10/18/2006


Life's a Winter Wonderland at Our Western Montana Lodge

Have you ever wondered why snow always puts us in mind of a winter wonderland? I got to pondering this 'deep' question the other day as snow turned my world into a real life fairy landscape. I decided:

It all begins with the millions of snow flakes drifting, floating, or blowing and changing the face of the mud and grass into a soft blanket of white. This always reminds me of us those little domed glass trivets which I played with as a kid.

Once the snow has stopped and the sky begins to clear, the next phases of 'wonderland' appear. The newly flocked trees remind me of Christmas, but not even the most professionally prepared imitation can compete with the real thing. The perfectly flocked forest quickly gives way to an even more beautiful melding of green and white as the wind sweeps across the ridge tops, brushing darker streaks against the mingled green and white.

Next come the sun, peaking through the clouds and adding golden touches against a dark grey sky. Things are beginning to look magical. Next I notice my rail fence - the simple combination of wooden boards has been turned into a chocolate layer cake with thick layers of white frosting.

Then there are the aspen trees, now drooping with their swags of white. And, of course, I can't miss the sparkling diamonds which stud my front yard as the sun's rays streak across the snowy ground.

Winter wonderland? Yes, I think I am privy to one of the best, especially this time of year at Elk Lake Resort.

Lady of the Lake

10/06/2006

There Really is NO Place Like Our Western Montana Lodge

How many times have you heard the phrase, "There's no place like home?" If you've heard it as often as I have, it has probably become one of the cliques which you really don't hear anymore. Although coined by Dorothy in The Wizard of Oz, this simple phrase really couldn't carry much more 'punch' if you think about it. After all, to compare ALL other places to one - and find them all coming up short in one way or another - is a pretty strong statement.

So, what does 'home' mean to most of us? I'd suggest 'home' implies a place to relax, warmth, good food, people you can 'let your hair down' around, good times, good sleep, and laughter, to name a few. When you think about it, home is the one place the real world drives us to, time and time again, for a chance to really be ourselves and to rejuvenate so we can go back out there and rejoin the fight.

Well, after spending a few days away, I'm convinced our home at Elk Lake Resort is the perfect representation of what 'home' is, or at least ought to be. Take the things I listed above -

Relaxation - Granted many of my days (and nights) here are very busy, but I've never found a place which so lends itself to complete relaxation as my home here in the Centennial.

Warmth - Although the mountain weather can remind you of the most changeable person you've ever met, there is always warmth to be found inside - if not out. In fact, I know many who would agree when I say a rainy (or snowy) day, a warm fire, and a good book are what make up some of the best days in life.

Good Food - Here I think we've got a LOT of places beat hands down. Now, I'm not trying to pat my own back, after all every one of our recipes has come from someone else who perfected it over time and then passed it on, but I rarely pass up the opportunity to try whatever is considered the 'best place in town' to eat. And, in all honesty, I rarely come away feeling inadequate to complete!

People you can 'let your hair down' with - To me, this is one of the most endearing aspects of Elk Lake. Over the years we've gained a 'following' of sorts, people who love places like this - and love to make new friends and renew old acquaintances in places like this. It seems places 'in the middle of nowhere' tend to draw people who are real - not stuck on a pedestal and fake to the core.

Good Times - What is there about getting back to nature which makes everything more fun, more pure, and more, well for the lack of a better word, real? As commercialized as we've made our 'fun', it seems to me the best times are those which have few, if any, things added to pure and unadulturated nature.

Good Sleep - This is one of the things I notice the most when I leave. What is your prescription for a good night's sleep? Mine is dark, quiet, and comfortable. Well, we have the dark, the quiet, and most of our guests also think the comfortable. In fact, even our early risers often surprise themselves with sleeping a few hours longer than they normally do.

Laughter - What description of any special place is complete without laughter? Here we specialize in laughter - at ourselves, at the animals, at each other. In fact, if our guests aren't laughing, we know they aren't really enjoying themselves. Fortunately, laughter is the norm.

Well, I've obviously got it bad. I guess I'm stuck with Dorothy's line - "No matter how far I roam, there really is NO PLACE like home!"

Lady of the Lake

9/30/2006


Late September - WOW - at Our Western Montana Lodge

It's hard to imagine any place on earth which can compare to mid and late September at Our Western Montana Lodge. Granted, I love every season, but there is something extra special about fall - at least while we're enjoying it.

Take the animals - I've seen more animals of late than I have all summer combined. Since most large animals are in rut this time of year, they tend to be more visible and more active. For example, the Elk. One of the most majestic and awe inspiring large animals on the North American continent, our Elk are doing their best to fill their roll. In just one day - less than three hours time in the Valley - I saw three bulls and their cows. And, they weren't little, scruffy bulls either! Of the three, I'd say the smallest had to be a five point.

I didn't even have to beat the brush for these upclose and personal encounters. I was actually on my way out (first bull and herd in the morning) for the day - and then on my way back in (last two bulls with their cows) later that evening. All three were close to or crossing the road.

As if that isn't enough, I talked to some locals who have been seeing and hearing up to eight bulls in a group. In fact, one man told me of two guys who just sat and listened to the Elk bugle and carry on until well after dark. Now, if that doesn't raise the hair on the back of your neck and put goosebumps on your goosebumps - well, you've been hanging around the city far too long!

However, if Elk just really aren't your 'thing', consider the Moose. The next week or two is supposed to bring us to the high point of their rut. Now, I haven't personally seen a bull in the last two weeks, but I've heard it on good authority that they are not only out there - there are some real nice looking ones.

Of course the excitement isn't limited to the big game this time of year. The antelope are plentious - and often hilarious to watch as the bucks jockey for position. I must have seen 30 - 40 last evening. Most easily seen on the North road - or coming in from the west - these lively little animals may look a lot like deer, but their personalities are quite different!

None-the-less, if deer are what you seek, we've got those around too. Although not as visible as some of the larger game and the antelope, I managed to see half a dozen right beside the road recently. With the bucks in the middle of their annual competition for the ladies, a little time spent off the beaten path out to be quite rewarding.

Not everything in the valley is about the 'rut', however. The ducks and geese are gathering for their annual pilgrimage to south. A couple of mornings ago I'd estimate we saw better than 100 geese on Culver Pond as well as myriads of ducks. What this means, of course, is great photo opportunities as well as potentially terrific hunting - especially as there are a lot of birds but not many hunters.

Okay, enough of the birds and animals. Some time spent at Elk Lake Resort this time of year offers incredible opportunities to enjoy the local color as well. The aspens in the Centennial Valley have gone overboard in an effort to show off their fall foliage. In fact, the drive over Red Rock Pass has got to be one of the most beautiful around.

Add to all of the above - great fishing, great opportunities to view smaller wildlife and birds (a couple of friends had an excellent photo shoot earlier this week with a badger as the model), and little to no people. Now, the Centennial is NEVER really busy, but this time of year you practically have the whole place to yourself!

I guess, all things considered, I have a LOT of good reasons to think life at Our Western Montana Lodge is at its best this time of year.

Lady of the Lake

9/25/2006

We're Enjoying Fall at our Western Montana Lodge

Fall is such a beautiful time of year at Elk Lake Resort. In fact, if I were hard pressed I might say it was my favorite time of year. Then again, there really isn't a season in the Centennial I don't enjoy. Spring brings a carpet of green which spreads like paint flowing from a huge can across the dry and dead landscape left behind when the snow departs. And who can forget to mention to baby animals which seem to appear on every side.

Summer, with its long warm days and cool nights adds delights of its own. Early summer is a great time for fishing, wildflower enjoyment, and wildlife viewing. Mid summer the lake warms enough for swimming and water play; late summer brings the animals back down from the high country for more viewing opportunities.

Then we've got fall. Glorious, colorful fall! The aspens put on a display unlike any other season. With their coats of red and gold hanging on white and black coat racks against the deep green background of their evergreen counterparts, they are the 'queen' of the season. However, the fishing is back in gear, much of the wildlife is in 'rut' and thus showing and sounding more, and the sky takes on the deep blue which no color chart can replicate.

But let's not forget winter. I think it odd so many think winter would be the 'hardest' time of year here. With hundreds of miles of snow all around, all one needs is a snowmobile, snowshoes, or cross country skies to enter this wonderland of white which Disney, with all its special effects and computer gurus, can NEVER replicate. In my opinion, there is nothing so beautiful as the sun turning a white field into a million sparkling diamonds and draping capes of white across noble evergreen ladies under an endless canopy of blue. Who on earth could take such a sight for granted?

Lest I wax too poetic, I better end. The days are getting shorter and cooler, but we continue to be blessed with lots of warm sunshine and beautiful blue skies. I know they won't last long so I'm enjoying every moment I can get outside. Yesterday evening it was a kayak ride on the lake just before dusk. Today it was a visit on the porch with friends, old and new. Tomorrow - well, I can't wait to see what tomorrow holds, here in the backside of nowhere - or, in my opinion, just a mile or so from heaven.

Lady of the Lake

9/18/2006

Winter Reminds Us Of Its Impending Arrival

It got cold! It got real cold! Well, maybe not real cold (the 20's above really doesn't constitute real cold weather at our Western Montana Lodge), but going from the 70's to the 30's in a 24 hour period definitely got our attention.

After several days of Indian Summer - warm, blue skies, soft breeze, perfect weather - the cold front which passed through over the weekend served as an excellent reminder. As one visitor said, "In Montana, September can be in the 70's or snowing." And it did, snow that is.

In fact, all day Saturday, while our brave fishermen from California tried to keep their fingers from freezing (and while, by the way, they caught some nice fish), it snowed. Never very hard, and it didn't stick, but it snowed all day - and blew a bit too. Consequently, several of our guests thought it was a nice day to sit around the fire and watch some college football or play a game of gin or poker in the dining room.

Today, however, although there is still a 'bite' in the air, it is into the 50's in the shade - and much warmer in the abundant sunshine. And, the air is clean and clear - another benefit of the weather system which passed through. Another, and there are several, is the help I'm sure it gave to the firefighters who have been bravely battling fires on several fronts this summer.

Now the trees are getting very serious about showing off their fall wardrobe. The bugs have just about had their final curtain call. The air is clean. The sky is soooo blue. And, life here at Elk Lake Resort is a new adventure everyday!

Lady of the Lake

9/14/2006


We Step Back in Time at Our Western Montana Lodge

A visit to Cody, Wyoming produced some nice photographs and a few good stories from a nearly forgotten era. As some of you know, I am always searching for stories relating the history of Elk Lake Resort. A couple of years ago, the second Resort owner, Erlene Mercer, graciously offered me a chance to view her photo album from their time here. So, fearing to wait too long, and thus loose the opportunity, I finally made the trek to Cody.

Erlene kindly opened her home to me; we spent a couple of hours perusing her photo album. Beginning with a few photos from when the original owners, Faye and Edna Selby, owned the place, we worked our way to the early 70's when Hank and Erlene sold to Bill Green.

Erlene's photos showed how much things change - and how much they stay the same. For example, early photos of the ranch house and resort show the cabins similar but different. The roofing material, at this time, was 3 tab. The siding appears to have been some kind of cement board - painted white until the 'boys' decided red would look better. Cabin 3 used to sit closer to the road, and Cabin 7 was the 'tack room'. No porch existed on Cabin 1, Cabin 2's porch looks to have been changed, and Cabin 3's porch has definitely taken on a new look in the passing years. Another fact I'd been told, but had not seen, none of the cabins had bathrooms. In addition, the lodge didn't have a front porch (and was sided and roofed similar to the cabins).

As I knew before going, the addition onto the dining room was still in the future. Also, the interior of the lodge, although still retaining familiar impressions, looked quite a bit different. In fact, the current sitting room and bar were basically one big room with a small bar against one wall, an oak roll-top desk where business was conducted, and a piano in one corner. The rest of the room could easily be cleared for the regular dances which were held here. (One brief story Erlene told was of the big quake in the 1950's. Apparently the Selbys were in the lodge at the time. They reported the piano rolled clear across the room and banged against the far wall. Other damage occurred, I'm sure, but the self-motivated piano made the biggest impression, it seems.)

However, the general layout of the Resort remains the same - except - the entrance used to the to the south of the Resort. Unfortunately this meant a great deal more traffic (at least as years passed) traveled by Cabins 1, 2, and 3. Therefore, during Miller's time, the entrance was moved to the West side.

I also saw photos of the boats, and boat docks. The dock at Elk Lake was similar to that which we now have. However, at the North end of the lake a dock also existed (although by Mercer's time it was looking a bit worn out). This dock, however, continued to serve a purpose until late in the Mercer's ownership. According to Erlene, even after a road was put in to allow access to Hidden Lake, it was very rough and often dangerous to use early and late in the season. Thus the Mercers continued to ferry people across the lake and then drive them on up to Hidden Lake for much of their ownership.

The boats, at Hidden Lake, were wooden - and there were quite a few. The lake produced nice trout (as it does today) and was popular with quite a few. In fact, a very old copy (probably 1940's) of 'Click Magazine' had an article on Jane Russell - and it contained several photos of her 'frolicing' around Hidden Lake.

Other photos Erlene had to share were (obviously) of fish which had been caught. Another photo taken during Selby's time showed a young black bear on the back porch of the Ranch House. According to Erlene, this bear took a liking to the Selby's and hung around quite a bit. Another interesting series of photos from Selby's time were of a young elk calf being suckled by a Hereford cow. In fact, this calf elk continued to suckle that cow until it was so large it had to lay down to access the milk. The photo Erlene allowed me to copy of Edna Selby shows her standing beside a full grown bull elk (this youngster all grown up).

I also obtained several photos of the Resort showing things as they used to be. Other photos show guests enjoying their stay - something which hasn't changed! Erlene told me of one group which came annually from California. This group stayed a week and had a continuous party. Oddly enough, a few days after I returned from our visit, two gentlemen and their families stopped by. And, who would have guessed it, but they were some of the children who came with this group years ago.

Well, I guess, the more things change, the more they stay the same. One way or another, every time I hear another story of people and events which have occurred here in the last 72 years, I feel increasing blessed to be making a piece of my 'own history' here at our Western Montana Lodge.

Lady of the Lake

8/30/2006


Summer Crew Winds Up and Packs Up

The summer is winding to a close, and, although September is still before us (and still fairly busy), our summer help has headed home to prepare for school. After a busy summer, which included lots of work but a nice sprinkling of fun, our good-byes came hard. These girls had worked very hard, and without them the summer would have been a disaster. And, not only had they added support, they brought sunshine and laughter into every part of our day.

Joy, the 'blond' lived up to her hair color, but only on occassion. It didn't take her long to figure out when we were pulling her leg. In fact, I think in self-defense (although she denied it), she dyed her hair Strawberry Blond. I guess the red tint was to convince us (and herself) she really wasn't a blond - although I don't know why she felt the need.

However, she lived up to her name every moment of every day. She brought joy and laughter to our work. To watch her do a jig chanting 'more dishes, more dishes' when we brought her another armload brought a smile to our faces - even when we thought we were too tired to smile.

She turned out to be the BEST kitchen help. She willingly filled the role of chef's helper, waitress, dishwasher, or cook. She could switch from waiting tables to prepping dinner dishes to washing dirty dishes in the blink of an eye. And, when she spotted a job that needed doing - she jumped right in and went to work.

In fact, she got a bit too serious about her job. I think she thought we couldn't run the kitchen without her. Take the night (the one and only night) she got sick. We sent her to bed. She looked appalled! "I can't go to bed. There are dinners to be served." We assured her we could make it without her help. Whereupon she went to bed and beat herself up for not staying and helping out! "Relax, Joy!"

Our brunette, Shannon, has been the "Who Me?" child for as long as I've known her. However, this summer, she proved she's growing out of that stage. In fact, I only think she said, "Who, Me?" two or three times the whole summer.

Shannon could be counted on to keep Joy on the straight and narrow (as if Joy had any intention of straying). She was the quiet one - the one who liked to keep to the background. She didn't say much, but you could catch her eyes twinkling every once in a while if you watched close enough. She learned how to clean cabins with the best of them. She turned out to be a top-notch dishwasher, and, if you have some serious shopping to do (I mean 4 flatbeds full at Costco), be sure to take Shannon along.

Although neither of the girls really got into kayaking or canoeing this summer, they both came to the conclusion their legs were broken - thus they really NEEDED to ride the four-wheelers (even if it was only 100' across the yard to the next cabin). Shannon came a bit more prepared for this ardorous task. She understood how to apply the brakes and the gas. Joy, on the other hand, needed some practice (okay, a LOT Of practice). With her jackrabbit starts and abrupt stops, I'm really quite amazed the vacume (and cleaning supplies) survived the summer.

Well girls, my hat is off to you both. You were great help and even more fun. You will not be soon forgotten - either by us or this summer guests at Elk Lake Resort. You will be missed GREATLY! We all wish you great times for the remaining weeks of your summer - and the upcoming school year. Take care and don't let anyone tell you you aren't the BEST!

Lady of the Lake

8/22/2006

Fall 'hints' at its Upcoming Arrival at Our Western Montana Lodge

It's that time of year again. Here in the mountains the summers are short - at least when compared to many of the lower regions around us. And, fall is foretelling its soon arrival in the cool nights and cooler days. Of course, summer isn't willing to give up without a fight.

Today the temperature rests in the low 80's, but a few days ago our highes were in the high 60's. The nights, too, are beginning to show signs of the weakning hold of the sun. With average lows in the upper 30's - and a few nights already dipping into the low 30's, we're getting a taste of what is coming.

The animals are more abundant, too, as the days cool down. Several moose have been sighted. The deer are quite abundant - and getting more daring. In fact, I fear for my flowers. The fawns are getting big, and although they've not lost their spots, they are looking more like adolescents than babies. The fox kits are nearly full grown. The Sandhill Crane babies are approaching their parents' size. Some of the birds are gone - the tree swallows for one - and others are flocking - a sure sign of their impending departure. Even a few of the aspens are starting to show yellow and orange mixing with their green.

Yes, fall is approaching, but with stubborn tenacity we hang on to the departing vestages of summer. Although I love fall - the colors, the crisp nights, the clear air - the short summer season (and the busyness of it) make me savor each passing moment (and strive to extend them for as long as possible). However, with the upcoming fall we will have a bit more free time. And, with the beauty of the season, we will seek to enjoy it to its fullest.

For now, at Elk Lake Resort, however, we swim if its warm enough - we sit out on the porch whenever we can - we soak up the sun's warmth - and we enjoy the last fleeting days of a season too quickly behind us.

Lady of the Lake

8/18/2006

Wildlife Sightings Increase at our Western Montana Lodge

As the heat decreases and the people return to their 'normal' lives, the wildlife seems to breathe a collective sigh of releif - and return to the lower ground. With the summer heat, wildlife sightings (and particularly moose sightings in the valley) had dropped to an all time low. However, we are pleased to hear the moose have returned to the valley floor and are delighting guests who take the time - at the right time - to look for them.

In the last couple of weeks we've had several dozen moose sightings, numerous Bald Eagle and owl sightings (along with a large variety of other smaller birds), Sandhill Cranes seen regularly, and, of course, regular deer sightings and occasional elk seen. The most interesting wildlife encounter I've heard about, however, was between one guest and four fox.

While walking along the lake, enjoying the quiet and looking for 'treasure', one recent guest had the privilege of getting up-close-and-personal with four red fox. Apparently he first noticed them as they scrambled around on the hill behind him. When he turned to watch them, one - the largest it seemed - drove the other two from view. However, not 15 minutes later as he crouched beside the lake shore, four fox came down to the lake near his resting place. After taking time to get a drink, two fox came within a few feet of him - checked him out - then returned to the group. Amazingly enough, they didn't seem to concerned about him, although they appeared to be keeping a sharp lookout for the local dogs.

I even got in an early evening hike last night. I had the dogs along, which limited my wildlife contacts, but I still saw 1 doe, 2 Sandhill Cranes, and 3 ducks (which I could not identify). I also heard what I thought might be an Elk bugling. In fact, the wolf riders are saying the Elk have been bugling regularly for about 3 weeks now. Does this imply an early winter or at least a colder than normal fall? Only time will tell. However, around here - with more wildlife to observe and wonder at - I don't really mind having to wait and find out.

Lady of the Lake

8/12/2006

The "World" Comes to Visit Our Western Montana Lodge

Just when I get to feeling things are bordering on the 'everyday', a visitor (or two or half a dozen) comes to visit and reminds me not only how lucky I am to live here, but how 'big' the world is. This week has brought visitors from Italy and the Neatherlands. These two special families have given as much to us as they say they have received from us.

The first family - a mother, father, and son - found us by 'accident' this past weekend. A one night adventure turned into two days of exploration as the checked out our area and visited with our family. By the time they left, Susanne was inviting us to come to Italy for a visit (and not just 'us' but the girls working for us, and our extended family who were visiting at the same time). In addition, their obvious pleasure at being part of our family for a couple days warmed our hearts and endeared them even more to us.

The second family - a mother, father, and two sons - have taken the Internet to the maximum, planning and booking their entire US vacation online. When asked how they found us? They typed in "unique lodging" and "unique vacation". That was a good heads-up for me as I revamp our web page - I definitely want to leave that keyword.

Although our time to visit with our new friends from Italy was a bit limited, we were able to spend several hours learning more about our Dutch friends and their homeland. In addition, because the 'mother' in this case is a lovely lady who grew up in the US, we have been able to get an even broader picture of how the Neatherlands and US are similar - and how they are different. So, to add to my knowledge that some of the world's most beautiful flowers come from this little country, what have we learned?

Their countryside: The Neatherlands, as most people know, is land reclaimed from the sea by a series of dikes and an intricate "Delta Works" (pumping system) which keeps the sea from flooding the land. What I didn't know was this land used to be a marsh - a river delta area. In addition, I learned the process of reclaiming the land started a LONG time ago.

Their heritage: Apparently the early ancestors of the Dutch were people who came down the Rhine River long before the Angles and Saxons were fighting over Britainia. In fact, there are huge stones (how did their early ancestors move these monoliths?) which the Dutch have identified as grave markers from the Stone Age.

Their homes: To build in the Neatherlands - because the land is a combination of clay and sand - one must first drive pilings deep into the ground. In fact, in some places these pilings are as long as 30 meters. In modern times the pilings are made from concrete. However, years ago wood was used. As a result, some of the old buildings in Amsterdam lean drunkenly. According to Pat (the US raised part of the family), the leaning buildings only add to the charm of the old city.

As one might expect, however, there are times when an old piling must be replaced. Now, consider this. Once the pilings are seated on a firm foundation, a building is built on top of them. So, when the piling rots, it is no simple job to replace it. In fact, according to Marcel (the father), to replace an old piling they actually go into the 'basement' of the existing building with a portable drill (I'd say small but it must be fairly large to do the job) and commence drilling. Once the old piling is drilled out, they pour concrete into the hole to create a new piling.

And, these basements led to another revelation. The word 'subterrainian' comes from the Dutch, via a combination of the French words 'sub' (under) and 'terrain' (ground). It seems the Dutch are hard up for living space (at least in the cities). Therefore many apartments are in basements (these subterrainian rooms) which boast windows high on the wall which look out onto - well - a nice large patch of "pavement".

Houses, Dutch style, are small - very small - by most US standards. While I live in an area where the square footage of many second homes is 2000 - 3000 square feet, the apartment which my new friends live in - in the city - is less than 700 square feet (and this is for a family of four). If my memory serves, they said to buy this apartment would border on 1 million dollars. Yes, you read that right! In addition, they are blessed with a country home. Two and one half hours by train from the city they have a small home (less than 1000 square feet) with a small patch of lawn. This 'country estate' cost them over $500,000. And, when I looked surprised at the price for such a small place, they told me they are considered lucky. To have a home in the country with a small 'garden' is considered a real luxury in the Neatherlands.

Their schools: A delightful conversation with Tim and Bob (the two sons) revealed quite a bit about their school system. Dutch children start school at the age of two. From two to four they attend a 'play school' which sounded much like pre-school in America. However, I got the impression play school in the Neatherlands is required. At the mature age of five the children start their primary education. With school starting in September and ending in June, the students attend until they are sixteen. During this time a typical Dutch student learns two or more languages (apparently up to four is common - German, French, English, and of course Dutch).

At some point, near the end of the this segment of their education, they take a test to determine whether they are at the high, medium, or low level. This testing then determines the number of years they will spend in college (or university - I'm not sure what they call this upper level of education). The low level students spend 4 years, medium 5, and high 6. However, apparently just because a student tests at the low or medium level when they leave what I'd call high school doesn't mean they are 'locked in' at that level. Apparently their marks over the next few years can raise their level. So, if I understood right, a low level (high school) graduate could end up performing (and being educated) at the high level.

Their work system: Every country (mine included) has its issues and problems. I'd say the work system in the Neatherlands is one of their country's biggest problems. Not only do the rules regulating businesses favor the larger corporations while greatly restricting smaller 'mom and pop' type organizations, but the system also 'rewards' the lackluster, lazy worker instead of encouraging entrepreneurs and hard-working employees.

For example, lets say I am a small business owner in the Neatherlands (instead of here at Elk Lake Resort.) I work hard; my business grows; I hire an employee to help me. Everything seems normal up to this point. Then, my employee gets 'sick'. Now, this can be really sick or just sick of work. As I understand it, I now have two options. I can try to convince my employee to come back to work, and then get them another job (thus releiving me of the responsibility for them), or I can continue to keep them as my employee - thus making me responsible for them for at least 2 years.

Now, to make it worse, the employee can call in sick (and get paid) whenever the urge strikes. Therefore, I am penalized for having an employee - and my employee has no incintive to do a good job because I'm 'stuck' with them - regardless of how they work. In addition, it seems the bigger companies are so used to this type of employee, they think nothing of this type of behavior - and, as amazing as it seems to me, may actually tend to reward it. It doesn't make good business sense to me!

Their government: The Neatherlands has a royal family, and like England, the royal family is mostly a figure head. They also have a prime minister and parliament. However, there are some differences. There are a LOT of parties (unlike the US which has 3 'major' parties) and it sounded like the most 'popular' person in the party which is elected (elections occur every 4 years) becomes the new prime minister. And, although the people vote for leaders and parties, my impression was their vote didn't play as important of a role as our (US) votes do (or at least are supposed to).

Their taxes: Like Germany, the Dutch function under a 'huge' tax burden. In fact, over 50% of their income (off the top) is gobbled up by taxes. And, yet, if I understood correctly, it is possible for a big corporation to send their earnings out of the Neatherlands and thus protect it from this exorbitant taxation. And, while this may make the country more interesting to big corporations, it has to put an even greater strain on the smaller business owner and the individual too.

Their religion: The Neatherlands offers religious freedom. In other words, they have no state church and the government does not regulate religion. However, I found it interesting that all businesses closed on Sunday (or at least all 'Dutch' businesses). Apparently it is not illegal for a Jewish grocer or a Turkish baker to stay open on Sunday - and to close another day of the week as regulated by their religion.

Another interesting point which relates more to their work ethic than religion is - almost all of the stores close at 6 p.m. Now we're talking about in the middle of a big city - in fact a whole big city. Although those of us who have lived in a small town can relate to this, those living in large cities in the US are used to businesses being open 24 / 7. This is not the practice in Holland. In fact, it is not uncommon for a store which opens at 10 a.m. to actually open 10 - 15 minutes later. And, the same store may close 10 - 15 minutes before 6 p.m. Obviously this reflects some of their work ethich (or lack of).

One last piece of 'trivia'. In the Neatherlands it is legal to drink at 16, but you can't get your drivers license until you turn 18. Now, how's that for a bit different?

I could go on about their money, their ideas on the European Union, their recreational activities, their emigration policies, and so on. Obviously I thoroughly enjoyed our visit - and I learned a LOT about another country - one I would love to visit, but one where I don't think I'd want to live. In fact, the more I learn about this great big world, the more I treasure the opportunity to live in my sheltered little world!

Lady of the Lake

8/10/2006

We Live in the "Daily" at our Western Montana Lodge

Although life at Elk Lake Resort is never dull, sometimes it gets quite 'daily'. We cook meals, clean cabins, and visit with guests. Nothing overly exciting happens - or so it seems.

Then I think back to the pair of Sandhill Cranes which stopped me in my tracks as I searched the sky to locate the source of their haunting calls. Or, the big bull Elk which we startled from his grazing near the banks of Red Rock Creek. According to the wolf riders, the Elk are already bugling - and have been for several weeks. Maybe this is the reason he stopped when I sent him a whistle which faintly (very faintly) resembled the sound of their bugling.

And there's the kayak ride Craig, Nathaniel, and I took the other day. We didn't see a lot, but the Mama duck with her ducklings and the various other birds which let us get quite close (as we were low in the water and relatively quiet) added to the scenic beauty to make for a perfect morning. Or, I remember the Mother and Father Wrens who chewed me out royally as I was hanging my laundry a couple days ago. They nest each year in an old stovepipe near my clothesline. And, each year it is the same. A glimpse of one of their young - a brave little fellow who looked like a smaller version of his parents and who ventured out to the edge of the pipe to see what all the fuss was about - added to my delight.

I could add the yipping coyotes the other night, announcing their return to the area (which also announces the movement of the wolves away from the area - at least for the time being). Or, I could talk about the thunderstorm which blew through the other night making quite a fanfare on its way by. Or, the hummingbirds which are regularly visiting my potted flowers. Or, the sparrows which have been chirping loudly on the front patio. Really, 'daily' life around here is jam packed with so much of the extra-ordinary, I can't begin to imagine how dull it would otherwise.

And so, even the little things, the things I can easily take for granted, give me reason for pause when I sit down and think about all I see and experience - just in the course of 'daily' life.

Lady of the Lake

8/04/2006

Things get a little "DRY" here at our Western Montana Lodge

Life got a little more 'interesting' than normal here this week as we faced a technical challenge which threatened to wreck havoc. However, living in the middle of nowhere is teaching is to roll with the punches. As a result, tragedy (or at least a lot of hair pulling) was averted.

It all really started over a year ago when we experienced a decent-sized earthquake (epi-center Dillon, MT). Although it did no 'noticeable' damage, it did shake things up enough to bother our well pump. Craig, who was in the shower at the time of the quake, (all lathered up!) lost all water instantly. His first assumption was a broken line so he shut off the power to the pump, closed the water mains to the cabins, and restarted the pump.

It started normally, he checked for leaks and found none, then he finished his shower and planned for an early start to check out the rest of the water lines. The next morning he could find nothing out of the norm. Everything seemed to be working fine. However, we didn't know the 'whole' picture.

About a month later the pump quit again - this time for no obvious reason. When all his attempts to repair the problem failed, Craig and Ed (our friend and helper for the summer) pulled the pump from the well. After working it over (there appeared to be some grit or other small obstruction causing some problems), they were able to reinstall it, and it worked. Problem solved? No!

Another earthquake last January (with a much closer epi-center and thus a stronger effect although again no 'obvious' damage) shook things up a bit more. However, the pump continued to work fine. Or so we thought. But, it was really just waiting its time. A week or so ago, it quit again. Craig was able to get it working without pulling it, but we were about convinced a new pump was in our near future.

It was. A couple days ago the pump quit again. Craig was in Yellowstone with his family. I was here preparing for incoming dinners! Talk about stress! I about cried. However, I was able to get ahold of him and found he was only about 1 1/2 hours away. So, I filled water jugs from the RV (fortunately it had water) and prepared for 'dinner as usual' (at least on the dining room side of the kitchen's swinging doors).

Side note: Although we all held it together admirably, I think we were all a bit more stressed than we realized. Take this little incident: I had three tables of two diners each, all in various stages of eating or waiting for their dinners. Tony, a gentleman at one of the tables, asked for a clean rag to wipe his glasses. Since I was waiting tables and cooking (so Craig could work on the pump), I asked Hannah to take out a clean rag. Well, one of the other tables of two - Jeff and a lady friend who were waiting for their dinners to be served - decided to step out onto the porch for a smoke. Hannah, misunderstanding my directions, takes a clean rag and busses Jeff's table. So, I walk back out with something for my third table of guests - Paul and MaryJane - and find Jeff and his friend standing beside their empty table.

"Someone took all of our stuff!" Jeff commented with a puzzled look.

In total confusion I return to the kitchen to find them dumping the precious water from Jeff and his friend's glasses into our 'wash tub' (the dirty water we were saving to rinse the dishes which we obviously could not wash). Completely puzzled but too busy to give it any more thought I reset their table and went on with preparing their dinners.

About ten minutes later I take out the dinners for the third table (Tony's table) and they thank me. Then Tony says, "Could I get that rag for my glasses?"

It wasn't until that moment I realized what had actually happened to the 'rag'. We all had a good laugh - after we got Tony his rag. I guess a little humor is the best thing in the middle of a stressful situation - but I wasn't really sure whether I was going to laugh or cry at the moment.

Anyway, back to the pump. This time the pump had to be pulled. With a bit of effort Craig and Brian (his brother has been visiting so we've put him to work) were able to get it going again. However, we knew we were at that point - we had to get a new pump. The next morning Craig wakes me to, "There's no water!"

It wouldn't be fixed. This time it was gone for good. Now, water is one of those things we often take for granted. After all, I have a creek running on each side of the lodge and a lake full of water in the front yard. I'm 'surrounded' by water. But, there was no water in the lodge (or the cabins which were nearly all rented!) However, our guests were VERY kind and understanding.

To make a long story short, many hours later I returned from a rushed trip to Bozeman with a new pump and new - well - new everything from the pump up. A couple hours later the guys got it installed and 'viola' WATER! What a blessing! And, so things are 'running' again normally here at Elk Lake Resort. I think it will be at least a few more days before I take this 'liquid gold' for granted again.

Lady of the Lake

8/01/2006

Family Visits Our Western Montana Lodge

In addition to a large variety of guests from many states and even many countries, we've recently had the additional privilege of visits from family. As most of our family is in Oregon (and many of our friends), we see them rarely - even more rarely this time of year. However, both Craig and I have family members here at the moment.

Although our 'real' life has been too busy to do much exploring of late, Craig is spending the day in Yellowstone with his family. The girls and his brother are scheduled to visit some of the high country on horseback toward the week end. And, I have hopes of taking my family into the back country of the Gravellies while they are here.

The weather continues to be hot - in the mid to upper 80's - but we've had a brief respite lately with temperatures dropping into the 70's for the highs. The nights continue to be comfortable with temperatures dropping into the mid 40's to low 50's. However, the continued warm has dried out the grass and increased the fire danger. So, we keep our fingers crossed and whisper an occasional prayer for fire prevention!

The hot weather has driven the wildlife into temporary hiding as well. Our latest excursions have only revealed a few deer - bucks, does, and fawns; a few antelope; and an occasional bull moose. However, the bird life continues to be impressive. In fact, our French visitors saw a Great Grey Owl in the aspens by the ranch house at dusk last night. So, if one keeps their eyes open, there are still wildlife and bird sightings to delight the viewer here at Elk Lake Resort.
Lady of the Lake

7/25/2006

Past Meets Present At Our Western Montana Lodge

It is amazing how time flies. The last two weeks which were supposed to be relatively quiet - a break before our biggest weekend of the year - turned into one busy day after another. Any owner of a seasonal business will tell you this is a blessing, but a double sided one in a small, family-run business.

However, last week brought an extra special treat. Gregg and Marina Williams, son and daughter-in-law of one of the former owners stopped by for a visit and ended up coming back for a night. What fun was had by all as we learned more about the past, and we shared with them some of the 'fun' of the present.

Gregg's step-dad and mom, Bill and Georgia Miller, owned Elk Lake Resort from the mid eighties to the early nineties. Although Elk Lake has gone through many owners (we are the eighth) in its seventy plus years of existance, Bill and Georgia were some of the most energetic and determined business people to own the Resort in the last 40 years.

They added the front porch and increased the dining room. They finished putting bathrooms on the cabins. They put in the well. They changed the entry way and put in the arch which still greets our visitors. They updated the furnishings in many of the cabins.

In addition to all of this, Georgia is well known in these parts for her wonderful way with food. A talented cook who enjoyed making even the most 'normal' food taste extraordinary, Georgia developed the kitchen we now enjoy. In fact, as I told the Williams, it is a bit intimidating living in her shadow. However, it was a joy to listen to Gregg and Marina talk about life at Elk Lake during their sojourn.

Gregg came to the resort as a single young man in his early twenties. He took on the responsibility of many of the resort operations in the summer while he helped Bill and Georgia with their winter enterprise - a hot air balloon business. It was during one of those hot air balloon excursions that he met Marina, a pretty Austrian interpreter for the tour agency with whom he was working.

The next year Marina joined him at the Resort. According to Gregg, this is when things really began to change. The upstairs of the lodge (our current living quarters) was made livable. A bathroom was added (replacing the 'one' shower for all in what is now the storage room downstairs) and bedrooms were framed in. The roof was raised to add more space - and the upstairs became a comfortable 3 bedroom sleeping area.

Georgia shone in the kitchen, and Marina shown in the yard. With her well-developed green thumb Marina brought splashes of color to compliment the green backdrop. The window boxes on the cabins overflowed with blossoms. The flower pots bulged with their colorful contents. Together the two women made the place 'bloom' with color and good food.

I could go on and on with stories they related. Stories of the floods which used to show up without notice (there was no phone) for dinner - upward of 60 one evening. Stories of the wildlife they saw and the friends they made. Stories of their lives together at the Resort. But, sadly, even the best things must come to an end.

Gregg and Marina decided to move on in the early 90's as their family began to increase. Without a phone (they used an answering machine on a phone not far from West Yellowstone - a phone which could only be checked a couple times a week at best) they were uncomfortable living here with small children. Thus they made the hard decision to leave.

As we visited it became clear the "Elk Lake Bug" still ran in their veins. What is there about this Western Montana Lodge that gets under its owners' skins? How come none of the previous owners have never gotten 'over' the place? Well, as a current owner I can suggest it is the sheer wildness - the pure nature - the incredible beauty - the deep dark nights - the still quiet - everything that makes Elk Lake Resort the last best place, or, as many of our guests have said, "A Mile From Heaven."

Lady of the Lake

7/12/2006


Taking Pleasure in the Simple Things at Our Western Montana Lodge

Sometimes life is busy - and experiences seem to zoom through life like a freight train rushing to its destination. Other times life is quieter and nothing extra-ordinary happens. It is often in the quieter times I fail to enjoy the simple pleasures of life. The beauty of a wildflower. The song of a tree swallow outside my bedroom door. The shush of the wind in the trees. A brief glimpse of baby birds - mouths open and waiting as their mother brings another meal.

The past week has been one of those 'slower' and 'quieter' weeks. Not that there haven't been moments (and hours) full of rush and flurry, but the slower moments have been more frequent than normal for the summer season. No 'record breaking' incidents have come trampling through, forcing me to sit up and take notice. No 'WOW' moments have struck me with the extra-ordinary. But, this doesn't mean life has been boring. It doesn't even mean I haven't been enjoying events and sightings others would consider 'unusual'.

Four 'normal' pleasures have been the highlights of this week. A brisk and refreshing swim with the kids off the new swim dock; the opportunity to watch several young fawns during my morning walk; the arrival of about 13,000 yearling fish; and, the opportunity to meet several new 'friends'.

A couple of weeks ago, at the request of our teenage summer crew, Craig built a swimming dock. Situated in the large cove near the boat ramp at our Western Montana Lodge where the water begins to deepen dramatically, this swimming dock has seen regular use (by us and our guests) since its installation. A 12 x 12 platform with anchors to hold it in place (generally), and a ladder to allow swimmers to regain its surface, this simple dock has already brought much pleasure to our family.

Having only swam near the boat ramp and boat docks, I always thought of Elk Lake as 'weedy' and 'fishy'. However, my perspective changed radically after an hour spent swimming with the girls this week. Not only was the water 'not' weedy or fishy, it was clear, clean and quite pleasant. And, of course, the mountain view and the lack of bugs out on the lake made the experience all the more delightful.

In spite of the overly friendly mosquitos, I've been trying to get back into walking in the mornings. Not only do I LOVE to be out before things get busy - just to look and listen - but I especially need these times to remind me why I love living here (at a time of year when work seems to dog my steps all too frequently - keeping me inside and leaving little time to 'enjoy' the beauty outside my window - or door). In an effort to avoid the thickest concentration of winged pests, I've directed my recent walks down the lake. This morning I had the pleasure of watching several deer - actually the most I've seen in one morning. Most of them were does (one buck stood like a malformed statue as I walked by - in an obvious effort to not attract the dog's attention), and several had fawns. In fact, the first wildlife sighted were twins in the middle of the road beside the Resort fence.

Oh, and the fish. Two years ago I was too busy to watch the annual 'plant'. Last year they dropped them at the foot of the lake. However, this year I wasn't too busy - and so, camera in hand, I headed to the lake (along with everyone else) to watch this year's plant.

The yearling fish (averaging 4 - 8") quickly adapted to their new home. After swimming briefly in the shallow water near the docks, they quickly disappeared - only to reappear briefly as they bumped the water surface or jumped clear of their confines after a snack. Now, I expect, we'll be seeing quite a bit more of the otters and the eagles.

Often the greatest pleasure of a day is the remembrance of 'meeting' a new friend (or friends). The very nature of the business indicates the obvious frequency with which people come through our doors. Many of these people come in strangers - we've never seen them, they've never seen us - BUT, most leave as friends! That, in and of itself, is one of the greatest pleasures of living our lives. Just yesterday - a typical day in many ways - is a good example.

The day started with a couple from California coming by for some out-of-state fishing licenses. Although they had been camping over near 'world-famous' Henry's Lake, they'd managed to find their way into our valley - and thus to our door. After serving them lunch a few days ago, we spent a bit of time visiting. As they left they told me they'd be back for fishing licenses, a day on Hidden, and a late lunch. And, so they did. However, as so often happens, when they walked through the door yesterday morning, they were no longer strangers but friends come to visit. And, they obviously felt the same since, after lunch, they said, "We just wish we hadn't found you so late in our vacation. We'd have been out here a lot more for the good fishing and the great food."

Then there were the two families from Maryland. One of the wives grew up in Ennis (How on earth did she end up in Maryland?). Although she obviously loves many aspects about her 'adopted' state, she still returns to her roots each year. And, she and her family usually make the trek up our way. This year was no different. After a hearty lunch the 7 of them headed up to Hidden Lake - rowed across - and walked down to Goose and Otter.

They returned several hours later (just before IMPRESSIVE thunder storm which they watched from our deck - wine glasses in hand) tired but pleased with the beauty of the day and the quality of birding they had enjoyed. As they left, the one lady (a friend of the lady from Ennis) gave me a beautiful book on raptors which I had admired during their lunch visit. What a generous way to say 'nice to meet you!'

And, as often happens, a stressful event at the end of the day turned into another opportunity to make new friends. I had just finished seating our last dinner party when in walked a family of four. "How may I help you?" I inquired.

"We have dinner reservations," the lady said.

In an effort to keep mt shock from showing, I turned back toward my reservation book. I knew there were no more reservations for the night (and, since we rarely prepare much more than we need as 'drop ins' are very rare - this was a big issue). "What was the name?" I asked over my shoulder.

"The reservation is under the name, Linda," she replied.

"I'm sorry, I don't have a Linda down. Do you know who you talked to?" I turned back to them, my emotions under check.

"Um, do you have a guy named Richard working here?"

Well, we don't. In the end we figured out she'd called a place in Island Park with 'Elk' in their name and thought she'd gotten us. Now, the problem was - we're 45 minutes from the nearest restaurant. What do we do?

With a little improvisation and a lot of good humor, we seated them for dinner. As it turned out it was Harry's birthday and Linda and the kids had planned a special dinner for him. They'd intended to eat here, they'd just gotten the name mixed up.

Dinner passed with a lot of tasty food a few hearty laughs. Afterward Harry and Linda stayed on a little longer to visit. Turns out, as often happens, we had a few things in common (mostly places in Oregon which we both knew) and this turned in to a few more connections. And so, what could have been a disaster turned into new friends. Friends who say they "WILL BE BACK!"

As always, there are unexpected pleasures in the simple events of life - and this, I'm glad to say, is no less the case just because we live quite a long way 'off the beaten path.'

Lady of the Lake

7/06/2006


We Visit the High Country Around Our Western Montana Lodge

With a brief break in the activity at our Western Montana Lodge, we took the opportunity to drive up into the high country. One of the unique things about our area is the accesibility of the upper regions of the Gravellies. Unlike many other mountain ranges - even those which surround the Gravellies - which must be accessed by ATV (where permissible), foot, or horseback, the Gravellies offer road access into their very heart.

Although one cannot drive to the 'top' of the mountain, we got close enough to feel completely overwhelmed and totally awed by the sheer magnitude of the peaks surrounding us. And, if one stays on the main roads, the trip is possible, even by car.

We started by crossing the Madison River at the Lyons Bridge and then traveling briefly up the West Fork of the Madison. After about a mile, we turned up the hill toward Standard Creek. This road, a little rougher than the Gravelly Road but still easy to navigate, climbed steadily up the mountainside offering expansive views of the Madison Valley and the Madison Range beyond.

A little higher and we reached the edge of a beautiful canyon. With views behind us to the Madisons and views in front of us offering a glimpse of the majestic mountains we were seeking and carpets of wildflowers at our feet, we decided to stop and stretch our legs. As we walked along the road which the sign said led to the Shelton Homestead (which, by the way, we didn't walk far enough to see), we were overwhelmed by the sheer variety of color covering every inch of the forest.

Against a backdrop of various shades of green, we relished the reds, blues, yellows, corals, whites, pinks, and purples of the various wildflowers. One discovery we made during our walk was of three varieties of paintbrush growing on the road side. Varying in color from a deep blood red, to a pale red (almost a mix of red and pink), to a distinct coral color - and with a variety of petal shape from long and broad to long and spiky - the Paintbrush were the 'find' of the moment. However, even their uniqueness faded as we were enthralled by the variety of the color and texture and shape of the other wildflowers. From the showy to the delicate - they surrounded us.

When it started to sprinkle, we headed back to the pickup. As delightful as our surroundings were, the road teased and beckoned to us - "Come further". And so we did.

Our road passed through open meadows and meandered through quiet forests. We crossed numerous streams, sparkling in the flittering light, and finally emerged at the awe inspiring Wolverine Basin. A huge open meadow which looked painted - the colors were so bold and true - its lighter green was bordered by the deeper green of the forest and beyond that the majestic blue-green and grey-brown backdrop of the mountain peaks. The only thing missing - if one could say a place so perfect was missing something - was a herd of elk, grazing quietly while a huge bull looked on. But not today.

We continued on, lured further by the mountain peaks which enticed us just beyond the forest boundaries. Soon we came to what I thought was the most interesting peak of the day. Cave Mountain is unique in the vast amount and variety of stone pillars which ring its at varying levels. As the road wound between Cave Mountain and Lion Mountain, we stopped beside a moderate-sized stream between the two peaks and ate our lunches.

However, like hungry nature lovers, we couldn't keep still. I wandered from one place to another - camera in hand, looking for unique rocks (of which there were many) and even more flowers to photograph. The views which surrounded our lunch spot kept drawing my eyes skyward. In fact, the mountains were so close together I was forced to weave back and forth across our little valley to gaze into their lofty peaks.

All too soon the showers began again, and we climbed back into the truck to continue our pilgrimage. However, the views ahead didn't disappoint. As we passed Cave Mountain, Bighorn Mountain came into view. Possibly not as impressive as Cave Mountain, this beautiful peak still delighted us with its sheer size and rugged character.

As we continued our climb up the lush, green valley, we occasionally stopped for an interesting rock or unique flower. However, we still managed to make progress and soon topped a rise. Stopping for a picture back the way we came, we again gazed in sheer amazement. How could anything be so beautiful? Each vista we beheld seemed to rival the one before. It was incredible!

And so we continued on - up to Black Butte, around its base, and on down the other side. When we weren't staring open mouthed at the vistas we were gazing in rapt amazement at the carpet of color near our feet. The only thing missing - and this we found as we dropped down into the sagebrush covered hills of the north Centennial Valley - was the wildlife. However, once we reached the valley we were greeted by antelope, several dozen raptors, and two badgers. Since we'd started the day with a bull moose at the foot of Elk Lake and a doe and fawn on Red Rock Pass, we felt we'd been treated to a full day of nature's delights.

For those who have never taken the time - or those who have never visited our area - how can a picture even begin to show you what you're missing? It is something short of heaven, but I can't imagine it's too far short!

Lady of the Lake

7/03/2006

Fishing at our Western Montana Lodge

Fish - and fisherman - have been the topic at our Western Montana Lodge these days as the two seek to make multiple contacts - at least from the 'fishermen's' position. After a steady week of fly-fishermen testing the lakes and streams in the surrounding we've heard fish tales and fish stories by the dozen.

According to our fishermen friends, the fishing at Hidden Lake started with a bang, slowed during the middle of the week, but picked up toward week's end. These talented and 'serious' fly-fishermen enjoyed extremely good success as they tested new flies and flirted with the fish.

A few spent some time on Red Rock Creek - chasing Grayling and large Yellowstone Trout - with a measure of success. Grayling, one of the sport fish of fresh water fishing, used to inhabit the waters of Elk Lake. However, since the recent drought which held Southwestern Montana in its grip for several years, the population died off - unable to reproduce without their spawning streams. With the return of normal moisture conditions - and thus the return of their spawning streams - we continue to hope the Fish, Wildlife, and Parks will reintroduce this unique fish with its distinctive high fin.

Even with no Grayling in Elk Lake, our father / son fly-fishing group did spend many and evening on the lake, pursuing the West Slope and Yellowstone Cutthroat which thrive in its waters. And, with a measure of success too.

All-in-all, with good fishing, good fun, and good food, our group left happy and anxious to return next year. And, of course - they are such a fun and easy party to cater to - we are anxious to see them again.

Lady of the Lake

6/27/2006


Summer Sets In at Our Western Montana Lodge

Well, summer is here - fair and square - at our Western Montana Lodge. Not only does the calander say so, but the weather and the number of guests agree. Although we don't have the 'bed space' to ever get really busy, we've been running at full or near full for the last couple of weeks.

Of course, when you own a seasonal business, you pray to be busy in the summer. Thus our prayers our being answered. But, living in such a wild and beautiful place, it is always hard to be too busy to get out and enjoy your own backyard - OR - too busy to enjoy the beauty just outside your door. And, yet, each day still brings its own joys and pleasures.

Like today. My day started with my usual walk up the road. I walk up to the highest point on the road to Hidden Lake - where I can tell the Madison Range good morning - then turn around and greet the Centennials. Often, on this walk I am greeted with a variety of wildlife. Yesterday it was two does. In fact, at one point, standing in the sage above my head and silhouetted by the sun from behind, I could only see two heads - nearly touching - with their large ears twitching. As usual - if only I had my camera!

Today it was a young buck who caught my attention. Browsing above the road, he stopped and stood like a statue as a I walked by. His antlers were still encased in velvet, and, with the surrounding sage and wildflowers, he looked more like a painting than something from the 'real' world.

Although I always feel privileged to see wildlife, the last two days have been 'slim pickins' compared to last week when my hubby saw 5 bull Elk and several Antelope while taking the same early morning hike. And, there have been no more wolves to howl and few other animals sightings here at the lodge - but that is part of summer. As is to be expected, living where the wildlife sees few humans, the more people come to the area, the less wildlife we see - unless we get off the beaten path.

On the other hand, this does NOT mean we aren't enjoying and learning. Today, after the walk, it was time to fill the flower pots with all the young plants we picked up in town yesterday. Although most people have planters already overflowing with flowers, here, high in the mountains we are still a bit at risk for frost - even this late in the season. However, with the warm weather of late, we decided to risk adding color to our front yard.

As we planted, we discussed plants, their names, and their various uses. It was not only interesting, but fun. And, as an added bonus, the butterflies came to visit - Giant Yellow Swallowtails, Mourning Cloaks, and a variety of smaller, yet beautiful 'bugs' as my little one calls them.

And, our flowers aren't the only ones in bloom. The lilac by the patio is breaking into bloom (about a week and a half early thanks to the warm weather), and, even more impressive, the wildflowers which were just beginning to make a 'show' on our walk to Cliff Lake are coming out in force. Their variety of color and shape adds much to the 'ordinary' of our lives.

And, so, life goes on - and we continue to enjoy life at Elk Lake Resort - our Western Montana Lodge!

Lady of the Lake

6/20/2006


Regaled With Wildlife at Our Western Montana Lodge

Today was an incredible day! Not that every day doesn't provide opportunities to enjoy and relish the "WILDNESS" of where we live, but today - well, today was unique. I think it was just the unique aspects of the 'encounters' which made the difference. Whatever, it was a day to remember.

It started out normal - a warm early summer day with a hint of high clouds suggesting an afternoon thunderstorm. The birds were singing, the wind tickling the aspen leaves and making them dance, the breeze whistling through the pines - it all made for an incredibly beautiful, but normal summer day.

It wasn't until afternoon that the fun set in. The thunderstorms started first. This time of year a passing thunderstorm is the way of life, but yesterday we experienced a serious of storms. One would pass by, rumbling, followed by brief spirts of rain, and the sun would return. Half and hour later, or so, another would growl by, flashes of light followed by large heavy drops, pregnant with life-giving moisture.

After a particularly wet storm passed over, an incredible full rainbow lit the sky with jewel tones - the most colorful of bows which brings that hopeful reminder of life's continuation. But, before the rainbow, the birds did an aerial display up to National Geographic Standards.

As I stood near a tableful of guests, my gaze was drawn out the window in front of me. Much to my delight - and theirs - we were just in time to watch a Bald Eagle in pursuit of an Osprey. They were close enough to see the fish dangling from the Osprey's talon - obviously a prize the Eagle had set his eye upon. For several rapt moments we watched as the Osprey, no small bird in its own right but, in this case, dwarfed by his larger foe, dove and twisted.

Although the smaller bird could obviously outmanuever his pursuer, the Bald Eagle hung on with tenacity. Unfortunately I do not know the outcome of the conflict as they flew over the lodge and out of my sight. Nonetheless, even with Osprey and Eagle sightings being a regular event here at Elk Lake Resort, the opportunity to observe them in such 'real life' action, and so close, was a definite delight.

This event, however, was eclipsed later that evening. It is my practice, as long as the outside temperatures make it feasible, to end the day sitting in bed, reading, with the nearby door open to listen to the birds and animals as they settle into their nighttime routines. It is usual to hear the call of a Sandhill, or the sounds of the waterfowl, or the twittering of a Robin or Tree Swallow as they perch in the trees outside my door. However, last night - well, I heard something which sent tingles up my spine - and, quite frankly, made me glad to be alive to hear it.

At first, the noise jarred on my ear. What was that sound? It sounded familiar, and yet not. I jumped from the bed and hurried to the door. Pressing my ear against the screen I listened. Yes, definitely, this was not a sound I usually heard. I listened another moment and determined it was coming from far enough away I could dare to open the screen door without fear of scaring away the source. "Craig, come here," I called quietly. "Hurry!"

Together, like two little children peering through the key latch to catch a glimpse of their Christmas presents, we stood, enraptured, as from up Narrows Creek Canyon, the sound of at least two wolves, howling, drifted on the breeze to our ears. I must say, it was unlike anything I'd ever heard - and yet, strangly similar to that of a dog.

I'd always wondered if I'd be able to tell the 'yip-yip-howl' of a coyote from that of the wolf - should I ever have the opportunity to hear them. No doubt! They are as different as white and dark chocolate!

When the wolves grew quiet, Craig howled back at them. "You sound sick," I whispered with a grin.

"So do they," was his quick reply.

And, in a sense, he was right. Their voices were deep, maybe a hint hoarse, and not really at all similar to the "Disney" wolves we hear on T.V. And - DEFINITELY - much more wild.

Now, I'm not saying I love wolves. I do, and I don't. I love the wildness they represent. And, I obviously love the opportunity to see and hear them. I also believe they have a role in the total eco-system. However, I realize they are top-of-the-chain predators which, left uncontrolled, can do an incredible amount of damage in a very short time. So, although I will relish this experience for the rest of my life, I am also aware there are times, and places, where the wolf - like other top-of-the-chain predators, must be controlled.

Nonetheless, this will definitely go down in my book as one of those life experiences I would not have wanted to miss. And, living here, I didn't have to - that's the beautiful part!

6/16/2006


Hiking At Our Western Montana Lodge

We finally got our chance, and hiking we went. Starting at the trailhead at Hidden Lake, the five of us beat feet - lunch and water on our backs and camera and binoculars ready at hand. The girls led the way with orders to walk quietly, communicate minimally, and keep their eyes open. Nathaniel and I brought up the rear.

Keeping an active and curious 3 1/2 year old quiet is really not possible, but he did learn to temper his vocal antics as we traversed through the trees along the lake. Our first 'big' excitement was the opportunity to watch the fish swimming in the lake. Hidden Lake is so clear, and the day was so pleasant, we could sit on the edge of the trail and watch them swimming at our feet. Our next big thrill was watching a pair of Trumpeter Swans swimming peacefully in a little cove near the trail. They moved to deeper water as we approached, but because everyone moved quietly along, we got some good photos and enjoyed a great opportunity to observe these graceful and magnificent birds.

A bit further down the trail we watched a pair of Red-Necked Grebes paddle around a little cove. These unique birds didn't seem bothered by our presence, and we were able to watch them for quite a while before we chose to move on. Leaving the lake we entered Lost Mine Canyon. This canyon connects Hidden Lake to the little Goose and Otter Lakes and on down to Cliff Lake, and Wade Lake beyond that.

Rarely traveled, the Lost Mine Canyon Trail winds through the trees, bordered by rocky screes and steep hillsides for 4 miles from Hidden Lake to one arm of Cliff Lake. As we climbed through the trees and around the rocks, following the twisting and turning trail, Joy (the most timid of the group) kept her eyes open for a bear. Her diligence paid off when she saw, not the bear she feared, but a large bear track perfectly perserved in the dried mud of the trail. A little later she found a couple of trees with large claw marks and a fair sprinkling of fur caught in their bark.

On the lighter side, we enjoyed a vast array of wildflowers, many which we captured on film for later identification. About 20 minutes past Hidden Lake we worked our way around a large lily pad covered tarn which may or may not be Goose Lake. May or may not because it sits on the wrong side of the trail, according to the map. However, it may be Goose as it is of a substantial size - and we have yet to find another lake which we can identify as Goose.

Otter Lake, on the other hand, is clearly marked with a neat little sign, sits on the 'correct' side of the trail, and is a lovely little lake. An earlier Lodge guest identified the species of fish which inhabit the lake. Although we didn't see them, we watched a pair of ducks - I believe they were Lesser Scaup - and a larger water bird which I have yet to identify - while we enjoyed a break and a snack.

Back on the trail we continued to drop down into the narrow valley which follows a stream which feeds into Cliff Lake. The trail traverses this pleasant meadow meandering through the grass and along the stream. At one point we crossed the stream on a narrow, but doable, log. Further down the trail the stream entered an arm of Cliff Lake. Here we watched a mother Wood Duck and her eight ducklings swimming down stream. A bit further down the trail we were able to observe a single Trumpeter Swan, swimming among the weeds and grasses which lined the far bank. Since one of our guests had mentioned seeing a Trumpeter nest in the area a week earlier, we looked diligently for the other bird, but never saw her. However, the grasses were thick and tall enough to occasionally hide the swimming Swan from view - so she could easily have escaped our notice.

The day turned warm, and our return trip was more intense as we labored back up the canyon, but the sheer beauty and untouched nature surrounding us blunted the edges of our tiredness and brought us great pleasure. By the end of the day, however, we all decided we try shorter walks to condition ourselves before we set off on another trek into the countryside surrounding our Western Montana Lodge.

Lady of the Lake

6/08/2006

Western Montana Lodge Abounds in Wildlife

Guests to our Western Montana Lodge this week were treated to numerous opportunities to view - and sometimes interact - with wildlife. John and Carol, repeat and welcome guests from Colorado, shared the adventures of their hike up to Hidden Lake and regions beyond with us at dinner last night. Carol, a talented artist who returns from her daily excursions with copious notes and delightful drawings, told us of their encounters with a couple of Wood duck families as well as the other varieties of wildlife.

Of course, the dining room is often the gathering place of a home, and it is no different at our Western Montana Lodge. As Carol and John enjoyed their dinner, the rest of the dinner guests -including me - enjoyed the retelling of the day. Carol told of the Wood duck family they observed on Hidden Lake. A proud mother, with 10 little fluff balls barely out of the egg, led her family away from the shoreline as they approached. However, rounding a corner she spotted a couple of Red-Necked Grebes in their line of travel. Startled, and obviously alarmed, she began scolding her chicks - obviously telling them to turn around. When the chicks failed to react post-haste, the alarmed Mother kicked water in their faces to force their retreat. This violent action sent the frightened chicks rushing back the way they had come with Mom herding them from behind. Of course, all of us wanted to know if Red-Necked Grebes were an enemy to Wood ducks - since both are water birds. Unfortunately no one knew. And so, the mystery will remain until we find someone who can give a plausible explanation for the Mother's anxiety.

Further down the trail, our hikers ran into - almost literally - another Wood Duck and her chicks. The duck was startled, but so was Carol. What was this duck doing so far from the water? - at this point they were quite a distance from the water back in the woods. Whatever her reason, the Mother duck immediately went into protection mode, creating quite a racket and pretending she was injured to draw the 'predator' away from her helpless chicks. However, her chicks still need to take 'Predator Survival 101' since they made more racket than their Mother, thus drawing the attention to themselves in spite of her antics.

A pit stop at Otter Lake offered the opportunity to observe a Sandhill Crane on her nest and a few of the large illusive trout which live in this crystal clear pool. Thanks to Carol's attention to detail and her ability to draw - along with her detailed notes - we were able to determine the species of the fish. Brook trout. Wow! With Cutthroats in Elk, Rainbows in Hidden, and Browns in Wade and Cliff, the discovery of Brookies in Otter was quite a surprise.

On down the trail a bit further and John and Carol told us they found themselves in a large meadow following a beautiful stream which lead on to the north. Here they found a Trumpeter Swan on her nest, some nesting Herons, and a large variety of other bird species. Their tales definitely left me wishing I'd been with them rather than working on their dinner in the kitchen!

No sooner had they finished their story and another guest piped up to tell us of his encounter with an Elk calf that very morning. This guest, Kurt, told of his trip down Elk Lake Road early that morning. Apparently, the mother Elk had been a bit remiss, ordering her young, wobbly-legged offspring to lie quietly on the edge of the road. Afraid the little guy might get injured, Kurt and his buddies got out of their rig and attempted to shoo the little fellow off the road. However, this fellow, who looked only a few hours old, had already passed his "Predator Survival 101" course. He refused to move!

I will attest to his Mother's rescue, however, as I had no such encounter when I went down the road a few hours later. Darn!

This truly is an amazing time of year here in the Centennial Valley. Babies are popping up everywhere! The wildlife is numerous, and the opportunities to view and interact with nature abound. I can't wait for my chance to take a walk on the wild side.

Lady of the Lake

6/04/2006


Arrivals at our Western Montana Lodge

We have and continue to experience new arrivals at our Western Montana Lodge, all expected, but still a delight. Our first 'official' bird tour - a group made up mostly of British bird enthusists - spent an evening with us this past Thursday. Although hot on the trail of several species they had yet to find on the first leg of the two week trek which will take them on a fly-by trip through much of the state of Montana, they enjoyed a quiet evening, a good dinner, a quick breakfast, and a bit of the beauty of our neck of the woods.

They were a nice combination of 8 men and 2 women. For some, this was their first trip to America. For others, this was their first trip to the Rocky Mountain States. And, for the few Americans mixed in, this was a trip through their own backyard.


According to their official leader, Jeff Marks, Montana's head orinthologist, they had already sighted more than 130 birds in their first few days. They hoped to see a Broad Tailed Hummingbird while here - in fact, I had seen one just the day before - but the illusive little fellow avoided their company. Nonetheless, a quick early morning walk up Narrows Creek provided some coniferous forest habitat - and the sightings of a few more birds to add to their impressive lists.

As they drove away, Friday morning, their van cutting a swathe through the early morning light in pursuit of some yet unseen feathered friend, we were left with the memory of a few new friendly faces, and a greater appreciation of our ability to stay here and enjoy what they didn't have time to stop and see.

On Saturday, we did just that. Although, officially, the purpose was to get supplies in Bozeman, our trip through the Centennial produced a few more memorable sightings - this time of new babies. A cow moose with her newborn calf and an antelope with her new kid were the highlight of the day. Of course, we never complain when we get an upclose and personal view of an eagle - and we were blessed with two. A couple of young bald eagles were sunning themselves beside Elk Lake Road. Neither were overly anxious to move - and we weren't desirous of bothering them. And, so, for a few moments we reveled in the size, the power, and the majesty of these wonderful birds.

Add in a few elk, a few deer, a couple Sandhill Cranes, a mature Bald Eagle, and birds and smaller animals too numerous to list - and we had a full day. Then, Sunday, the crowning delight - two bull moose, grazing unconcerned near the top of Red Rock Pass - not 100 feet from the road, and less than 200 feet from a couple of campers (and their occupants). Incredible!

And so, another week passes as we enjoy life, here at Elk Lake Resort.

Lady of the Lake

6/01/2006

German Tour Operator Visits our Western Montana Lodge

It was with pleasure we entertained Dirk of Argus-Reisen and his daugher, Anna, this past weekend at our Western Montana Lodge. Dirk, owner of Argus-Reisen, a tour agency which specializes in 'ranch' vacations, came to visit our property with the intent of possibly listing us in his brochure for the upcoming year.

We found Dirk to be not only friendly, knowledgeable, and helpful, but an excellent source of information on the travel industry. He was willing to spend many hours talking to us about how to market our product more effectively. He also answered countless questions about Germany as we compared life in the US to life in Germany.

We found it interesting that their food prices are lower than ours, but their gas prices are higher. It seems Germans don't move very often, and the taxes they pay - wow, we thought we had it bad. If Dirk and Anna are anywhere near the norm, I look forward to meeting more people from Germany. And, if our visit pays off as we have reason to believe it might, that could very well be something I will get to do - in the not too distant future.

In fact, tonight we have the privilege of hosting a group of birders from England who are passing through the Centennial Valley on their way around the state of Montana looking for the many illusive (and frequent) winged visitors who call our state home. For a place which definitely qualifies as 'off the beaten path', I am constantly amazed at how many people from far away - even from the far reaches of the globe - manage to find us. What is even more amazing, is how many people who live just outside the valley - either in West Yellowstone, MT or Island Park, ID - or even Lima or Dillon or Bozeman - but have never heard of the Centennial. So much to their loss.

Nonetheless, for those of us who know and love this great valley, we are secretly a little glad it isn't better known. After all, it is the 'wildness' of the place which makes it so special.

Lady of the Lake