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.


Sylvia K said...

Looks and sounds like a great trip! Terrific captures and I do love the shot of the moon!! Looks as though the dogs had a great time, too. Since I lived in Montana for a number of years, your photos looked very familiar and enjoyable! Hope you have a great weekend! Enjoy!


Al said...

Looks like a wonderful trip. I'm surprised that there's no snow left except on the high peaks.

Janie said...

Your spring weather sounds as unsettled as ours. Glad you found a place that was thawed out enough for hiking.
That boulder provided a great windbreak!
The dogs always seem to find a nice bone or two, the highlight of any campout.

Maria said...

What a great post to stroll through... I enjoyed reading about your adventures in the mountains.
The granite is awesome to zoom in and view up close as is the outcrop. There is a funny formation on it that looks like a "thumbs up."
Coming upon the moon photo was great!
... I was wondering where the dogs were, and then I saw Molly and Jack
enjoying their snack ;o)

Have a great weekend!

Serline said...

My family is not really outdoorsy people, but for such scenery? Anything's possible... have a blessed weekend!

Should Fish More said...

Dave looks like he's nodded off there, I would too. I'm going to fish below the ponds tomorrow, after an appt. in Anaconda. Let you know how I do.

troutbirder said...

My admiration to a pair of truely "youthful" men. Really.

Anonymous said...

Sounds like a fine trip to me. I would have loved to hear those night flyers.

secret agent woman said...

That boulder looks like But glad you had a good camping trip.

Betty said...

Looks like another wonderful time in the MT wilderness. Awesome pictures as always.

Wolfy said...

Great rip recap with equally terrific pictures. I love that area around the Big Hole / Jeff / Ruby. If I can't be thee, I've got the next best thing - your blog posts!

Arija said...

Oh so wonderful to be on the wild side. Thanks for taking me along, at least I got to see and feel it through your eyes and words. Is there anything nicer than to be out there with a dog, a friend and a campfire? I certainly can't think of anything.