Western Art

West Boulder Bridge

An illustration of a man riding a bronc.

Through all my travels, I’ve acquired a few favorite spots randomly scattered throughout the sage-covered West: a bend in a river, an old cottonwood tree that’s seen years of cattle under its boughs, sometimes, just a single hill in the middle of nowhere with just-right light.

The West Boulder Bridge is a manmade bridge on a gravel road near Sweet Grass County, Montana. It’s not fancy — just a short, concrete bridge that runs maybe 15 yards, at best. I always stop and take in the view from that bridge and all that it stands for. To the south and upriver is an old ranch with shaggy Herefords and a handmade wooden bridge for cattle to travel from one side of the river to the other. The ribs of a hand-hewn cabin lay amidst the boulders on the banks of the river, flanked by shells of a couple old trucks from the ‘40s. Above that is rolling prairie until you hit the Beartooth Mountains. I used to stop in and visit the old rancher who lives there. I would take him a pie, we would have coffee and he would introduced me to his accordions.

I went and visited the West Boulder this past season, stopping by all my old haunts and bends in the river. Nearing the bridge on my way out, I could see another vehicle was parked almost in the center of the road. It wasn’t hard to tell it was a tourist between the fanny pack and the shiny new Audi with out-of-state tags. It’s a beautiful view and I couldn’t blame him a bit. I idled past him in the center of the bridge. I waved and said, “Howdy,” out the window as I went by. He didn’t reply as he continued taking pictures with his phone.

Entering the bridge from the opposite end was a pretty good-sized Prairie Rattler. My first thought was, “This fella’s gonna get bit out here and I should probably let him know this snake is headed his way.” I leaned out the window and yelled back, “Hey, Pard! Hello?” Again, he wouldn’t look at me, but waved me off this time.

I regret not stopping to take a cell-phone picture of my own that day — of the rattle snake headed his way and the entire scene unfolding as I left the bridge in my rearview.

This article was originally published in the April 2023 issue of Western Horseman.

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