12 January 2012

Montana Megafauna; A Hike in the Hills

As much as I like Montana's seemingly endless 5-week+ hunting season (never mind the 6-week archery season that precedes it), I have some sense of sympathy for the animals. It must be nice when hunting season ends, the blaze orange horde returns to light beer and football on TV, and the critters can poke their nose out without somebody shooting at them. Folks who see wildlife primarily in National Parks (no hunting) or nature shows have no idea how cautious charismatic megafauna need to be with human predators around (and also of course wolves, mountain lions etc).

On a recent hike in the hills along the Big Hole River, friend Dave Carter & I (and dogs Molly & Jack of course) explored an abandoned phosphate mine where federal agencies have been working to close in the open shafts and collapsing tunnels. As we sat down for lunch, we were greeted by the sight of a Rocky Mountain bighorn sheep--a nearly full curl ram:

Though not too excited by our presence, he did keep a keen eye on us as he slowly grazed his way up and over the ridge:

This group of mule deer was considerably more cautious. Once they realized we were watching them bedded in the mountain mahogany along a ridge line, they stotted away (lower right in photo):

We continued our explore and came upon this interesting structure perched on the steep hillside near a convergence of mine tunnels. What could it be?

Let's peek inside... Oh, of course--an outhouse with a view!

We also searched around a nearby site where some old buildings had been razed. There wasn't much recognizable junk to be found, though this old can for "Pyrene" fire extinguisher fluid was interesting:

Construction activities to close the tunnels have exposed some interesting rock crystals:

On the hike out, MollyTheDog and her buddy Jack traded off carrying a nasty old deer leg:

My late friend George Grant often spoke of fishing at the "White Gates" in this area, and I think this might be the place he meant:

A creek flows under the railroad grade here. The old brick culvert was recently replaced by a more modern galvanized steel design. The river is gradually reclaiming the old red sandstone masonry, but for now enough remains for an interesting photo:

On the way out, Dave posed next to the old sign for the railroad siding (with some of the old mine buildings on the hillside above):

You would hardly know it is winter by the lack of snow in lower Big Hole River valley. On the hills above Butte, however, we are getting just enough snow to keep the cross country skiing good. The increasing snowpack is also driving the moose down from the higher elevations. MollyTheDog and I, on a dawn ski at The Moulton, came upon this yearling moose browsing a bit of sagebrush breakfast:

Once we passed and it scented (or heard) us, it ceased browsing and ambled deeper into deeper into the quaking aspens:

From the valley bottoms to the ridge tops, this is a great area to rove!


sandy said...

I like every shot.
The outhouse was neat.
It isn't a place a person would want to visit if they had been drinking, though.

Merri said...

The moose and the sheep - nice!! we have some bighorn sheep a couple of drainages over, I've seen them a lucky few times.
- The Equestrian Vagabond

Judy said...

I really like the photo of the sandstone and steel drainage thingy! Sorry about the highly technical vocabulary, but it is almost bedtime...
The word verification is signies, which has me in a fit of giggles, for some reason. You likely don't know about Newfie jokes, but one of my favourites is Where do Newfies keep their armies? In their sleevies, of course...

Janie said...

Nice wildlife photos. And that outhouse with a view is a great find!

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