Road Trip: Bannack Ghost Town

July 17, 2013:  Flash Flood in Bannack.  

Billings Gazette photo

Billings Gazette photo

The annual Bannack Days celebration was scheduled last year for July 18 and 19, and we thought it would be fun to go check it out.  The rain gods, though, had something else planned for Bannack:  a flash flood that tore down the main street for 90 minutes.  There were about 20 people visiting the town that day, and some were caught by the flood, but all made it out alive.  Holy buckets.  Of rain.    But look at the blue skies in this photo.  Amazing.

Bannack was closed for the rest of summer last year.   I’d heard that the damage had been fixed, but I was worried that one of my favorite places might never be the same.

It was rainy for our road trip to Bannack this week, but the town looked just as it always has.    We camped on Grasshopper Creek, and had the town to ourselves in the late evening and early morning.

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There are two cemetaries in town, an early one on the hill right above town, and a later one a little ways outside of town.

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As always, it’s the children’s graves that pull at our hearts, even more than a 100 years after they’re gone.







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Moose, Mosquitoes and Bear Grass: Three Days in the Pintlers

Whoa…what’s that?”

Margaret stops dead, pointing into the trees.    I don’t stop in time and smack into her backpack.  I look where she’s pointing in the woods off to the right of us but don’t see anything.

“What?  I don’t…”     I’m scanning the hillside above us.

“Right there.  A moose!”

I’d been looking way too far.  A bull moose is looking back at us, not even 50 feet away.


Wow.  And yikes.  Anyone who spends any time in the woods knows that moose can be scary: a crabby moose is not to be messed with.     But this guy was mellow.  He looked us over, took a few steps, checked us out again, and then calmly went on his way.




We were almost to our destination:  Johnson Lake in the Pintler Wilderness.  From the trailhead it had been a five mile steady climb, with increasingly incredible stands of bear grass.  Bear grass is pretty much a northwest  alpine phenomenon; you can find it somewhere every year, but every 5 years or so the blooms can be especially spectacular, and this has been one of those years.    It looks like a sea of fluffy Q-tips.




Even our campsite was in the middle of the bear grass:


As we sat waiting for the sunset that evening, our friendly moose appeared on the opposite side of the lake.  He browsed around the lake, heading toward a couple who were fishing.   They didn’t see him right away, but when they did, I was pretty surprised that they didn’t back off.  The moose and hikers checked each other out,



and the moose decided that his best option was to swim around these blokes who were insisting on standing their ground.  Lucky for them he was one mild-mannered moose!

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He parked himself in the lake, probably only 25 feet from these folks, and spent the next hour feeding and entertaining us all.  What a story those guys had to tell their friends that night!

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As for me, I was happy to watch from my safe distance.  When the couple left the moose stayed a bit longer, but then something spooked him and he hightailed it into the woods.  He could move when he wanted too, that’s for sure!

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Good Grebe!

I’ve been watching a pair of Red-necked Grebes on a local lake since early this spring.   They mated and built a nest in May, but the nest must have failed, because no little grebes ever showed up.  They hung around though, and a few weeks ago I saw the mating behavior again.  I eventually found their new nest, and last night we took the kayak out to check on their progress.

No grebes at the nest.   Uh oh.

But wait….there they are….and….success!    Baby on board!



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I’m not too sure about these grebes’ parenting skills.  I watched as they tried to feed the baby a fish that was twice as big as the baby:



Not surprisingly, junior couldn’t manage such a huge mouthful, and the parent dropped the fish.  In his excitement, the little guy toppled overboard:


The parents didn’t seem to know what to think about this flopping around behavior.


But he popped up again, and managed to scramble back on mama’s back.

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Ain’t nature grand?


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Exploring Rainy Lake

We have a new toy, and I’m just loving it.

DSCN8361 The cool thing about our new kayak is that it’s inflatable, which means we can fold it up and put in the camper.  And it’s a cinch to blow up.  Check it out:

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Nifty, eh?

We tested it out at Rainy Lake, a lovely little jewel of a mountain lake in the Seeley-Swan Valley.  Rainy Lake (and isn’t that just a perfect name for a lake?) is a loon nesting area, and I was hoping we’d see a loon carrying a baby on its back.   Mainly though, we were just happy to spend some hours on the lake, playing with our new toy.

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We watched a heron fishing along the shore,  and were watched by a bald eagle from his perch.



A couple of loons were calling to each other at the east end of the lake.  We got as close as we could without disturbing them, and – success! – one of them had a baby on her back!   The photos I got were from pretty far away, so they’re pretty fuzzy, but still…such a grand sight.  Can you see the little baby on her back?





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It’s Windy on Top of the World


It was 89 degrees and dead calm in the Skalkoho Creek valley when we left.  Now the wind is howling, and I’ve put on an extra shirt and the fleece jacket that I just threw in at the last moment, thinking it would make a good pillow.   But it’s all good.  I’m on top of the world.


The Gird Point Lookout is the fourth lookout we’ve stayed in, and it’s a dandy.    You can’t drive all the way to the lookout, but it’s a pretty manageable walk:  from the parking area it’s 3/4 mile up a hill.  A steep hill, yes, but not far.

The harder part is the 13 mile drive up the winding and twisty Forest Service road.  The directions tell you to budget an hour and a half for the drive, and that’s pretty much right.  But it’s not too rocky, so just about any car could make it.  (Although I noticed a number of folks who wrote comments in the lookout journal also commented on the flat tires they got on the way up.  The wind was also a common theme!)

After 12 miles, we got our first view of the lookout:


Every lookout has amazing views, but sometimes the weather doesn’t cooperate; smoke or clouds can hide the scene.  But the wind just adds to the drama, and this place is full of drama.  We were even visited by a group of six mule deer bucks and a magnificent big horn sheep.  The wind died down just before sunset, which meant it was perfect for sitting out on the catwalk and just looking.



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Hidden in Plain Sight

We’ve been hiking down Bear Trap Canyon for a couple of hours now, and I’m more than ready for lunch.  I stop by a big log, turn to Bill and suggest that this would be a good stopping place.

“Well, maybe not.”

“Why not?  I’m starving.  It’s a good place to sit.”

“Ummm…the guy right behind you thinks so too.”

What?? I turn to my right, and about jump out of my skin.   There’s a big dude sitting not three feet from me, totally decked out in camouflage.  Holy crow…that stuff works!    He laughs, we laugh, and we move on to find our own lunch spot.

We learned this nifty hiding trick from the animals, of course.

How about this example?  Not the bear, he doesn’t need camouflage.  But do you see anyone else in this photo?


Is it easier if you look where the bear is looking?


Sometimes we can be distracted by one critter and not see everyone in the frame.  I bet if you just take a quick look at these photos who won’t see everyone…




Pretty cool, eh?

Standing still works pretty well, too.  I saw a couple of these herons at first, but didn’t realize there were so many of them until I looked at the photo!


And I was so distracted by the lovely forms these two herons were creating that I totally missed that there were two babies in the nest:


Sandhill cranes can hide themselves incredibly well…except for that silly red spot on the top of their heads.


The system works much better if the light isn’t on them:


Owls have this camouflage thing nailed.  I bet I’ve walked within feet of hundreds of owls without a clue that they’re there.  Even when you know they’re there, it can be a challenge.



Of course, the old stand-by technique of putting a lot of brush around you is always a good choice.  Do you see anything in this tangle of branches?

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How about now?


Or closer?  Now you see the moose, I bet!


She was so well hidden, I just about walked into her.   What a shock that would have been!


Posted in Hiking, Montana, Nature, Outdoors, Photography, Wildlife | Tagged , | 31 Comments

Between a Critter and the Hard, Hard Ground

Cowboys are pretty much always caught between two bad choices, don’t you think?







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