19 April 2008

Springtime is Creeping up the Slopes

Springtime is creeping up the slopes of the Continental Divide in the Northern Rockies of Montana. The sun is a little further to the north each morning and evening, and a little higher in the sky throughout the day. The snow is gone around the house, and the bitterroot leaves are green and packing away energy for flowers to come.

Dave Carter, RTD, and I went for a hike in some hills overlooking the Cardwell Canyon of the Jefferson River. Lewis and Clark passed through here in late July/early August, 1805, and called the area "third mountain gap:"

We hiked along a ridge that might have been the same climbed by Clark as he reconnoitered the landscape:

There are great views, of course, west and to the Highland Mountains just south of Butte:

It's rough country, with vertical slabs of limestone that sometimes run for a mile or so, creating sparsely vegetated ridges separated by sagebrush valleys and even a few trees on northern aspects:

Though it doesn't look like moose country, there was sign of a cow and calf having wintered here:

Like mule deer, they must like the mountain mahogany:

And the bitterbrush:

Nothing like a cool spot of snow to press your ass into on a warm, sunny spring day:

And lo,"Consider the lillies of the field, how they grow: they neither toil nor sping; and yet I say to you even Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these!"

Several days later, I drove over the Continental Divide to the Bitterroot, where I gave a talk about the Big Hole River and fluvial Arctic grayling to the local Trout Unlimited chapter. I drove through the Big Hole and up Trail Creek and across Chief Joseph pass. Still lots of snow in the Big Hole, here a view toward the Pintler from the Mule Ranch on Deep Creek:

Near Hamilton, RTD and I found a nice campsite in the ponderosa pines at the mouth of Blodgett Canyon. Just enough light to build a nice fire to sprawl in front of and relax before bedtime:

And enjoy the nice view of the rimrock above camp:

You can press your nose into a ponderosa trunk and inhale the aroma of vanilla. And I love the graceful, long needles of the ponderosa:

Just after making my morning coffee, I strolled out to a sunny point and sat down. Looking up toward that rimrock, I watched several mule deer work their way up the grassy zig-zag chute. The deer in the rear of the group spooked and bolted back down the chute, but the deer in the lead stood fast. Hurrying back to the tent, I grabbed my binoculars, found a spot to sit, and watched a mountain lion slip from the rock into a patch of bruch 50 yards or so above the deer. I thought I was going to witness a Wild Kingdom moment, but the deer stood its ground, the lion remained in the brush where I could not see it, and after about 20 minutes I decided to finish my breakfast and pack up. By which time another bunch of deer walked into camp, seemingly unafraid of me or the excited whimpers of RTD:

On my way back to Butte, the ice was just starting to break up on the upper Big Hole River near the Fishtrap Access Site and Sportsman's Park:

Here and there throughout Montana, as here at Fishtrap, you will see the cool fence post art sculptures by Cory Holmes of Havre:

A mating pair of sandhill cranes look forlorn out there on a still frozen meadow:

But spring is on the way, as these pussy willows will attest:

Almost home to Butte, I'm welcomed back by the herd of antelope in Butori's pasture along the Crackerville Road:

See also:

Lewis & Clark in the Cardwell Canyon

Montana fencepost art