Winter at Elk Lake is not just a season, it's an event. Life here changes in the winter. Some might think I'm a bit nuts, but I think the change is for the good - at least in some ways.
For one, winter is quiet. Not that it is ever noisy in the Centennial - but winter, well, with a blanket of snow deadening the 'usual' sounds, winter can be quiet-quiet!
In addition, while the valley is home to far fewer 'critters' than the other seasons, those which remain are more obvious. A typical day can produce moose sightings, half-a-dozen trumpeter swans, a white-tail deer or two, numerous ducks, a coyote or fox or both, a covey of sharp-tail grouse, a bald eagle or two, a few hawks - and those are just the 'predictable' animals. Occasional cougar or wolf sightings are not beyond the norm.
However, even though winter is a favorite season, I have not given it near the 'coverage' I've lavished on other seasons. Thus, for the next couple of posts (or perhaps more), I am going to share something of a photo overview of winter in the Centennial. And, since this winter has already proven to be first-class, I have little doubt the journey will provide you with at least a little insight and hopefully also bit of pleasure.
At nearly 7,000 feet elevation, we are not surprised when winter starts sending its warning signs early. In fact, the first snow to 'stick' usually comes in October. It typically melts quickly as the ground is still warm from the now-passing Indian Summer. However, by November winter's voice is gaining volume and the birds are starting to listen.
Flock after flock passed overhead on their way south. These Trumpeter Swans are headed for warmer waters. Oddly enough while many leave some choose to remain. In fact, as I will show in later photos, on a quiet evening at the south end of the lake I can hear their distinct voices as they 'talk' amongst themselves.
Even grey skies (which are not the 'norm' at Elk Lake - even in the winter) cannot dampen the magical feeling invoked by a dusting of snow. The appearing and disappearing and reappearing road adds a hint of mystery to the magic.
Of course colder weather means ice - and I cannot think of a prettier way to view ice than in the long, clear spines created by the icicles which 'drip' off the lodge roof in the winter.
Not content to take the most direct route to the ground below, a warm sun combined with cool temperatures can turn a simple icicle into a thing of beauty which seems to defy gravity in its effort to curve back to its source.
There is something about ice and snow which seems to enhance everything they touch. Granted in a warmer climate where ice compounds the challenge or one where people must travel in close quarters over snow-covered or (worse yet) icy roads 'enhance' is probably NOT the word of choice. However in the Centennial we are not usually forced to view winter as the enemy seeking to make life harder. Perhaps this is part of this reason a fresh dusting of snow just makes things look more beautiful.
Of course wood does not have to be stacked to take on a new look when graced by fresh snow. Even the white-barked aspens take on new textures as the snow catches in the cracks and crevices on their craggy bark.
Then there is the Montana Jack Fence. I do not think it is possible to take a bad photo of this uniquely-styled fence. Whether you are capturing lacy snow shawls, tilted beany caps perched precariously, or just narrow snow blankets lying peacefully on the cross-bars, these fences are beautiful to behold - especially in the winter.
However winter photography (like any other time of year) is more about the less obvious than the things which we notice on first glance. Once of my favorite sights when the first snow falls are the dried yarrow flowers wearing their white puff caps. Soon heavier and deeper snow will make them a mere memory, but early in the season they stand proud with their white caps perched high on their 'heads'.
There is something about an evergreen dusted with powdered sugar snow which starts one singing Christmas carols. However, I prefer nature's design - green fingers topped by white.
Even old buildings take on a new look when dressed in their white winter wear. Nothing has changed. Still the same old log buildling - and yet somehow not.
One thing I like most about the snow is the story it tells. From these simple clues I learn a fox has ventured close to the resort and reminded the dogs this is 'My Territory'. I wonder if he grinned while marking his 'spot' so close to those big (translate that slow) dogs.
Winter's transforming face-lift is not limited to Elk Lake. The mountains take on new character as their crooks and crevices catch and hold the snow creating an ever-changing mask on their craggy faces.
Anything reflected in a still, clear pool is made more beautiful - even the already lovely Picnic Springs. However, add a little snow and it takes on a Bev Doolittle painting feel.
I've said it before - I'll say it again. In my opinion Elk Lake doesn't have a BAD season. Each season brings its challenges and its rewards. While winter's challenges are a little different than we face in other seasons, the rewards carry their own unique characteristics, and they make winter living in the Centennial more than 'worth it'! So while much of the world fights the snow and ice and traffic, I am content to enjoy the peace, quiet, and beauty winter brings to Elk Lake.
Lady of the Lake