The High Absarokas & Mt. Cowen © by David Kallenbach

The Absaroka-Beartooth Wilderness Area was established by an Act of Congress on March 27th, 1978. A majority of its 944,000 acres lies in the state of Montana, squarely north of Yellowstone National Park. Management of the A-B Wilderness is in the hands of the Custer Gallatin National Forest. A small portion (22,000 acres) of the A-B lies in Wyoming on the Shoshone NF. The A-B Wilderness celebrates its 40th Anniversary in 2018.

The north/south-running Absaroka Mountains derive their name from the Crow Tribe’s native-language name for themselves, the Apsaalooké, or “Children of the Large-Beaked Bird.” This range of mountains forms the western part of the Absaroka-Beartooth Wilderness and is volcanic in origin. The Absarokas provide the spiny backdrop for the eastern side of the Paradise Valley, from Livingston to Gardiner, that leads to Yellowstone National Park. And if you are wondering how to pronounce “Absaroka,” both Ab-Suh-RO-kuh or Ab-Zore-Kuh will work, the latter being the preferred pronunciation of the old-timers and locals.

The Hellroaring Plateau © by David Kallenbach

Far-older geologically are the Beartooth Mountains forming the eastern portion of the Wilderness, and aptly named from a rock arête easily visible from the spectacular Beartooth Highway. Rocks 3.8 billion years old have been found here. High plateaus, glaciers, lakes, and 12,000 ft. peaks grace the landscape.

But with Yellowstone and so many other wild areas of the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem around, what makes the Absaroka-Beartooth Wilderness unique?

Whitetail Peak, 12,551 ft. © by David Kallenbach

The highest mountains in Montana are here–many 11- and 12-thousand foot peaks adorn the rugged landscape, culminating in Granite Peak at 12,799 feet above sea level, the highest point in Montana. Nestled amongst these high peaks are reclusive glaciers, like the Castle Rock Glacier that remain active to this day. Many hundreds of lakes sparkle across the area’s geography. And tundra… There is more contiguous land acreage above treeline on the high plateaus than anywhere in North America.

Built by the Civilian Conservation Corps in the mid 1930’s, the Beartooth Highway, along with the Going-to-the-Sun Highway in Montana, and Trail Ridge Road in Colorado, is one of the most jaw-dropping high-elevation drives in the world. When it is open (between Memorial Day and early October), it forms the northeast entrance and most beautiful access of all into Yellowstone Park.

Yellowstone Cutthroat © by Lucas Ward

The Yellowstone Cutthroat Trout is native to this area and making a comeback in the streams and rivers flowing out of A-B high country. Some of the healthiest whitebark pines, a species considered threatened by many who study the forests, grow right here, providing sustenance up and down the food chain for Clark’s Nutcrackers, red squirrels, and the Grizzly Bear. Over 400 species of arctic and alpine plants converge here, in an unparalleled floral diversity.

Most especially, the Absaroka-Beartooth Wilderness is today still very much like what the authors of the Wilderness Act of 1964 envisioned Wilderness to be: An area where the earth and its community of life are untrammeled by man, where man himself is a visitor who does not remain. Undeveloped. Retaining its primeval character. Has outstanding opportunities for solitude. A source of primitive and unconfined recreation. With the imprint of man’s work substantially unnoticeable…

Please help us keep it that way!

I believe that at least in the present phase of our civilization we have a profound, a fundamental need for areas of wilderness – a need that is not only recreational and spiritual but also educational and scientific, and withal essential to a true understanding of ourselves, our culture, our own natures, and our place in all nature.

This need is for areas of the earth within which we stand without our mechanisms that make us immediate masters over our environment – areas of wild nature in which we sense ourselves to be, what in fact I believe we are, dependent members of an interdependent community of living creatures that together derive their existence from the Sun.

By very definition this wilderness is a need. The idea of wilderness as an area without man’s influence is man’s own concept. Its values are human values. Its preservation is a purpose that arises out of man’s own sense of his fundamental needs.

Howard Zahniser, The Need for Wilderness Areas and author of Wilderness Act of 1964