24 August 2008

Big Hole River: Another good day flyfishing for trout

I had planned a backpack trip for the weekend, but life got in the way as life tends to do. The heirlooms that my wife, Jan Munday, shipped back from Pennsylvania after her Mom's death arrived Friday, and so there was a sturdy crate (containing a lovley curved-glass china cabinet) to deconstruct. The delivery guy dropped it at our gate, and I felt like the guy in Christmas Story unpacking his "major award" with the neighbors watching; the crate was labeled "Fragile" so I think it was Italian. And 4 large shipping cartons to unpack. Which of course meant cleaning out the basement. There's something about the algebra of keeping house I've never been able to fathom, but as Jan likes to point out (and she's right, of course), if I weren't married I'd be living in a packing crate.

But Jan & I didn't work ALL weekend. After Saturday morning chores, we drove over to the Big Hole River for a few hours. It's nice having such good homewater just 1/2 hour away from Butte, Montana. Nothing like cool water on a hot day. Jan found a partly shady spot to place her chair and read, while I made a circle down one bank, across the river, back up, and across again. That gave old RTD a chance to take a good swim through a deep pool with gentle current. By the time I circled back to Jan, RTD was sound asleep and we felt bad waking her up for the ride home.

Two surprises: (1) I did NOT bring my camera for a change. This was mostly an accident of memory, but it felt good to just fish for a change and not feel compelled to document everything. And, (2) Fishing at high noon was surprisingly good. Normally, I avoid like the plague being on the river at that time of day. But both a big Royal Wulff and Hoppers caught trout, most in the 12" class.

Today was basement cleaning, parting things out for a yard sale, but saving lots too. We hadn't gone through stuff in some years, and there were many reminders of daughter Emily Munday's childhood. Meanwhile, she was off waterskiing near Bozeman with friends for the day. Hey, what's wrong with this picture? Oh well, youth is not always wasted on the young.

22 August 2008

Butte America and Weeds

It's a form of therapy: learning to accept and appreciate weeds. Like some people, weeds are disliked because they are "out of place" and do not serve others' needs. Living in Butte, Montana (aka ButteAmerica, pronounced as if it's all one word), one is often regarded as "Other" by fellow Montanans. For that reason if no other, a Buttian (or Walkervillian, in my case) should understand weeds.

This reminds me in some odd way of a short conversation while elk hunting. Because of a booming elk population, the Big Hole River watershed has become a popular hunting spot for folks from distant towns such as Helena, Missoula, and Kalispell. I mentioned this to a guy who pulled in behind my pickup at a favorite "secret" spot. I assumed that, because he knew how to get there, he was a local. My exact words were, as I recall, "Have you noticed all the riff-raff from Helena and Missoula hunting in the area this year?" His indignant reply was, after informing me that he was from Helena, "Well, that's the first time I heard anybody from Butte call anyone from somewhere else in the state 'riff-raff.'"

Well, anyway, Butte has lots of weeds. The soil was burned over by arsenic, sulfur, and heavy metals from the copper smelters a century ago. Recovery is still underway. But the barren soil became ideal habitat for hardy, introduced invasive plants such as Spotted Knapweed (Centaurea maculosa):

It's a late summer bloomer, and a favorite for bees and other pollinators. Cattle won't graze it, which is reason enough for it be a "noxious weed" in Montana culture. I don't want it in my yard, but there seems to be so much of it in the Butte surround that there's probably no getting rid of, short of "nuking" the soil with year-after-year herbicide treatments (which would wipe out everything but grass).

Of course, ranchers don't generally like native sagebrush either. A recent obituary for old Siv Seidensticker of Twin Bridge stated that burning & eradicating sagebrush was one of his favorite pursuits. Tell that to the elk and deer that depend on sagebrush for winter forage, or for the many birds that need the fragrant herb for food and nesting. Big Sagebrush (Artemisia tridentata) has been doing well on the Butte Hill in recent years:

Butter-and-Eggs (Linaria vulgaris) is an attractive European medicinal herb/invader. Long endemic to the eastern U.S., it has only recently become fairly common in western Montana:

Though not a weed, I include Canada Goldenrod (Solidago canadensis) because it is so frequently accused of causing pollen allergies (it blooms at the same time as ragweed, but is more conspicuous and thus gets blamed) and because a giant cousin was so common in the Allegheny fields of my youth:

Similarly, Rabbitbrush (Chrysomnus nauseosus) often seems weedy because it colonizes disturbed areas so readily. The flowerheads are attractive enough, but once they set seed and puff out they will be especially pretty:

Anyone know what this is? Maybe some kind of yellow aster?

White Campion (Silene latifolia) is another European invader that we might as well learn to live with:

Hoary Alyssum (Berteroa incana)is a weed new to Butte. Like other Europeans, it really takes to the place and has went from rare to common in just a few years. It rapidly takes over anywhere that people disturb soil for a house, ditch, driveway or -- especially -- with ATVs. It produces seeds in super-abundance, so the birds & mice probably like it:

Many of the mine dumps around Butte have been successfully revegetated with grasses and are now being colonized by sage brush, other native plants, and a few weeds. The big ongoing weed invasion, however, is on land torn-up by ATV (All Terrain Vehicle or "four wheeler") use. They are a most effective soil cultivator and weed spreader. Until Butte-Silver Bow gets a handle on limiting off road ATVs, weeds are assured of a good future.

18 August 2008

Dr. Anaconda Rendezvous 2008

Each year, a group of us camp at "Dr. Anaconda Lake" in the Big Hole River watershed near Butte, Montana. It's a beautiful lake with the finest sandy beach in Montana. The Pintler Wilderness is a short hike away, the lake is full of adfluvial Arctic grayling, the big 2000 burn is recovering nicely, and the campground is seldom crowded (which is why I'm not saying its real name here).

Although I think the big 2000 burn was generally a good thing and very beneficial for the lodgepole pine habitat, I was glad that the big Ponderosa pines above the campground did not burn. They are fairly rare in the Big Hole watershed, and one can only speculate on the bear or Clark's nutcracker that carried seeds so far:

We hike across the burn each year to see how the recovery is going. In a year or two, this will be nearly impossible, as the burned trees are beginning to blow over and create a landscape of pick-up sticks. Here is Brent Patch framed by his uncle-in-law from Chihuahua (left) and Butch Gerbrandt (right):

As always, there are black bears in the area. Last year they were in the campground, but perhaps this year campers and rural residents are being more careful and not habituating them to human food. Good people. The bears are staying up in the forest. Good bears. How do you tell black bear from grizzly bear dung? Grizz turds have little bits of chewed-up bells and pepper-spray cans in them:

Early one morning, Brent did see a big mountain lion near the campground, no doubt after one of the numerous mule deer. It did motivate us to keep the kids and dogs close.
At the rendezvous we celebrate the birthdays of Emily Munday and Kenia Patch:

Montana's finest sandy beach is naturally the focus of life on warm, sunny afternoons. Some of the gang is still off hiking, but the beach lures most everyone sooner or later:

This year, we added something new: margaritas, thanks to the ingenious ("Have you been drilled today?") DrillBlender, here operated by certified margarita mechanic Don Stierle:

Don and Andrea Stierle brought fresh raspberries from their garden for a most unique and refreshing drink. Easy on the tequila. Jeff Schahczenski & Jan Munday:

You can make them without the liquor too, right?:

Well, it's not all drinking and tanning. The Tahiti Boat makes for good fun and a welcome cool down, as Mike Stickney and Debbie Stickney will attest (that's AnnieTheDog swimming along):

Celia Schahczenski kayaked the Big Hole River with Jeffher and her visiting brother, and brought the hardshells to the beach. Here's expert kayaker Don Stierle giving novice Emily Munday a lesson:

Lew Yong Gerbrandt enjoyed the swimming, boating, and walking in soft, warm sand near a cool lake on a hot day:

A word of caution: KEEP THE LIFE-JACKETS WITH THE BOAT. It's the law. Two of our jackets were inadvertently carried back to camp. Two of the gang went out in the Tahiti Boat witout them, and we were fined when Fish, Wildlife & Parks wardens stopped by for a safety check.
For kids, frogs provide the ultimate in live entertainment, as Kenia, ("Little") Emily, and Adler know:

If you're calm (or just half asleep) the dragonflies will visit you:

It's a dog's life. They like Tahiti Boat rides too. Here, Don Stierle with Chuka:

One boat ride and a short swim are enough for old RTD:

Stickneys' Annie is younger and more energetic, here going for a sand bath:

Dinah, the former racing dog, was in the care of the Stierle dogsitting service. She is now learning a new life of sociability and doing right well at it. Beautiful dog, too:

People have been visiting "Dr. Anaconda" Lake for a long, long time. A beachcomber found this incredible jasper bi-face. Perhaps it was a scraper, as it did not have the fluted base typical of Clovis or Folsom "spear points:"

All too soon it was Sunday and time to break camp. We had a big group this year!

14 August 2008

Diller Lake, Pintler Wilderness Backpacking

Most every day -- whether at home or work -- I look over toward our backyard wilderness, the Pintler, and imagine myself there. Life in Butte America is good knowing that Montana is just 15 minutes away.

My daughter Emily Munday is home for a few weeks and wanted to visit her favorite spot in the Pintler: Ennea Odoi Lake (you mythology fans will figure it out) in the heart of the wilderness. There are nine routes out of this lake that lead to interesting places just a day hike away, such as peaks and other lakes. It is a lovely place, Ennea Odoi Lake:

We started out with Don and Andrea Stierle:

And here's a pic of Emily Munday with Chooka (DnA's faithful pack dog) and RTD:

Dave and Chelsea Carter got an earlier start and met us a quarter-mile from the lake, where they prepared a fantastic supper (thick cut pork chops and baked potatoes on a backpack trip!):

I'm glad we are very careful and hang all of our food at night. There be bears about:

The areas was heavily glaciated not so long ago. Along with the granite and limestone, you run into interesting glacial erratics. Norman Maclean, in A River Runs Through It, writes about, "...rocks from the basement of time. On some of the rocks are timeless raindrops. Under the rocks are the words, and some of the words are theirs." Here are some timeless ripples, wave packets of a message from long ago:

Some of the messages from the past are more frivolous, perhaps, such as this puddingstone or conglomerate erratic:

The air was cool when we arrived, but what boy and his dog can resist a swim in an ice cold lake?

Or what maids, for that matter?

I think Chelsea is saying "It's cold!," though not with those exact words:

That evening, some big cutthroats were feeding on spruce moths and emerging caddis. Here's Emily just before the big one that got away took the fly and broke the tippet:

The next day we hiked over to nearby Pan Lake. This place was great fishing a few years ago, but like Warren seems to have frozen out and is now fishless. Good for the mayflies:

And if one cannot fish, there's always swimming:

RTD was once a great swimmer of lakes. Now the old dog watches from the top of the cliff:

Pan Lake has interesting geology, too, such as this vein of white rippling throught some underwater rock:

Flowers are bloomin' and bees are buzzin'. The humblebees seem especially fond of the Tall Larkspur (Dephinium occidentale):

Humblebees also love the native Elk Thistle (Cirsium scariosum):

Whereas butterflies, like this Painted Lady, prefer Groundsel (Senecio sp.):

Butterflies don't spend all their time feeding. These Fritillaries (not sure what species) are busy making little copies of themselves:

Along Ennea Odoi Lake, there are several patches of splendid, incredibly beautiful Subalpine Spiraea (Spiraera splendens):

And the wonderful herbal tea plant, Mountain Gentian (Gentiana calycosa):

In the meadows, along with the Tall Larkspur, the Mountain Death Camas (Camas Zigadenus elegans) is abundant as well as elegant (and deadly):

In the wetter areas, the False Hellebore (Veratrum viride? there seem to be several varieties or species) is in bloom:

In drier areas, the tiny flowers of Selfheal(Prunella vulgaris), a great herbal as the common name implies, call out to you:

It's late August and time is running out for pollination, and for fruiting fungus too, as this Puffball "knows:"

And this Coral Fungus, too:

Aptly named, as this close-up shows:

Elk hunting season is not far off, as I was reminded by the frequent sign and smell (the early morning meadows literally reeked of elk). There is some incredibly good elk habitat in this area:

As a group we talk a lot on the trail, which cuts down a lot on game sightings. On the other hand, the birds don't seem to mind, and Don & Andrea pointed out the hummingbirds and the many species of siskins and sparrows and grosbeaks etc. It was a pleasant three days, and all too soon we returned to the trailhead, chilled six-pack hidden in the nearby creek, and ice cream on the way home at the Anaconda Dairy Queen.

Life is sweet during the brief Montana summer.