By Jamie Balke, explorebigsky.com Contributor

Last week my dad was in town. The absence of my parents is one of the very few aspects of living in Montana that bums me out. Maybe some day they will move here, but until that time I must content myself with the occasional visit.

On a beautiful spring day, my brother and I took our dad hiking up Middle Cottonwood Creek Trail north of Bozeman. The drive to the trailhead has sweeping views of the valley and surrounding mountains, and a bit of dirt road, which I admit makes me feel slightly rugged. To me, this area will always be mysterious. Not because it is particularly remote or unexplored, but because I refuse to read about it. The idea was to convince Dad he wants to move here.

Typically, I am a meticulous planner, bordering on neurotic. However, I’ve decided I never want to know how far this particular path goes, or what landmarks I might see upon the way in advance. What I’ve found so far is an unassumingly spectacular trail that follows a rocky, bubbly creek, and glimpses of the Bridger Mountains peeking out behind tree-lined canyon curves. I like to imagine I’m discovering it.

My brother, dad and I set off up the Middle Cottonwood Trail, surrounded by budding trees and wildflowers. Before long we arrived at the first stream crossing and encountered a dog, whom, in the interest of anonymity I’ve renamed “Pamela.”

Think Dear Abbey.

Pamela was a friendly, energetic Bozeman dog who ran back and forth on the trail between her family and the adventure around the bend. Adorable. We stopped by the creek for a water break, and soon her humans caught up to her.

Pamela wagged her tail and waited, presumably plotting, until her family had safely crossed the log bridge. At this point she dove sideways into a mound of horse droppings and began luxuriating in the pile. Deaf to the amused and disgusted cries to cease and desist emanating from her people on the other side of the creek, she rolled and wagged, occasionally going in for a nibble.

At the risk of anthropomorphizing Pamela, I’d say she displayed an enviable amount of pure joy. Eventually, she paid heed to her family and headed for the stream crossing. But halfway across, the moving water confused her. In no evident danger, she seemed to forget how to walk until a child from the family appeared at the side of the creek to encourage her.

But this was not the best part. The best part occurred on the return trip to the trailhead when Pamela sauntered right up to my brother, in all of her road-apple-covered waterlogged glory, and shook herself dry upon him. In my approximation, this was the perfect ending to a wonderful hike.

Jamie Balke moved to Bozeman in the fall of 2009. She can generally be found behind the cover of a book, meandering down a trail or desperately trying not to kill houseplants.