Discover the Magic of the Pryor Mountains
October 27, 2021
From the Plains to the Peak, the Pryors Have it All
I’ve written about the Pryor Mountains quite a bit. For good reason too, they’re the lesser known cousin to our majestic Beartooth Mountains. But as I like to say, as the Beartooths are majestic, the Pryors are mysterious.
There’s a lot that goes on in these little mountains to our south. A lot more than I can touch on in a few hundred words. So I’ll stick to the highlights. You can always get in email me if you want to learn more.
The Shoot the Rock Mountains
Throughout the years, as long as people have been in the area, natives have been using the mountains for their home. It’s said that if you could go back in time, it wouldn’t matter when you stopped in the last 5,000 years there would always be at least one group of people utilizing the Pryors.
In recent years, as in the last several hundred, the mountains have been held as sacred for the Crow Nation. They are the mountains which they call the Shoot the Rock Mountains due to particular legend of little people that live in the area. These little people helped to save a Crow boy that was lost; all they asked in return was to respect the land and take care of others. The tribe developed a tradition to shoot an arrow at Pryor Rock to give the arrow as a gift to these benevolent Little People.
Riddled with Natural Caverns
The geology, of course, is vastly different than the large granite peaks to the west. The lower levels of the mountains are made up of sandstone, but on top of that is Madison Formation Limestone.
If you know anything about limestone you know that it dissolves “easily” with rainwater. Because it dissolves away, the mountains are perforated with natural passageways. Some are well known and easily accessible. Others have tight squeezes and hidden entrances. But if you talk with the caving community, there’s a general consensus that very few of the caves have actually been discovered.
Personally, I believe there is a massive cavern in the heart of the mountain that is either inaccessible, or the entrance has yet to be discovered… maybe this is where the Little People live?
Where the Wild Horses Play
Back in the day of the Conquistadores, horses were brought from Europe. Some of them escaped and managed to evade capture by humans. A small herd found their way to southern Montana and northern Wyoming, settling into the Pryor Mountains.
Here, they found peace. Without the prying hands of humans after them, the herd has been able to thrive for centuries.
In 1968 the Secretary of the Interior established laws that protected the wild horses. Now, the herd is managed and kept around 180 individuals. On fruitful years, when the numbers grow beyond what the area is capable of supporting, the herd is “culled” and young healthy horses sold to ranches where they can be well taken care of for their lifetime.
Fossils, Artifacts, Miners, and More
Due to the fact that this area of the country was once covered by a huge inland sea, and the fact that there were dinosaurs that roamed the area, and also the fact that when the climate changed, we dried out quickly, it created the perfect area for fossilization.
Today, you can easily spot devil’s toenails (top), crinoids (bottom), and belemnite fossils (middle) - that is fossilized oysters, tiny plants, and squids. Many are lying on the surface, no digging required.
Dotted throughout the mountains are fasting beds that the Crow Tribal members set up as a way of giving thanks to the Creator. Arrowheads can be spotted here and there when conditions are right.
And of course, there are a handful of old mining cabins in various states of disrepair. Most can be inhabited for a short period of time, or used as a respite to get out of the elements.
With thousands of years of human use, and many more thousands of animal use, the mountains contain relics from times long ago reminding us that we are a mere blip on the timeline of the world.
From Billings to the Pryors and Beyond
From most places in Billings you can see the Pryor Mountains just poking above the horizon. But get in the car and it’s just an hour to be at the base.
They don’t look impressive from the road. But it would take many lifetimes to discover their secrets, and figure out what the Shoot the Rock Mountains are all about.
Perhaps it’s time to get in touch with Liz Francis with North Acre Real Estate, so you can find a home that gets you that mountain view you’ve always dreamed of.
Bonus: Pryor Mountain Coalition has tons of great material on these mysterious mountains.