HARDIN, Mont. - Traveling into the high country of the Crow, blacktop quickly gives way to 70 miles of red-clay roadways filled with sharp rock and water-filled ruts, all in the interest of getting to the annual Crow tribal buffalo roundup.
After an overheated 10-year-old Jeep is pacified with drinking water, it looks like we've reached the top of the world. The entire Bighorn Basin stretches out to the south and one can look out for several hundred miles in either direction. The land and view belongs to the Crow people.
Here they care for a tribal herd of some 900 buffalo. Each year, with the help of volunteers and hired hands, the Crow Natural Resources Department rounds up as many as possible to take a census of bulls, cows and sex of newborn calves.
At night, some 28 tribal members and some non-Indians had packed themselves into a single room overnight, there to help with the roundup. There's no water, no power and no telephone out here. Between 700 and 800 buffalo were singing out in the corral in a chorus of grunts and groans - music for one's soul, added to the less-than-gentle snores of the assembled crew.
The wranglers pour out at daybreak to greet a landscape painted by a heavy, winter frost and the day's work begins.