”
Included among those early inscriptions is that of Ike LaForge, a scout for Gen. George Armstrong Custer. The transcript reports that LaForge brought news of the Battle of the Little Bighorn to Gallatin Valley.
Over the years, numerous other visitors have added their own marks to History Rock, including a heart and a peace symbol. The Forest Service now regards the sandstone outcropping as an important archaeological site.
“We have not to date made efforts to stop people from adding to it, but we do consider it an archaeological resource and we hope the public respects that and won’t deface it,” Urie said Wednesday. “It has some significant history of the Gallatin Valley.”
The hike to History Rock begins 8.8 miles up Hyalite Canyon Road at the History Rock trailhead. The recently improved parking area provides plenty of space for visitors. A map at the trailhead details the route.
The trail leads southwest through an open meadow that offers panoramic views of surrounding peaks. Before long the trail enters the timber where hikers are surrounded by towering Douglas fir and Engelmann spruce. The trail rises steadily before leveling off just before History Rock. The rock lies on the right side of the trail and is immediately obvious.
In the summer months the meadow below History Rock is ablaze with wildflowers and a popular spot for day hikers and dog walkers. Mountain bikers also frequent the History Rock trail, some riding through to South Cottonwood Canyon.
“The (mountain biking) route going down into South Cottonwood is an advanced outing,” Urie said. “It is an extreme downhill and at least an intermediate outing to History Rock itself. Once you get past the rock it gets steeper and is aerobically challenging.”
In the wintertime the History Rock trailhead sees a lot of use from cross-country and backcountry skiers. History Rock trail is not groomed, but many cross-country skiers use the trailhead to access groomed trails that parallel Hyalite Canyon Road. Backcountry skiers tour above History Rock to ski the meadows above the canyon.
History Rock trail is open to all non-motorized use and is not part of the timeshare trails. The round-trip hike to the rock takes about an hour.
“History Rock is a historical resource that we would like people to respect,” Urie said. “There are some really old signatures on there.”