Beware the Steaming Bear

It’s not unusual to come upon plumes of steam coming from the ground when you’re hiking in Yellowstone.    You just walk around the vent, and keep on your way.

Sometimes though, the steam in front of you is not what you think.

If you’re starting a walk across a meadow on a cold fall morning with the sun glaring in your eyes, I have a bit of advice.

Look out!

That little column of steam may be coming from something a little scarier than a hole in the ground.


Yep.  You guessed it.  It’s a bear.  A grizzly bear.


The ravens hanging around him are a good hint that he’s got something to eat.

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And we all know that a grizzly bear is kind of OK with the ravens hanging around, but he’s not so willing to share his breakfast with you and me.



Time to retreat.

We could see him just fine from the safety of the road.

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Posted in Hiking, Montana, Nature, Wildlife, Yellowstone | Tagged , | 8 Comments

Sometimes They Sneak Up on You…

It’s cold at 9,500 feet on a late September morning in the Gravelly Mountains – I’m glad for my down coat and warm coffee.    We’re sitting on a little ridge overlooking the pond we camped near last night, waiting for the sun to warm us up.   Yesterday evening a Bald Eagle stopped by for a drink, along with a young hawk who checked us out but was too spooked by our fire to actually come in for a landing.

Evening fire.

Evening fire.





RSCN2628RSCN2629RSCN2762RSCN2760So far this morning, though, no one’s come to visit.

Squinting into the rising sun starts hurting my eyes, so I turn my back on the pond and check out the meadows and mountains to the west of us.    It occurs to me that I’ve left my camera in the camper, but I’m too lazy to go get it.

I’m lost in a daydream when I become aware of an odd grunting noise behind me – from the direction of the pond.  I turn and squint into the sun.    A moose!  Having a morning drink at the pond!

He knows I’m there, but lets me go back to the camper and get my camera before he calmly heads out.

I was in such a rush to get my first photos that I failed to notice how perfectly he was reflected in the water.  Oh well –   I do like that you can see his breath.


He circled our camp, crossed into the big meadow and headed off into the forest.  Not a bad way to start the morning!







Posted in Adventure, Montana, Nature, Outdoors, Wildlife | Tagged , | 22 Comments

Yellowstone Skies

The changing season brings out the best in Yellowstone.    The critters tend toward the frantic: the bull elk are madly trying to keep their harems in line, chasing after each other during the day and bugling all night long, the bears and bison are chowing down on anything they can find to get nice and fat for the winter, and the wolves are reveling in the cooler weather that they love.

Sometimes the activity on the ground is eclipsed by the activity in the sky; thunderclouds climb into the stratosphere, the wind whips into a frenzy, and everyone takes shelter from the driving hail and rain.    The setting sun turns the clouds an eerie fire-red, and the rain sets in with a vengeance, turning the rivers to mud and the creeks to rushing torrents.   By morning it’s all finished, and the sun scours away the clouds that hang in the valleys.



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Posted in Montana, Nature, Outdoors, Yellowstone | 15 Comments

The Missouri Breaks: Back to 1805.

On our second day in the Missouri Breaks we heard a four-wheeler grinding its way down the steep road to our camp on the banks of the Missouri.  A few minutes later a grizzled and weathered rancher with a border collie pup on the seat behind him pulled up and asked if we’d seen any of his cows.   Nope, we hadn’t.    We’d seen some across the river, but those weren’t his.

He reckoned he’d need to get out on horseback to find them; too many gullies and ravines for them hide in this country.

I reckon so too.   How do you find a few cows in the middle of this?


The Missouri Breaks is one of the most isolated spots in the lower 48:  with the exception of a few cows and the occasional rancher, you’re not likely to see anyone during your visit here.   The stretch of the Missouri between Fort Benton and the Fort Peck lake is also one of the least changed stretches of the Missouri; it looks the way it looked to both the Indians and the Lewis and Clark Expedition.


We were, in fact, camped near the spot where the expedition camped on the way west, on May 25, 1805, and where Meriweather Lewis also camped on July 30, 1806 his way to meet Clark at the confluence of the Yellowstone and Missouri Rivers on their return trip.

In the May 26 journal entry, Lewis climbed the bluffs along the river, a “fortiegueing” job, but when he reached the top he was rewarded:  “from this point I beheld the Rocky Mountains for the first time.”  He could easily have stood at the spot where I took the above photo.   I was not too “fortiegued”,  having the benefit of a pickup to carry me up.

The road to Woodhawk Bottom, where we camped, is plenty steep.   You wouldn’t want to tackle it after a rain, that’s for sure.

We camped in the cottonwoods at the bottom.

We camped in the cottonwoods at the bottom.

See? Steep.

Evening and morning are when you can really appreciate the solitude and isolation of the breaks.  The nearly full moon rose across the river just as the sun was setting.


Coyotes called to each as the moon rose, and a crabby kingfisher zipped into the cottonwoods above us and kept up a rattling scolding until he decided we weren’t going anywhere, no matter how long he yelled at us.  Then, silence.

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Sunrise was magic as well.


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Can’t you just see William Clark sitting on this bank, writing up his notes?


Posted in Adventure, Camping, History, Montana, Nature, Travel | Tagged , , , , | 17 Comments

Glacier: Kintla Lake at Summer’s End

Summer is short at Kintla Lake; even in late August the nights are getting cold, the days are shorter, the squirrels are madly caching food for the winter, and you feel like the weather could turn at any moment.   The lake, always beautiful, changes from one hour to the next.     

12:30 p.m.  August 27.



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3:00.  Clouds are building.  Time to head to shore. 


A lone snake decides to head to shore as well.  









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7:30  The rain wins.  

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7:30 the next morning, looking like a foggy morning on the coast of Maine.  


Good morning for a hot cup of coffee.  


8:30.  Sun is trying.  


Not working, though.  


10:30  Hooray! 

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1:00  A trip to the end of the lake.  


7:30  All calm.  

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Posted in Camping, Montana, Nature, Outdoors, Photography, Travel | 13 Comments

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.







Posted in Adventure, Camping, History, Montana, Nature, Travel | Tagged , , | 8 Comments

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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Posted in Adventure, Backpacking, Hiking, Montana, Nature, Outdoors, Wildlife | Tagged , , , , , | 25 Comments