Backpack to the “Not Unduly Spectacular.” Curly Lake, Tobacco Root Mountains.

I’m trudging up the steep trail to Curly Lake, thinking – somewhat crabbily – about the Montana Hiking guide’s description of Curly Lake as “not unduly spectacular.”  I haven’t been there, and right about now I’m wondering why we chose to backpack to a lake with such a lackluster recommendation.   Really?    And couldn’t someone add a few switchbacks to this trail?

Indeed, after about three miles we walk right by the lake and have to backtrack to find it.

DSCN7054

It’s not spectacular, that’s true.  But it’s a lovely peaceful spot in the Tobacco Root Mountains, and would be a great spot for a base camp to explore the surrounding country which is duly spectacular.     And the trail did level out a bit and started switchbacking, and the wildflowers were most definitely spectacular:  Lupine, Indian Paintbrush, Arnica, Harebells, and many more that I don’t know the names of.

IMG_1437

IMG_2147

We find a pretty little campsite and build a fire since it’s cold at 8800 feet.  I’m glad for my down coat and warm gloves, and for my traditional post-hike reward of bourbon and Cheetos.  (I, apparently, am not unduly classy.)

DSCN7046

DSCN7061

The next morning is cold as well, but it’s delightful sitting on the edge of the calm lake, sipping coffee and listening to the kinglets and sandpipers calling to each other in the morning sunshine.

DSCN7049 DSCN7053

You’re OK, Curly Lake.  We all don’t need to be spectacular.

DSCN7051

Posted in Backpacking, Hiking, Montana, Nature, Outdoors | Tagged , , | 11 Comments

Bigfoot in the Park and Other Wonders of Glacier

Yep.  Bigfoot.  Just check out the Montana Road and Recreation Atlas.  I’m not making this up.   So get out there and look for him!

RSCN1527

After Bigfoot hunting, head to the west side of the park to the Polebridge Mercantile and get yourself a Huckleberry Bearclaw and a great cup of coffee.  Sit outside in the sun and talk about Bigfoot for a while, then head up to Kintla Lake and camp for a few days.   But be prepared: it’s a long bumpy 15 miles to the lake.

DSCN1524

DSCN4731

Of course, you’ll want to include a couple of bears somewhere along the way:  one grizzly and one black bear should do the job.

RSCN4079 RSCN4118

The Highline Trail has got to be one of the best hiking trails in the world, so don’t miss it.  If you can finagle a stay at Granite Park Chalet at the end of the trail, so much the better!

IMG_0429

DSC02600

And if you can get these guys to carry your stuff, you’re golden.

DSC02633

The Iceberg Lake Trail and the Grinnell Glacier Trail are not to be missed as well.   And if there’s a Bear Frequenting the Area – cool!  Just make sure you’re packing.  Bear spray, that is.   It works on Bigfoot too, you know.

DSCN7072

DSCN4999 DSCN5006

DSCN5008

DSC02572

A close encounter with a mountain goat would be a plus, as well.  Don’t use the bear spray on her, please.

IMG_0434

Morning coffee at Cut Bank Campground?  Why not?

DSCN4183

Finally, head back to the west side of the park to the most beautiful spot in the world: Bowman Lake.   And if you see Bigfoot anywhere, let me know!

DSC02670 DSC02673 DSC02677

Posted in Adventure, Hiking, Montana, Nature, Travel, Wildlife | Tagged , , , , , | 8 Comments

Travels with my Coffee Cup

My coffee cup has had a good life.

DSC01779 DSCN1422 DSCN1692 DSCN1908

DSC02210 DSCN2328 DSCN2527 DSCN3129 DSCN3362 DSCN4184 DSCN5287 DSCN8105 RSCN1867

DSCN2006

And it ain’t done yet.

Posted in Camping, Hiking, Life, Montana, Outdoors, Southwest hikes, Travel | Tagged , | 14 Comments

Herons: the Zen and the Not-So-Zen

RSCN6030

Herons have always seemed particularly Buddha-like to me, despite their distinctly non-chubby physiques.  They stand in a meditative trance, perfectly able to stay that way for as long as they want.    When they’re fishing they’re masters of patience, ever so slowly wading the shoreline.

Even young herons in a crowded rookery will stand perfectly still – especially if they sense they’re being watched.  They’re pretty good at the hiding in plain sight game, too.

How many do you see?

How many do you see?

RSCN6039

How about here?

But once mom shows up at feeding time – cover your ears!  The racket and squabbling starts on a dime and seems to escalate the whole time she’s at the nest.   It sounds like wild beasts on a rampage in the trees.

RSCN6026 RSCN6028 RSCN6029

Their hairdos even change to a wild punk rock style.  From chill to frantic in zero seconds.

Mom takes this racket for as long as she can stand it, and then – without even a “see ya later”, is gone.

The kids watch her until she’s out of sight,  wild hair now dejectedly tamed,

RSCN6035

and calmly return to the land of Zen.

RSCN6034

Posted in Birding, Montana, Nature, Wildlife | Tagged , , | 6 Comments

Campsite Visitors

Early morning, Many Glacier Campground, June 6, 2015

Something is crashing through the willows at the edge of our campsite.  I put down my coffee and stand to see what is making such a racket.  I see three shapes through the bushes, and start to sit down again – just some deer.

Hold on.  That’s no deer.

DSCN4783

She lifts her head into the sunlight to get a better look at us.

RSCN5035

To my surprise, she doesn’t bolt, but just keeps on browsing while keeping a close eye on her kids.  At one point something startles them and one of the calves makes a run for it. Mama wakes up then, and chases the wanderer around the underbrush until he gets back under control.  She then decides that putting the creek between her and the campers is a good idea.  The smaller calf is not too sure about crossing the stream, but he finally decides to brave it.  Being left behind is not a good option!

RSCN4968

Mom gives him a reassuring peck when he gets to the other side.

RSCN5018

I’m sure that the little family will disappear into the woods now.

RSCN4973

But no, they hang around while mama enjoys the tasty willow shoots and the morning sunshine.

RSCN4976

RSCN4967

After a while mom decides that she’s browsed enough and she leads her kids upstream.  Not a bad way to start the morning!

RSCN5031

Posted in Montana, Nature, Outdoors, Wildlife | Tagged , , , | 24 Comments

The Goldens

I’m sitting on the side of a steep hill, scoping out a stunning Golden Eagle nest.  The eagle in the nest is doing the same thing she’s been doing for the past 6 weeks – laying in the nest.     It’s been 42 days, and I’m beginning to worry that this nest is going to fail.

I take one more look, and see a little fuzz of white moving around behind the eagle.    I look again, and – hooray – it’s an eaglet!    Success.  I feel like a proud grandparent.

May 4, 2015

The little guy starts throwing himself around the nest until I’m sure he’s going to tumble over the side.  But he stays safe.

RSCN2432

I was lucky to find this nest.   I’ve seen Golden Eagle nests before, but they’re usually high up on cliffs, and seeing what’s going on in the nest is nearly impossible.  But this couple built their nest high in a dead Ponderosa pine overlooking the Helena valley.  I could climb above the nest and safely keep an eye on the eagles.  Since March 20, that’s what I’ve been doing.  It’s a spectacular setting.

DSCN9569

Unlike Bald Eagle pairs, who take turns sitting on the nest, the Golden Eagle female does the majority of the incubating.   The male’s job is to bring her food.   In my many weeks of watching the nest I only caught the male bringing food to the nest one time, and he didn’t hang around long after he dropped it off.

March 31 2015

March 31 2015 (2)

I could usually see the male soaring above the valley, while the female sat.  And sat.

RSCN0881

RSCN0877

She would occasionally stand up for a stretch, but she was sure patient.

April 10 2015

I was patient, too.  Although it’s not exactly hard duty, hanging out on a gorgeous hillside taking in the view.

March 26 2015

I first saw the eaglet on May 4.    He’s still a fluffy white ball, but he’s changed from a baseball to a softball to almost as big as a volleyball.  The parents are doing a good job.

May 13 2015 1

May 13 2015 2

May 25 2105

Fingers crossed that he stays safe!

Posted in Birding, Montana, Nature, Wildlife | Tagged , , | 13 Comments

Malheur Wildlife Refuge

RSCN3358

I’m standing on the edge of the Blitzen River, watching – and being watched by – a pair of Northern Harriers.  I think they must have a nest nearby, since they don’t seem to like the fact that I’m hanging around.

The female does a couple of fly-bys, checking me out.  The third time, she is vocal in her displeasure: she doesn’t want me there.

RSCN3110

That spurs her partner into action.  He screeches a response and circles me as well, giving me the evil eye on the first pass and diving at my head on the second.  I swing my arms and he veers off, but I’m duly chastened.    I get the heck out of there.

RSCN3357

The Malheur Wildlife Refuge in southeastern Oregon is a grand birding destination, especially in early May before the mosquitoes have woken up.  It’s an oasis in the high desert, with hundreds of bird species both stopping through as they migrate north and nesting.  We camped at Page Springs Campground among tall cottonwoods and watched orioles and warblers and song sparrows as we had our morning coffee.  We easily filled four days wandering the area, seeing new birds every day.

DSCN3074

On the trail along the river we watched and listened to cute little Bushtits,  Yellow-breasted Chats (the first I’ve ever seen),  Bullock’s Orioles, a gorgeous Lazuli Bunting,  and hundreds of bright little Yellow Warblers.

RSCN3279

RSCN3386

RSCN2600 RSCN3385 RSCN3512

DSCN2980

The open meadows and ponds were full of Ibises, swallows,  Cinnamon Teals and shorebirds like the Short-billed Dowitcher.

RSCN2822 RSCN3016 RSCN3019 RSCN3158 RSCN3480

Stands of cottonwoods along the ponds and marshes provided habitat for Kestrels, Phoebes and Northern Flickers.

RSCN2958 RSCN3198 RSCN3541

There was even a Great Horned Owl with two chicks.  The mom flew off when we arrived,

RSCN3013

leaving the kids to nap on their own.  One little guy woke up and kept an eye on us for a while,

RSCN2926

but eventually lost interest and turned around to join his brother in his nap.  Owls are chill, that’s for sure!

RSCN3006

Posted in Birding, Nature, Outdoors, Wildlife | Tagged , , | 17 Comments