15 August 2006

Spring Camping at the Home Ranch


Saturday was gorgeous, with clouds sometimes obscuring the Pintler peaks, but with lots of sun and gorgeous views to Goat Peaks, Pintler Peaks, Mts Howe, Evans, Short, and Haggin. There were a few sprays of rain throughout Saturday and then on Sunday morning. While we were setting up the tents, a nice buck antelope tormented RolyTheDog. The buck would let her chase him and get within a hundred feet or so, and then sprint way ahead and turn back to watch. At one point, he even ran a circle around her. He behaved very territorially.

First thing after setting up our little tents we drove over to Moose Cr for firewood, saw a nice mule deer buck in velvet, cut a big pile of standing dead aspen. Back at the Home Ranch, we hiked up the valley. Lots of elk, of course, and we had the rare treat of watching a cow nurse its little spotted calf. While we were napping on a sunny slope out of the nagging wind, a bull bugled just below us in the pines. We saw just one moose, though a few weeks ago we saw more than a dozen so they are around somewhere.

The ground is a profusion of wildlflowers, everything from glacier lillies and prarie smoke to bluebells and phlox. While we were admiring the flowers, a doe antelope nervously watched us from higher ground. No doubt she had a fawn hid on each side of the low ridge. As we were leaving -- circling to avoid disturbing her -- a young bald eagle began hunting over her, looking for one of the tasty young fawns. On our way back down to camp, I was looking along Deep Cr and found a live mussel about 1/2 mile above the ranch buildings. I've found shells there before, and wanted to confirm the presence of the seemingly rare Margaritifera falcata that Em studied up at Clam Creek near Mussigbrod.

For much of our hike we followed the old Indian road on the bluffs above French Cr. Surprise, surprise--the highway dept has laid out the new Mill Cr Highway route right along the old Indian road, through campsites marked by tipi rings and lots of beautiful blood-red and butter-yellow jasper flakes from the mine up the valley just above the ski area. I suppose the highway makes more sense on the bluffs than in the creek bottom--if and only if they obliterate the old highway. They will probably build new access roads to Moose Cr, Frenchtown, etc. Speaking of the jasper mine, Dave & I stopped there on our way home Sunday morning and hiked up the ridge, took in the quarry sites, found a campsite at a little spring just below the quarries. It's beautiful stone, and I even found one lone flake of obsidian-like material. Dave also noticed that the quarry area has an oddly unrandom seeming distribution of food plants--incl blue camas, huckleberries, Oregon grape, currant, strawberries, and raspberries. Wonder if the Indians didn't do a little gardening at regularly used spots. Or maybe they just took a dump and planted what they had been eating.

Lots of birds to observe, from the osprey hunting a circle upstream over the old irrigation ditch and then around and downstream over Deep Creek, to the great blue heron that flew upstream to its (presumably) fishing site and then downstream to its (presumably) nesting site. The heron's last flight was a about 1/2 hr after sundown, and its first flight about 1/2 hr after sunrise. It seemed to make the flight every few hours. The sandhill cranes seem a little scarcer than usual, though it might because they are molting and hiding out. One "pterodactyl on native ground" flew low over our heads, and we wondered how it could stay in the air with so many missing primary feathers. The huge swallow flock that lives in the old barn is a constant amusement. They all swarm out together, feed -- sometimes for only 15 minutes or so -- and then all swarm back into their nests to feed the young.

Wow. It's great to live in SW Montana. It was hard to head home Sunday morning.

"It is not enough to fight for the West; it is even more important to enjoy it. While you can. While it's still there." - Ed Abbey

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