14 October 2011

SkyWatchFriday: Things to do in October

Things to do in October, in and around Butte America (southwest Montana).

Feel the Earth tilt away from the sun: the Beauty of Early Snow
The snowline begins high up on the ridges of the Continental Divide that ring our little city. Here, on the Highland Mountains:

Or, seen a recent hunt in the sagebrush hills of the Big Hole River area, high on the ridges of the Pioneer Mountains:

Soon, the snowline is below 8,000 feet on the East Ridge:

Soon it will be in our front yard!

Feel the Earth turn on its axis: Sunrise, Sunset
The sky glows in the pre-dawn:

And, while hiking back to the truck after a late afternoon hunt, the full moon rises over the sagebrush hills:

Hunting Scenes: Hunting is about more than filling the freezer with meat
I've seen and heard several rattlesnakes over the course of the year. Usually, they slither under a rock or into thick sagebrush before I can even pull my camera out. Walking along a rocky ridge in the late afternoon, with the air temperature c. 50 deg F, I thought it was too cold for snakes to be active. But a flash of color at my feet followed by a buzzing rattle proved me wrong. Though the Old One was safe in its den, I could see enough "skin" for this photo:

Near the rattler, I came upon this interesting monument--perhaps a cairn built by some Basque sheepherder a hundred years ago. Or maybe it marked the place where he was struck by a rattlesnake:

If the hunting is slow, there are often interesting rock formations:

Water is scarce on the high desert. Groves of aspen are a sign of moisture:

Let's hike over that way. Sure enough, local ranchers have corralled some of that water in stock tanks for cattle (and also as a benefit to the wild critters):

A river does run through it--the Big Hole River, fed by high-country snow melt, lined with cottonwood trees and ranchers' hayfields:

My view was from atop these sloping cliffs:

Just downriver I could see Browne's Bridge, the historic first commercial crossing, originally a wood structure but replaced in the early 20th century with this marvelous iron truss bridge:

While hunting pronghorn antelope with my friend Matt Hamon, this herd of elk (bull w/ cows) rose up from "nowhere", watched us awhile, and left us wondering how elk could hide in the wide-open landscape:

Of course, while hunting elk, I have seen relatively few--and none were standing & looking back at me! Most often, I see elk "sign", such as these fresh droppings (we tell novice hunters, "You can tell how fresh they are by tasting them".):

Each year, deer and elk grow a new set of antlers in the spring and shed them in winter. In forested areas, mice and other rodents usually make quick work of shed antlers. On the dry prairie, however, they last much longer. I like to photograph them and leave them for the critters. Here's a shed from a young bull elk, a "spike":

And several more from young, fork-horned mule deer bucks:

When I come home from hunting, MollyTheDog always brings her moose, shaking it & growling, then setting it at my feet. What's worse than a dog that gloats? (She learned the name of this toy the first time Jan told her--probably because it looks like the real moose skull that decorates our parlor, and she has that Border Collie affinity for language.):

Visit Yellowstone National Park
We try to make a visit each year in early October. The crowds have thinned out, critters are in rut, and the wolves are active. On this trip we saw black bears and a grizzly (too far for photos) but alas no wolves. We did of course see lots of hoofed browsers, especially buffalo:

Buffalo, like much of the YNP experience, help us to slow down and be in the moment. Sometimes the buffalo do this forcefully--I think this herd was part of the "Occupy Yellowstone" movement:

Unlike the elk I hunt, those in the Park are habituated to humans. They're still "wild", they just don't see humans as predators. They were most common around the Mammoth Park Headquarters, probably because they are fairly safe from wolves there:

This young elk bull was all alone, probably driven off by a dominant herd bull. Note how his antlers and tawny hide blend into the sagebrush and dry grass:

Maybe we should introduce him to this elk cow and her two calves (one might be a yearling, her calf from 1&1/2 years ago). She seems lonely:

This raven seemed lonely too. Or, more likely, spotted as a "soft touch" for a handout:

YNP was originally set aside in 1872 as a "pleasuring ground" primarily for its geological wonders. Only later did Americans come to appreciate and enjoy wildlife watching. Each visit, we are awed by the geology of the Mammoth area, including the terraces:

Strange colors & textures:

Basalt columns along the Gardner River (aka "Sheepeater Cliffs"):

And waterfalls (Tower Falls shown here):

What's this I see through the steam rising from a hot spring along the Gardner River?:

Of course, it's the "Boiling River"--a must stop for a good, relaxing soak at the end of a happy day:

Happy Autumn! (and for our friends in the southern hemisphere, Happy Spring!)

06 October 2011

SkyWatchFriday: Rocky Mtn Autumn, Butte Scenes

One day, afternoon temps were in the 80s. The next day fall came, and now it's light rain, highs in the 50s, and snow predicted by the weekend. Ah, but a lovely time of year with stormy mountain sunrises:

And nice sunsets as seen from uptown Butte America:

Fall colors are looking good, with most of the aspen groves well into the change:

And the ground glowing red with the bright leaves of Grouse Whortleberry:

Bull elk are beginning to whistle (aka "bugle") and rub their antlers on trees to lose the velvet:

Back in town, we now enjoy the new and improved (lots roomier) Quarry Brew Pub (with Vince at the taps):

Chuck & Lyza have plans for a restaurant and apartments on the spacious upper floors. Love that fire escape:

After beers, it's time for supper. Last week we visited an old Butte standby, the Pekin Noodle Parlor:

Lit up with a cheery neon sign:

The Pekin proudly proclaims its history:

And check out the cool, curtained private dining rooms. Given the population of Butte c. 1911 (lots of miners & prostitutes) you have to wonder what those rooms have seen:

As the expression goes, "Tap 'er light!"*

*  derived from the need to tamp blasting powder into a shot hole at a stope face in a mine; adapted to mean "Take it easy".

01 October 2011

Clear Skies, Searching for Water (SkyWatch Friday)

A few cool, rainy days took care of our smoky skies here in SW Montana. The rains did not extinguish the forest fires, but made them "lay down". Soon enough, snow will truly put them to rest. I've been roaming the hills with a bow, for which "elk hunting" serves as a reasonable excuse to visit pretty places:

And watch the sun set as I sit out on a forlorn ridge until it grows dark, then hike two miles back/1,000 feet down to the truck (by headlamp), hoping I don't step on one of those rattlesnakes I heard buzz in the sagebrush on the way up:
Hmmm... deer or elk antler? It looks like a white-tailed buck's shed, but that would be rare in this mule deer country. The mice have reclaimed most of it:

Using binoculars from the ridge, I spied a likely place below tree-line where the critters might find water on this high desert--a little closer than the creek near where I parked. A few days later, I hiked back to check this place out. It's a natural spring, and the rancher who holds grazing rights on this public BLM land has fenced it to keep cattle out & to collect the water:

The captured water then flows through a buried pipe to a stock-watering tank. Unfortunately, the hoped for pool of water was not to be found in the bone-dry stock tank:

However the water did find its way to the surface in a nearby seep. Judging from the tracks, it seems to be well used by the bighorn sheep, pronghorn antelope, mule deer, and -- yes -- elk that live here:

Most of the bighorn sheep died off here a decade ago thanks to pneumonia transmitted by domestic sheep. So I was happy to see that, at least on this corner of the high prairie, they seem to be doing OK as these eight ewes & lambs will attest:

Every wild sheep family seems to consist of ewes, kids, and at least one wildlife biologist. Several of the animals in this herd word tracking collars so the biologists can find them:

Oh yes, where the deer and the antelope play. No far from where I parked along a creek was this group of "speedgoats":

We are blessed with abundant public land here in Montana:

Sometimes, I think people try to discourage others from using "their" spot, as with this old home-scrawled sign on a distant ridge that is, according to my map, public land:

A friend and outdoor writer, Bill Watt was here for a new magazine piece he's working on and provided a good excuse to take a day off for some fishing (weather has been too warm for good elk hunting anyway). Here's Bill on the Big Hole River, releasing one of several fluvial Arctic grayling we caught:

Despite what Mrs Rover might tell you, I do more than hunt and fish (and work). Fridays, at least, are set aside for social time at the Quarry Brew Pub. They're moving to a bigger & better location, so we gathered with friends to say good bye to the old place:

Lyza Schnabel (she and her brewer husband Chuck own the place) worked the taps:

And we became part of the "spill over" crowd on the front sidewalk (Butte America has no "open container law"):

Quarry closed, the following Friday found us at Julian's Piano Bar. Wonder of wonders, it's an iron-framed building (built as a 1-story structure in 1900, upper floors added c. 1910):

You can tell it's an iron frame by knocking on the prominent supports. That or by reading the label on one of them:

Weather continues unseasonably warm most days (highs in the 80s) with the occasional cool day slipped in just to keep us on our toes (with jackets handy). Some morning, though, we'll wake to see snow on the ridges that surround town. As a hunter, I'm ready for the changing of the season, but these warm late summer-like days are sweet.