This is an old and venerable place. Returning to the traditional home of the Salish, an elder speaks: “When we go home, we think about our people and walk lightly. We return to the Bitterroot each year to honor our connection to our homeland and to ensure the preservation of our sacred sites. We acknowledge the gifts left here by those who have gone on before us and the way of life sustained for generations by our ancestors’ prayers.” The Bitterroot is, indeed, the ancient home of Native Americans. It was also explored by Lewis and Clark, trodden by Hudson Bay fur traders, and location of the oldest occupied town in Montana. Even with this early activity, the intermountain areas of western Montana were the last to be settled by Europeans. Today, much of the Bitterroot Valley Scenic Byway parallels the 1.6-million-acre Bitterroot National Forest, the largest expanse of continuous pristine wilderness in the Continental US, including the Selway-Bitterroot, the Frank Church River of No Return, and the Anaconda-Pintler. The beautiful Bitterroot Valley itself, is named after the small pink blossoms and succulent roots of the Montana state flower. It is nestled between two mountain ranges, the Bitterroots, with heavily-glaciated rugged peaks that punctuate the forest, and the Sapphires, which make the climate here more moderate than the rest of the state. The river parallels the road for most of the distance between Missoula to the Idaho state line.