24 March 2011

Spring Full Moon Campout: Hell's Canyon, Jefferson River

Happy Skywatch Friday! Hope you enjoy some of these views from southwest Montana in the Northern Rocky Mountains.

My friend Dave & I usually do our spring campout in the lower Big Hole River country around Notchbottom. This year, we moved down the valley a bit to Hell's Canyon of the Jefferson River (the Big Hole is a major tributary to the Jeff). The area is south of our home in Butte, Montana, on the other side of the Highland Mountains that also mark the Continental Divide. From Butte, we see Table Mountain as a lower peak behind the more prominent (looking from the north) Red Mountain. But Table Mtn is actually the tallest peak in the Highlands, and here's a view from our campsite:

The area is dotted with outcrops of the Boulder Batholith. Here's a view of a couple of boulders framing Table Mtn:

Look closely and the granite is studded with feldspar phenocrysts. They are harder than the granite matrix, which weathers away leaving a nice non-slip surface for hiking and climbing:

It's high sagebrush desert without the snow blanketing the hills around Butte and with an abundance of prickly pear cactus:

Here's a view of an outcrop on a ridge above camp as we settled in for the evening:

And waited for the moon to rise above that same ridge:

The wind blew hard up the canyon but we found a somewhat protected place to build a hot fire fed with mountain mahogany ( Cercocarpus ledifolius)--an excellent fuel that made nice coals over which to grill two big moose steaks. Here's Dave enjoying the fire:

As it grew dark, flocks of geese honked and barked overhead, migrating by moonlight. The wind blew and it grew cold, and sometime toward dawn some passing clouds dropped a skiff of snow:

I was glad I'd pitched my tent on the lee side of a boulder that blocked the icy wind:

After breakfast, we dropped into a wash, and crossed the canyon. We found out why it has that name--near the creek, the canyon walls are steep and choked with brush as this view from the bottom shows:

We saw the usual herds of mule deer and elk, though none close enough for a good photo. A pair of golden eagles must be nesting in the area, and several times they passed by, riding the thermals from  ridges on either side of the canyon:

The dogs amused themselves with an array of found objects along the way. MollyTheDog says of this deer skull, "Alas poor Yorick, I knew him well:"

While JackTheDog says, "He ain't got a leg to stand on:"

Not surprisingly, a spring blizzard swept through Butte as we arrived back in town. Oh well, the cross country skiing at The Moulton will be good for another week or so.

11 March 2011

Skwatch Friday: Still Winter!

Though I have days when I'm ready to be rid of snow (see No Snow Hike), the cross country skiing is the best it's been all season on the trails just a few miles north from my home in Walkerville, Montana. The views are also great, as shown by two morning shots looking west from a favorite spot where a rocky outcrop frames the clouds and Pintler Mountain Range:

Although it's been comparatively warm (c. 20 deg F in the morning), the sky to the north still shows that deep, clear blue of a below-zero winter day (seen here over the abandoned horse barn near Moulton Reservoir):

With the waning crescent moon (small prey moves around less on bright nights) and firm snow surface, the Mouse People have been very active at night. Growing up, I always heard that March marked the beginning of mouse mating season when the "bull mice" travel long distances to find a mate (or, as in this case, a morsel of food):

But Death Comes From Above:

Sometimes with a bit of a round-and-around struggle:

I'll take spring when it comes, but for now, I'll just keep skiing.

The Moulton: Montana's finest classic cross country ski trails, just 5 miles north of Butte.

A Hike in No Snow: Jefferson River, SW Montana

I like snow. Really. It's good for tracking, playing with the dog, photography, rolling naked in as you leap from the hot tub, and of course cross country skiing. But it's a lot like pie. I like blackberry pie. In season. At some point, you switch over to apple.

So Sunday found friend Dave Carter and I seeking out the dry hills along the Jefferson River. What a contrast from the 4-foot deep glacier in my backyard! Turning up the side-of-a-side road (A Guthrie, "Alice's Restaurant"), first thing we saw was this bald eagle below its nest:

 That and huge sheets of ice from a recent jam that threatened a 10-mile swath of homes along the river:

The area is geologically interesting, with the usual Boulder Batholith features like these hoodoos:

And some interesting, grainy rock that looked very much like petrified wood:

As we hiked along a long ridge and gained some elevation, the sky cleared a bit to reveal striking views of the broad Jefferson River valley, down:

And up:

Also on that ridge, a lone tree, a graceful Limber Pine (Pinus flexilis) shown here with Dave & dogs:

Like its cousin the Whitebark Pine, Limbers' have clusters of 5 needles, though they are shorter:

Whereas the cones are more elongate:

Molly- and Jack-The-Dog had their own amusement with some mule deer legs that appeared to be the recent remains from a poacher's work:

They took turns playing carry (and covet)-the-bone for the next mile or more:

We hiked up a ridge over the canyon until we were tired, ate some lunch, hiked some more, and found our way back to the truck. Dropping down to follow a road back we were surprised by the miles we had covered, and that is one of the great joys of hiking with Dave. No watch, no map, no set destination or time to return: the day unfolds as it will, our feet following a deer trail, our hearts following the call note of a Townsend's Solitaire.

09 March 2011

Avenue Q comes to Butte America

Jan & I have for many years subscribed to season tickets for the theater series at Butte Montana's Mother Lode Theatre. It's a grand old 1,200-seat theater, built in 1923 and restored in 1996:

The musical Avenue Q was in town this week. It's a remarkable show--see it if you can. All the themes of the late-boomer/Sesame Street generation are there, including racism, being gay and out, homelessness, unemployment, and our search for purpose.

Think of it as a grown up version of Sesame Street, with all the disillusionment that comes with growing up as well as the continuing search for fulfillment (yes "purpose," as the show puts it!). Here's the cast (note that some of the human actors have changed):

The traveling troupe includes several outstanding talents such as Ashley Eileen Bucknam. She sang an amazing (and breathtaking, at our 6,000 foot elevation) solo duet (?) between the young, coming-of-age teacher Kate Monster (shown here):

And the sexy, temptress showgirl Lucy:

Here are a few YouTube clips of Ave Q productions to check out:
"Everyone's a little bit racist"
"The internet is for porn"
"Sucks to be me"

To those of you in, ah, more urban areas, Avenue Q is old news. To those of us in the hinterland, however, it's, well, like seeing it for the first time!

[Disclaimer: except for the theatre pic, the images on this post are from various Ave Q publicity sites]

03 March 2011

Skywatch Friday: Yellowstone Bighorn Rams

Three rams of the Bighorn Sheep People silhouetted against an azure sky in Yellowstone National Park:

See more of last weekend in the park at the preceding post, below.

Sangha weekend at Chico Hot Springs, Montana

A group of faculty and grad students have been hosting a film series about the Beat Generation and American Zen at my little college. As Gary Snyder and Alan Watts point out, a good life is about Zen (meditation), Dharma (right living), and Sangha (community).

This past weekend, we practiced Sangha at a rental house at Chico Hot Springs, near Yellowstone National Park and a few hours from our home in Butte, Montana. We shared meals, beverages, hours soaking together at the pool, and of course other activities the area has to offer, such as wildlife watching in YNP and cross country skiing in the Absaroka-Beartooth Wilderness:

We lucked out with a beautiful clear day for a ski:

Remember that "wax on-wax off" mantra from the film Karate Kid? It's a bit like the Zen of cross country skiing. Here are DNA (Don & Andrea) Stierle putting a little wax on:

Wind and sun, sculpting deep snow into the landscape of winter:

No destination. It's all about the journey. We skied a few miles to the top of a valley, ate a snack, and enjoyed the view before Schussing down:

Late afternoon, thin clouds, and again we pass the wolf tree (killed by a recent forest fire) on our way to the parking lot:

The next day, destination Charismatic Megafauna (i.e. Yellowstone National Park), via Roosevelt Arch at the Gardiner entrance:

We pass a herd of Elk People at the closed-for-winter Mammoth Campground:

Buffalo People on a single-file march across the Blacktail Plateau:

A mated pair of Raven People, silhouetted against an azure sky, hoping for a pack of wolves to kill something:

Rams of the Bighorn Sheep People, silhouetted on the ridge behind Ravens, hoping for no pack of wolves:

Ewes of the Bighorn Sheep People, digging feeder pans and finding a little dried grass for the kids waxing in their bellies:

And a pack of pesky trickster Coyote People (two at right in photo) worrying Bull Elk Person so proud of his giant rack (in willows at left in the photo; the larger the antlers, the later the bulls seem to shed them):

Day in, day out, the wind and sun sculpt the winter sand of the Yellowstone Zen garden. Spring might be on the way, but it's still a long way from Yellowstone:

We close the Sangha weekend with a group photo (from left: Andrea Stierle, Don Stierle, ChookahTheDog, Jeff Schachzenski, WuTheDog, Celia Schahczenski, SheikahTheDog, Frank Ackerman, Hwe Tu, John Brower, Karen Brower, MollyTheDog, Jan Munday, and Pat "EcoRover" Munday: