28 April 2011

Skywatch Friday: Continental Divide, East & West

At 6,000 feet along the Continental Divide in southwest Montana, spring can come slowly. But then one day the air feels different, and though we will have frosty nights and another blizzard or two, it's really spring. To keep one's life in a sort of Zen balance, it's time to take in both sides of the Great Divide. Like these specimens of the Boulder Batholith on a ridge overlooking my home, we seek a dynamic tension. Here, a conversation between earth & sky (and gravity):

Like a Zen kōan the two sides have a contrasting nature that must be reconciled. Butte, Montana, lies on the dark side of the mountain with its water polluted by copper mining waste flowing to the Pacific Ocean. In this panoramic photo, you can see the old, abandoned Berkeley Pit on the right and billionaire Dennis Washington's ("Montana Resources") still-operating East Pit (aka "Continental Pit") on the left (zoom in and check it out):

The awesome beauty of these environmentally horrific mining operations are sort of a kōan within a kōan, as this close-up photo of the Berkeley Pit (filled with highly toxic water) shows:

Not shown in the photos above is the Yankee Doodle Tailings "pond," an artificial lake of several square miles where Washington dumps his waste from the Montana Resources/East Pit operation (note that the surface is still frozen over):

The earthen dam that holds this mess back is several hundred feet high. If it failed, as earthen dams sometimes do, it would make a huge splash in the Berkeley Pit into which it drains. To give you some idea of the sheer size of the Yankee Doodle Tailings, here's a closeup--showing a huge mining truck dumping mine waste to heighten the breast of the dam; the huge mining truck is that tiny dot on the raised portion of the dam, center right:

Yet somehow, nature endures. There was sign from a herd of mule deer, including this recently shed antler:

And MollyTheDog flushed several Blue Grouse. I wasn't quick enough with the camera to catch their flight, but the tracks were pretty slow and I could sneak up on them:

Speaking of MTD, turns out she's a mountain dog, scrambling over the boulder-strewn ridges like a champ:

The next day, Mrs Rover and I took a hike up a favorite wash along the Big Hole River, whose relatively pristine waters drain to the Atlantic Ocean. Hmmm... what's this? A dead Mule Deer Buck. Wonder what killed it?

Oh, here's another dead Mulie, a yearling. From the way it's been skinned out, it looks (and smells!) like the work of M. Tn. Lion. Well, Cougars have to eat too, the dead noursish the living, and nature endures:

How happy we were to see the first flowers of spring, including this incredibly lush bouquet of Hooker's Townsendia (Townsendia hookeri):

And the lovely, if tiny, blooms of Hood's Phlox (Phlox hoodi):

The ant people too are welcoming spring as they frantically work to clear their tunnels and bring in food for a new generation:

Happy Spring!


Gary said...

I'm not convinced that nature endures as I live in a mining area also that virtually destroyed my wilderness, which is now making a come back thanks to concerned people. The same thing shows in the Alberta Tar Sands, which is a technology not up to the task, and risks another acquifer. The same as these tailings probably pollute your mid west acquifer which is low in water any way. I think concerned people make the difference. I'm not sure where this leads me with people like your mine owner Taylor, but I and many others need to work that out before too long. Boom & Gary of the Vermilon River, Canada.

KB said...

The mining poisons are horrible but you do show that nature endures. It appears that you have more wildflowers blooming now than we do, yet you're substantially further north. Beautiful!

I saw very similar ants today and took some closeup photos. It's our first warm day after a week of snowy and foggy weather. I guess it was warm enough for the ants!

As you probably know, the paltry remains of those mule deer will probably draw bears who are coming out of migration. If I were there, I'd point a trail cam at one of them to see who visits!

J Bar said...

Terrific rock formations.
Sydney - City and Suburbs

Maria said...

Your opening photo is very striking!
Your writing about kōan, the mining operations and how nature endures was great to read tonight.
The balancing boulders and our balanced universe is a heavenly work of art. Somehow, although we may add our own human brush strokes ~ the balance and beauty emerge.
A Happy and Joyous Easter and Spring to you and Mrs. Rover!

Sylvia K said...

Fantastic captures and very thought provoking post for the day. I tend to think that nature does indeed struggle to endure, but she does -- in spite of us!! Hope you have a great weekend!


Should Fish More said...

Friday, 8pm. Pat, if you are looking out your window, you see the same damn snow falling I do. I've only been here 12 years, more or less. This does end, right??
I shoulda never bought those new wading boots....

thomas said...

Beautiful boulders doing a balancing act,
looks like environment have been damaged wherever miners left their trail.

Rocky said...

Growing up in Butte, we never thought Spring came until mid-May and even then, it was questionable. But one could find pockets in the Mountains where the snow had melted from the huge solar loading and the terrian protected the pocket from the winds. In these pockets, it would actually get quite warm where one could take off their coats and enjoy the warmth. One could count on phlox and crocuses to be blooming in these areas. But I don't ever remember ants ... you have some very nice shots and a good eye for nature.

secret agent woman said...

Those natural Stonehenge like formations are really cool. I'm laughing a little, though, at the idea of Spring having a blizzard in it.

Janie said...

Interesting photos of the divide, and the copper mine, which pollutes the landscape. I'm glad that nature seems capable of enduring, so far, in spite of this blight.