Thursday, October 8, 2009

In the Bitterroot, Up is Down

The Bitterroot River flows from south to north.  Its headwaters are in the high country at the south end of the Bitterroot Valley, and the river runs down through lower terrain to the north until it joins the Clark Fork River a little west of Missoula.

For this reason, anyone in the valley that is going to Sula (and few do), would say they are going "up to Sula," even though they are travelling south. And if someone in Sula needs to go to the big city, they say they are going "down to Hamilton," even though Hamilton lies to the north.  It takes some getting used to.

The elevation of "downtown" Sula is about 4,500 feet. My place up the East Fork is a little over 5,000 feet. Down in Hamilton is around 3,500 feet, and way down in Missoula is about 3,200 feet. (If you've ever driven in Missoula, you might conclude it is so low because of all the traffic weighting it down, but that's a different story.)

The Bitterroot Valley is considered part of Montana's "Banana Belt," which just means its has milder winters than the surrounding region. Part of that is due to its relatively low elevation, and part is because the valley is protected by the Bitterroot Mountains to the west and the Sapphire Mountains to the east. People in Hamilton talk as if the winters in the valley aren't very extreme for Montana, but they almost always make the exception "unless you live way up in Sula."

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