I have known about War Horse National Wildlife Refuge for quite awhile. But, it’s taken me quite awhile to get there and enjoy it!
Finally, an opportunity to be near Winnett happened and I told several people I was definitely planning on visiting War Horse.
I was driving east on MT Hwy 200 and looking for some type of sign that said to turn to go to the refuge. Information on U. S. Fish & Wildlife’s website said to turn north at Teigen. I’ve heard of Teigen (pronounced Tay-gun) but didn’t recall anything there. There are large, well-maintained ranch buildings and a sign that says Teigen ranch but most roads looked private.
I kept driving and about twelve miles past Teigen was the turn for Winnett. Winnett sits about a half mile off the highway on the south side. I drove around town and decided to stop at the Kozy Korner Cafe. While my breakfast was cooking I asked the waitress about the War Horse refuge. Bummer – she wasn’t familiar with it but she was quick to say she hadn’t been born and raised in the area.
Another customer came in and the waitress said she was sure he would know since he worked for the county road department. He was a wealth of knowledge and by the way he described the two lakes or reservoirs I sensed that he had a great fondness for the area.
He told me I needed to turn around and go back towards Teigen, the former townsite, which I would reach before I got to the ranch. There is an old two story building near the turn (a former hotel) and the county road is the Blakeslee Road.
My breakfast was ready and I ate it quickly because I was eager to get back on the road. As I drove back on Hwy 200 I couldn’t believe I could have missed the sign for the refuge. Well, there is not a sign on the highway!
The old hotel was a photo waiting to happen though. I bet that was a neat old building in its prime. There is also a grain bin beside the hotel and I had been told to watch for both.
I never saw a sign for Blakeslee Road but I turned north there anyway. The terrain was a rolling plain and it was cattle ranching country. After going about 5 miles on this road I finally saw a sign that said War Horse National Wildlife Refuge. It was comforting to know that I had taken the correct turn!
One thing I wanted to see was the acid shale forest. I had learned about this from an avid birdwatcher who lived in western Montana. What a treat to see this amazing ponderosa pine forest. The soil is fragile and incredibly acidic and there is lots of shale, hence the name. The Bureau of Land Management has labeled the forest an area of critical environmental concern. It is a mystery to me how these pine trees grow in this area but they cover 225 acres. If you look closely you see very little grass, just bare shale soil under the trees.
Beyond the acid shale forest I found War Horse Lake. I parked my car near a cement bridge, grabbed my camera and walked along the lake. It was so quiet! Well, there were many birds chirping but no people, no traffic – nothing except the wildlife.
A killdeer was hopping along the shore and I wondered if there was a nest nearby. It kept going back and forth and I finally saw a second killdeer. Their call sounds like kill-dee, and that’s how they got the name killdeer.
This area has good habitat for sage grouse, pronghorn (I saw several), prairie dogs, mule deer and rattlesnakes (thankfully I didn’t see these).
There are actually three units in the War Horse National Wildlife Refuge – War Horse, Wild Horse (both north of the highway) and Yellow Water which is about 8 miles south of Winnett. A customer at the Kozy Korner told me he fishes at Yellow Water and catches trout that are stocked there.
My trip to Winnett reminded me that there are hidden gems all over this state and, I had just found another one!