28 August 2009

Daughter Emily: Then & Now

Then (age 3), fishing at the Nez Perce Battlefield Site near Wisdom, Montana:

Now (age 20), with Evan at the top of Big Butte (overlooking Butte, Montana) on a visit home from Boston University:

27 August 2009

Skywatch Friday: America & Montana in the Northern Rockies

Morning dawns on the Lexington "gallows frame" in Walkerville Montana. Butte/Walkerville was built on copper mining. The fog in the background is "pit fog" from the abandoned Berkeley open-pit mine--now America's largest toxic lake:

The miners liked beer and many brewed their own. Here, silhouetted against the sky, are hops berries that grow in my backyard:

Locals say "Butte America is just 15 minutes from Montana:" the nearby mountains are wilderness quality, as in this scene from Lake at the Edge of the World:

And this scene from Upper Many Miles Lake, tucked along the Continental Divide:

24 August 2009

Montana Trout Fishing

Mike Morris is a friend who works with the National Center for Appropriate Technology (NCAT) and once lived in Butte, Montana. He is in town on NCAT business and came early for a little trout fishing. We had three intense days: one on a little native trout stream, one on a wilderness-quality mountain lake, and one on the Big Hole River. I like fishing with Mike for the thoughtful conversations. As a PhD philosopher, Mike takes the world and our choices seriously. As an angler Mike is a keen observer, carries a well-stocked selection of esoteric flies, and likes "matching the hatch" for things like crippled emerging Baetis mayflies. Even if he is catching trout on one fly, he'll still try other patterns to better understand what the trout might be thinking.

Day One: German Gulch Creek between Butte and Anaconda

German Gulch is a special place. As a tributary of Silver Bow Creek, pollution in the main stem prevented exotic (introduced) rainbow trout (from California) from hybridizing the native westslope cutthroat population. Cutties gleam like jewels of earth, sky, and water--a perfect expression of their native habitat:

They are not large fish, this being a small stream, but they are worthy of any serious angler. Please handle gently and release carefully:

Cutties evolved with the brief, food-rich summers of the Rocky Mountains. They take every opportunity to feed--even in open water on bright, sunny days:

High water blew out a chain of beaver dams on the creek this past spring. I think this gives the cutties an advantage over introduced eastern brook trout, which seem to prefer slower water. Here you can see what's left of a dam:

Day Two: An Alpine Lake

Many Miles Lakes (at the head of No Tellum Creek) are a group of glacial lakes along the Continental Divide near Butte and Anaconda. At the edge of the Pintler Wilderness, the area is accessible via a good trail known mainly to local residents. As I understand it, Butte and Anaconda residents take an oath to remove any trailhead signs that might help a Pilgrim find their way to this special place (view of a lower lake):

Non-angler friend Dave Carter joined us for the hike, and took this pic of Mike and I:

These lakes were originally barren of fish, but have a good population of rainbow and Yellowstone cutthroat trout. We caught many, many fish, and even brought a few home for a Montana surf & turf dinner of grilled trout & elk steaks. What a beautiful place:

Though cold nights are already bringing out the fall colors, a few hardy wildflowers are still blooming, including Parrot's Beak (Pedicularis racemosa):

And a species of Grounsel (Senecio spp):

I can never resist a good beetle photo. Biologists know that God was inordinately fond of beetles because he created so many species of them (!). Speaking of inordinate, note the length of the antennae on this guy (probably a long-horned beetle, Cerambycidae family, perhaps a Black Pine Sawyer Monochamus scutellatus):

Day Three: Homewater

No angler's visit to Butte America is complete without some time on the Big Hole. Fishing was not quite as easy as it has been for most of the past week or two, but it was good. That means the fish weren't "easy," but if you spotted a feeding trout and put the right fly over it with no drag, you'd get a rise out of it. Here's Mike on my homewater in the canyon, where we caught leaping rainbows (and a few browns) from small:

To medium (and a few large fish):

Whenever I tired of the intense concentraton necessary to make a good presentation to a rising fish, Molly The Dog was there to entertain me. If I'm fishing near a rock in mid-river and want a little company, she is more than willing to swim over for a visit. Here she is subduing a large, powerful, and angry stick into submission:


I'll conclude by citing some wisdom from my old friend George Grant, now deceased. George reminded anglers who got too cocky about all the fish they caught and all the wonderful skills they possessed about the reason we are able to catch so many fish: "We can catch them because they are there." Thank you, George, to you and all the other conservationists that fought for wild fish and environmental protection.

20 August 2009

Skywatch Friday: A Week in Montana

My daughter and her boyfriend visited us in Butte Montana the past week, and we toured some favorite places. Here, silhouetted against the sky of the Big Hole River valley, is the fencepost sculpture "Droll Nuances" by Cory Holmes of Havre (he's got his art scattered all over the West):

We also squeezed in a day trip to nearby Yellowstone National Park, with a stop at Old Faithful geyser:

Yellowstone National Park: a quick day trip

It's been awhile since Mrs ER & I have been to Jellystone during "peak season." We prefer to visit for a mid-winter ski trip and for bugling elk/howling wolves in the fall. With or without crowds, the park is a beautiful and special place. Emily brought her boyfriend Evan home to see Montana, and so we jumped at a kind invitation to have us along on their trip to the park:

Yellowstone's animals are very well trained. At the West Entrance, we met a yearling cow elk. It's Elvira. She likes to sleep late in the morning. Note her radio collar--it cues her when to wake up in the morning and get to work greeting visitors:

Though wildlife is abundant and is now a big drawing card, it's historically interesting to note that the park was preserved as a "pleasuring ground" because of its geological wonders. The park area consists of a large caldera (exploded & collapsed supervolcano) that is still volcanically active with many geothermal features, including hot pools:

Mud pots:

And geysers:

It can be a dangerous place to amble around off trail, as this warning sign tells us:

The crowd at Old Faithful geyser is a good indication of how busy the park is on a given day:

The Raven People find human crowds amusing, but still they remember their park visitor etiquette training an pose for a nice photo:

Meanwhile, a buffalo bull commutes to work:

You're on the clock, guys, get out there and eat grass:

On our way out of the park, we stopped at the Boiling River for a good soak:

Even among the crowds, Mrs ER and I found a quiet place where, over the course of an hour, we chatted with a Japanese family and some folks from back East:

Descending from the Mammoth Terrace, we found a herd of bighorn sheep ewes & kids grazing along the road:

And, at the Gardiner exit, a buck pronghorn antelope was on shift to say, "Goodbye, drive safely, and come again!"

17 August 2009

"Dr Anaconda Lake:" Rendezvous 2009

We braved a decidedly unseasonable cold front this year for the annual gathering at "Dr Anaconda Lake" in the north Big Hole River valley of southwestern Montana. The size of the gathering was down a bit this year as some folks had other plans (Butch, Gretchen & LewYong, Hawaii!) or simply did not want to camp with night-time temperatures in the 30s. We also had some day-visitors--Frank & Hwe Ackerman, and Phyllis Costello & Jim Dochnal. For those who were there, there was no lack of enthusiasm.

Here's Celia Schahczenski, Dr of Mixology, on the "DrillBlender:"

"Now that's a margarita!," sez Mrs ER:

Brent & Karina Patch got in some fishing and sandcastle building time with their kids Adler & Kenia:

Brent & Adler even found some time between rain- and windstorms for a canoe trip around the lake:

The weather also did not stop us from celebrating the birthdays of Kenia Patch & Emily Munday:

Part of the group made a valiant effort to get in some beach time, only to be chased off by the wind & rain. They settled for a roaring fire in a somewhat protected spot near the beach:

For hikers, there was wildlife such as this mule deer doe:

And this VERY fresh (and large--the knife is 4" long) bear turd:

There's lots of bear food, including Black Elderberry (Sambucus racemosa):

Black Twinberry (Lonicera involucrata -- considerably more toxic & unpalatable to humans than its Red Twinberry cousin, but the bears sure like it):

And, if the bears want to freshen their breath, Mint (Lamiaceae family):

There is a small stand of large, old Ponderosa Pines (Pinus ponderosa; click link for a great book about this magnificent species) on a south-facing point above the lake. These trees are common at lower elevations of Montana, but rare in the Big Hole Valley. At this site, they have only produced cones a few times in 20 years (photo by Frank Ackerman):

In a forest dominated by dark-barked Douglas Fir and Lodegepole Pine, the reddish-yellow bark really stands out:

It weathers off into lovely fragments like pieces of a jigsaw puzzle:

The bark is extremely thick (4" or so), which makes the tree well adapted to fire that kills thinner-barked species. The deep fissures are very aromatic, smelling of vanilla or cinnamon (good excuse to be a tree-hugger, as EcoRover found; photo by Frank Ackerman):

Even with the weather, there was not enough time to do all the things we each would have liked to pursue. So all too soon we packed up camp and gathered for the group photo (left-to-right, standing: Brent Patch, Evan Morris, Jan Munday, Karina Patch, Andrea Stierle, Jeff Schahczenski; kneeling: Sheikah-The-Dog, Celia Schahczenski, Molly-The-Dog, Emily Munday, Adler Patch, Chuka-The-Dog, Don Stierle, Kenia Patch, Pat Munday/aka Ecorover):

We did have a pleasant warm-up on the way home at nearby Jackson Hot Springs:

And a stop at the site of Roly-The-Dog's grave:

So ended three days of rain (no snow!), wind, and cold. Of course, today the sky is crystal blue with a warm sun beaming down. Go figure.