08 July 2007

Branham Lakes car camp

Each summer, we spend a day or two at nearby Virginia City (Montana's authentic 19th century tourist ghost town) and attend a show at the Brewery Follies and/or a play at the Opera House (The Illustrious Virginia City Players). Usually, we camp someplace nearby, often at Branham Lakes at the head of the Mill Creek valley above the town of Sheridan. Branham Lakes is a Forest Service campground, and at c. 9,000 feet it's one of the highest places you can drive to in southwest Montana. The road is not for the faint of heart. Some years, come July 4th, there are still snowdrifts over the picnic tables. Other years -- like this year -- the flies and mosquitoes can eat you alive. We love it!

Though there were some day visitors, we had the campground to ourselves the first night. With the 100-degree F heat in the valleys and towns, the 75 deg F alpine air felt GOOD:
The campground sits along the shore of the upper lake, with good views to the ridges of the Tobacco Root mountains: The exquisite alpine meadows above the lake are lush with wildflowers:The tiny forget-me-nots are not to be missed:
On an early morning hike up to the peak east of camp, RTD and I flushed several golden eagles out of the krumholz forest of alpine fir. It's a dense little forets of 3 to 4 foot high trees. This seemed an odd place for eagles to be roosting.
RTD's superior nose led us to the reason the eagles were there--not to roost, but to feed on what might have been their kill. Or, scavengers that they are, the goldens might have found this mule deer fawn dead of "natural" causes: It was the first time that I have seen a mule deer fawn (live or dead) up in the "goat rocks." The mulie does usually hang out and fawn at lower elevations. It is common, however, to see big mulie bucks above treeline, like this guy bedded down at the edge of a snow field (silhouetted at lower right): Great views from the peak to the lakes. The lakes are full of trout, but this year I did not even bring a rod. Some friends (and family) think that EcoRover is compulsive about fishing, but I hardly even thought about it, even as hundreds of trout were rising on the still evening water, many within range of a good roll cast, and they would have taken eagerly a small ant or Goddard caddis fly on an 11-foot leader with a 6X tippet... While some of us like an early morning hike, others go for the early morning swim in an icy mountain lake. Even Emily needs a few moments to summon courage (or perhaps for ritual prayer) for the plunge: Once in, the water's fine (for a few minutes!): And there's nothing like a good round of shivering to warm up after the swim: Bugs, bad road, icy lake, steep ridges... Will we go back to Branham Lakes in future years? You bet!

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