MOIESE – They’ve got mommas with new babies.

You’ve got Mother’s Day to celebrate.

This could be the weekend to put two and two together and come up with a jaunt to the National Bison Range.

As is its tradition, the Bison Range is opening Red Sleep Mountain Drive over Mother’s Day weekend.

The timing is terrific.

The National Wildlife Refuge’s bison herd is well into calving season, which means rusty red calves will be romping among the range’s blooming wildflowers.

Appropriately, perhaps, the young bison are the easiest of newborns to find at the Bison Range.

Eight hundred-pound mothers aren’t too concerned about hiding their babies from anything, explains Pat Jamieson, outdoor recreation planner at the refuge.

That’s also the reason visitors should never leave their vehicles when they come across bison.

The animals are used to vehicles. The occupants inside are another story,

“They don’t have the capacity to understand you won’t hurt them,” Jamieson has explained. “Cars? They know cars don’t eat bison. But if you get out and now they’re looking at a person instead of a car – well, a bison’s defense is not to run away. It’s to smush you.”

***

Pronghorn antelope start giving birth about this time, too, and visitors can sometimes spot their young. The more experienced pronghorn mothers have figured out that coyotes, the greatest threat to their fawns, aren’t big fans of the traffic on Red Sleep Mountain Drive.

So some have their babies near the road, and bed them near the road. Keep your eyes peeled.

Momma bears had their cubs in February when they were still denned up, but they’re out and about now, although catching a glimpse of them is certainly rarer.

Bighorn sheep are also giving birth now as well, but their tactic for protecting their young is the opposite of the pronghorns. The ewes lamb in the rugged high terrain only they can access.

The refuge’s deer and elk start giving birth next month.

***

Still, the bison calves, blooming wildflowers, return of breeding birds who sing over their nesting territories, along with Saturday’s opening of Red Sleep Mountain Drive, make May an opportune time for a Bison Range visit.

Red Sleep Mountain Drive is a 19-mile, one-way gravel road with several switchbacks that gains and loses 2,000 feet of altitude as it escorts visitors around the Bison Range.

It is closed during the winter months.

Also on Saturday, the Visitor Center moves to its spring hours and will be open from 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. weekdays and 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. weekends.

The main gate opens every day by 6:30 a.m. and is locked at dark.

The opening of Red Sleep Mountain Drive means Winter Drive along Mission Creek closes for the season. The roadway becomes the end of the 19-mile one-way trip instead.

Visitors should allow two hours to travel Red Sleep Mountain Drive, and start it no later than 6 p.m. in order to finish before the main gate closes at dark.

Large vehicles more than 30 feet long, motorcycles, bicycles, trailers and other towed units are not allowed on Red Sleep Mountain Drive. All can be left at the Visitor Center.

Cost of the scenic drive is $5 per vehicle, and a season pass is available for $15. There is no charge for the Visitor Center or to use day-use areas such as the picnic grounds near Mission Creek.

Don’t want to spend $5 on the scenic drive? The National Bison Range, one of the nation’s oldest wildlife refuges, turns 104 years old on Wednesday, May 23.

The fee will be waived that day.

Reporter Vince Devlin can be reached at 1-800-366-7186 or at vdevlin@missoulian.com.

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