September 22, 2017
The Eighth Wonder of the World: Cliff Swallows
There are so many hidden wonders of this world. I got the opportunity to experience one of those wonders in the almost obsolete town of Fishtail, Montana (population: 478). Cliff Swallows is a riverfront and fishing access about 60 miles from any major highway. It is hidden way back in the mountains, and one would only stumble upon it by chance. Any adventurist would tell say that the best adventures are those that are not planned. And this is precisely how one would find Cliff Swallows; completely by accident. It is one of those places that can take your breath away. There is a saying that “beauty is found in the small places that get overlooked.” Cliff Swallows could be considered one of those locations. Just a few of the aspects that make Cliff Swallows so special are the pure beauty of nature, how isolated it is, and its ability to make its visitors get lost in their own minds.
The first aspect that makes Cliff Swallows so memorable is the scenery. As we made the drive to the river, I couldn’t keep from staring out the window. Right alongside the road were cliffs as tall as skyscrapers. As I pushed my cheek as close to the window as I could and looked up, the tops of the peaks were still out of sight it and seemed like they went so high, they could touch the clouds. As we pulled up to the riverfront, I was a little confused. It didn’t look like anything special. The supposed parking lot was just a patch of overgrown grass and gravel that had been laid down. There was a little makeshift “pathway” which was just where previous visitors had trampled through the tall stalks to get to the water. When we got to the waterfront, that was where it all came to life. I had to just sit there for a few minutes to take it all in. Everything was just so peaceful. Upstream, the rushing water of the Yellowstone would crash over the rocks before it settled into the current. There, the river rippled as it flowed, with its only disturbance being a fish jumping and breaking the solid glass top of the water. Its pure beauty is so unbelievable it could make someone wonder “How could this place be so hidden?”
The second element that makes Cliff Swallows so memorable is its complete separation from the busy city life. My grandparents live in a small town called Columbus, Montana. It is about 45 minutes from Billings, the largest city near them. Fishtail is about another 30 minutes off the highway from Columbus. As we continued to drive further out, I couldn’t help but think about all the adventures and sights people miss out on from staying in their little local bubbles. It amazes me how some people can stare at four white walls all day and not wonder what else is out there, yet to be explored. The last 20 minutes of the drive to the riverfront consists of dirt and gravel roads canopied by trees. But, when the dome of trees breaks, the only sight in every direction are mountains and plains occupied by families of elk. And the sunset and clouds painted the sky with pinks and purples. When we finally reached the cliffs, the only thing you could hear was the water and rustling of the wind through the trees. Not a single building or car in sight. It is amazing to be able to “unplug” from the world sometimes and experience the world as it was originally created. It is easy to lose one’s self when the only thing that remains in their heart is a desire to experience the world as it was meant to be.
The final aspect that brings the whole place together is how it can give someone the ability to lose themselves. Cliff Swallows is a great place just to go and relax and experience nature. But, it was still rightfully given the name Cliff Swallows for a reason. On the far side of the river, there is a ledge for cliff jumping, which was the whole reason my uncle decided to bring us here. He wanted my sister, cousin, and me to jump with him. At first, I thought he was insane. Eventually, my sister pressured me into jumping with them. As we made our way into the water, it hit me how cold it was. All the water in the Yellowstone River is snow runoff from the mountains from the previous winter season. So even in the middle of July, the water temperature was about 45 degrees. We had to allow our bodies to acclimate to the temperature, so we didn’t go into shock when we tried to swim across the current. After about 15 minutes of wading in the water, we made our way across the river to the cliff. The whole climb up the top, the suspense continued to build along with the knot in my stomach. It always seems like so much shorter of a drop from the bottom. As we got into position, ready to jump, I had to take a minute to admire the view. Because of how far North we were, and the fact that the water was a result of all the snow runoff, there wasn’t much debris or dirt in it yet. The water was as clear as glass. You could see all the way to the bottom. Every rock, boulder, and fish is put at center stage as its viewers admire their beauty. Although it was beautiful, this made the jump a bit more intimidating. But, when one finally finds the courage to jump in, it is one of the most exhilarating feelings. As I hit the chilling 45-degree water, the cold was the last thing on my mind. It felt so incredible like I had become one with the river, and this was where I belonged.
There is a quote by George Santayana, “the earth has its music for those who will listen.” I feel that Cliff Swallows represents this quote perfectly. Swallows could easily be considered one of the many hidden wonders of the world. The seclusion of the area compliments the pure beauty of the untouched creation while allowing so much potential for imagination and adventure. This place holds a special place in my heart. I discovered a lot about not only the world but myself during my visit to Cliff Swallows. I can’t wait to travel the world and see what other hidden wonders I can find if I just listen for the music.