26 March 2007

Big Hole SpringCampout

The blue birds have returned, so it was time for a spring campout. For the past several years, Dave, RTD, and I have headed to The Notch for a few days each spring. We wait for a weekend with good weather, throw the gear in the truck, and head for the lower Big Hole. This is desert country, receiving only about 10 inches or less of annual precipitation. There are antelope and mule deer, but they are rather scarce as you get a mile or two from the river. This year, we camped across the river from our usual spots near Block Mountain, and settled into a little dale nestled between The Hogback and a smaller parallel ridge, several miles south of the Big Hole River. View of camp:
The Hogback is a ridge several miles long. The land slopes rather gradually upward from the west to the spine. The spine is topped with craggy rock that drops into many sheer cliffs on the east side. View along the top of The Hogback:
The Hogback creates a mini-rain shadow across the dale for the weather blowing in from the west. You can map the annual precipitation through the vegetation. The top of The Hogback is lush with mountain mahogany; a hundred feet or so down on the east side this transitions into a strip of sagebrush; from there on down to the floor of the dale it is prickly pear cactus; but then the floor of the dale becomes a swale lush with bunchgrass, which continues up the small parallel ridge until it transitions into a narrow swath of cactus topped with mountain mahogany.
We camped on the floor of the dale, and although the area is exposed to wind from the south the prevailing west wind is blocked by The Hogback.

Because the dale is so lush as to be a swale, we dared not build our fire in the dry grass there. Instead, we moved a few hundred feet up the little ridge to our east and built a nice fireplace in the rock. There was lots of dead mountain mahogany close at hand--a wonderful, clean, and long-burning hardwood. View of Dave, turning the deer steaks once to bloody rare perfection:

Saturday morning we loaded our knapsacks, found a moderately easy route up The Hogback, and hiked north toward the Big Hole River. From the top, there are good views to the Highland Mtns (incl. Red & Table Mtns); Block Mountain makes a good local landmark (dark mass on right edge of photo); you can also see an abandoned mine (red area) in the foreground:

There are also great views to the Tobacco Roots:

Because The Hogback's ridge is so rugged and thick with mountain mahogany, we moved down the western flank and hiked the grassland. There are numerous small mines along this route, marked on the map only as "soda mines." Some of the waste rock is very beautiful (we're not sure what the soda pay dirt looks like):
There was a horse skeleton near one of the mines. The immediate cause of death seems to have been that bullet hole between the eyes. No broken legs that we could see, and the teeth looked pretty good:
Oh well, the cycle of life and all that jazz. The coyotes must have been very happy with a horse carcass. And there's nothing prettier than a coyote turd full of horse hair:

RTD had a bad time withe the prickly pear cactus; no wonder this little plant gave the Lewis & Clark expedition such a bad time as they portaged their canoes around the Great Falls of the Missouri River:

Prickly pear cactus are eaten by packrats. The cactus gives the"woodrats" needed moisture, and these rodents also make a good home defense, as shown in this photograph of cactus piled up around a packrat's den in some old mine timbers:

Sentinel Rock marks one of the few passes over the northern portion of The Hogback:
Making our way through the rocky pass, we found numerous signs of old fox trapper's sets: bits of mylar attractor, waxed paper that had been placed under the traps' pans, wire that had anchored traps, etc. Here, we found an old rabbit carcass that had been used to bait the trap, along with the forgotten trap itself (a nice "soft set" with rubber-padded jaws and a spring on the trap's chain):

Back to camp and time for a nap. The warm (c. 75 deg F) day cooled as a front blew in from the south. After a very windy night we awoke to cloudy skies, cooler (c. 60 deg F) but still pleasant weather. We drove home leisurely along the frontage road, through Glen and past the flanks of Mt Fleecer. It's hard to be in a hurry after even a day or two on nature's time.


Chad Okrusch said...

Thanks, Pat. It was nice to live vicariously through you and Dave on this trip. Keep these posts coming.

I'm always amazed at how easily you make connections among the material stuff you encounter and the natural-cultural processes that likely led to it.

secure tabs said...

WOW amazing views, I love The Hogback's ridge, the pictures are spectacular, thank you so much for sharing...