07 July 2013

Summer Comes to Butte Montana

Prairies aflame with flowers, trout looking up for dry flies, shorts and sandals: it all adds up to SUMMER! We're on that ideal cusp where it still rains every few days to keep the hills green, and yet that rain hardly ever (hardly ever) turns to snow.

The 1864 Grand Victorian Ball for Peace 
It's the 150th anniversary for the founding of Virginia City, a gold rush town which was Montana Territory's capital from 1865 to 1875. Today it's a state-managed historic site and a fun place to visit. We spent the weekend there with friends at the Fairweather Inn:

We took in a bawdy evening show at the Gilbert Brewery Follies:

And, at the Grand Victorian Ball, we danced waltzes, quadrilles, reels, polkas, and other dances from the era--all to tunes played by a great bunch of fiddlers and other musicians:

Luckily, we were provided a program booklet with helpful information such as,
"Ladies should avoid affection, frowning, quizzing, or the slightest indication of ill-temper." Now do these ladies look like they could ever be accused of such unseemly emotions?:

Mrs Rover did not even show any ill-temper during the many hours she spent making her ball gown:

All told, we had a ball!: 

Wildflowers: Prairie and Mountain 
Near Virginia City, the Axolotl Lakes area (named for the neotenic tiger salamanders that never lose their gills) has seen more spring rain than areas closer to Butte. The wildflowers show their appreciation, with meadows of Blue Flag Iris (Iris missouriensis):

Upland areas are dotted with Prairie Smoke (Geum triflorum -- shown here before and after flowering):

Sticky Geranium (Geranium viscosissimum):

And Owl Clover (Orthocarpus tenuifolius):

Near the lakes, there's Willow (Salix spp.) with it's inconspicuous but weirdly beautiful flowers:

And Serviceberry (Amelanchier alnifolia): 

Moving upland, the forest-prairie edge habitat of the Humbug Spires area (near Butte Montana) is drier but puts on a good show. In no particular order, we found Littleleaf Pussytoes (Antennaria microphylla): 

Foothills Arnica (Arnica sororia): 

Higher up, in the timber, you'll find its more common cousin Heartleaf Arnica (Arnica cordifolia): 

Lanceleaf Stonecrop (Sedum lanceolatum): 

White Daisy Fleabane (Erigeron spp.):

Delicious sliced and grilled or in stir-fry -- a Giant Puffball: 
 Cut it to be sure it's in its prime and there are no incipient gill structures that mark deadly look-alikes:

My fungi knowledge is limited--I would not eat these, but appreciate the attractive composition they form with the juniper and a limber pine cone:

The hills above the town of Anaconda, Montana, were devastated for most of the 20th century by arsenic, heavy metals, and acid smoke from the 500+ foot tall smelter stack (seen here in the distance): 

Like the Butte Hill, there has been a slow but steady natural recovery. An early June hike showed colorful Scarlet Paintbrush (Castilleja miniata): 

Elk Gentian (Frasera speciosa, also called "century plant" because it allegedly grows for 100 years before it blooms and dies): 

In the cool shade of a limestone outcrop, we found lovely Blue Clematis (Clematis occidentalis):

Showy Jacob's Ladder (Polemonium pulcherrimum) is aptly named: 

You can imagine the fruit when you see blossoms of Twinberry Honeysuckle (Lonicera involucrata):

A camping trip to the Big Hole Valley was well timed for the blooming Blue Camas, which at a distance looks likes water reflecting sky (there are lots of elk here too, just below Camas meadow in photo):

Along a shady trail in the lodgepole pine forest, there is False Solomon's Seal (Maianthemum racemosum):

Though I'll separate them for this post, there's a clear connection between plants and geology. Along a dry area of the Continental Divide, you can feel the struggle of a spreading juniper to colonize the harsh landscape:

These Rocky Mountains 
Hiking around these mountains, geology is a character in the landscape. Fossils are relatively uncommon, but limestone outcrops near Anaconda show a few ancient sea creatures:

Chert embedded in this same limestone shows an interesting pattern from differential erosion--the softer, more soluble limestone matrix wears away leaving the silica material in relief:

The Humbug Spires come in many fantastic shapes. Here is Dave and MollyTheDog in a boulder field along a ridge:

In every direction, there was an interesting view:

Also, this strange, old antenna structure. I can't imagine what rancher or ham radio operator built this:

Look Up: Sky! 
Like geology, the sky too is a character in this grand landscape that is Montana. In Butte, we are often treated to gorgeous sunsets framing the many mining headframes (aka "gallows frames"):

Wind buffeting the ridges of the Continental Divide, along with the moisture carried aloft from the river valleys, makes for interesting clouds:

The transition from wet spring to dry hot summer makes for awesome storm clouds (and lightning storms):

Not infrequently, the passing storm is capped with a rainbow:

Butte America does fireworks in a big way--both the "private sales" that rival some town's whole display, and the major Independence Day Eve city display. Happy Birthday, America!


Sylvia K said...

What a great visit to Montana!! Having raised my family in Great Falls, I really enjoyed your post/photos for the day!! Thanks for sharing! Enjoy your week!

troutbirder said...

Great post Pat. I saw my first ever prairie smoke a few weeks back. They're quite rare here in southern Minnesota but then so a virgin prairies...

Nancy @ A Rural Journal said...

Thoroughly enjoyed your post Pat -- loved the costumes, the fireworks and especially the mountain views. Gorgeous! Thanks so much for stopping by today.

Frostbite and Sunburn said...

Wow, what a selection of photos - don't where to look first!. Looks like you truly had a ball at the Ball!

Love the huge white stormy cloud, and a great revision for me on the wild flowers!

My Unfinished Life said...

beautiful flowers and mountains!!


Judy said...

Wonderful images!! Please compliment Mrs. R. on her ballgown!! My favourite image is the stunning sunset, but I really enjoyed all the flowers!! My back is doing a lot better, and now I have to get my walking speed and distance back up... Husband is still doing most of the carrying...

BLD in MT said...

Amazing as always. I so appreciate all your flower lessons! I trust summer is treating you well from the looks of things. What fun that ball must have been! Matt and I attended our first Renaissance Faire last weekend and it was a blast to be with so many fun and costumed folks!

Innocent Sm said...

What a great visit to Montana!! Having raised my family in Great Falls, I really enjoyed your post/photos for the day!! Thanks for sharing! Enjoy your week!
Faltu The Community

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