Horse Creek Falls

It is no secret. In fact, the news media and the Weather Channel make it sound like Montana is buried - in water. However, Montana is much too mountainous for such a statement to ring true. In fact, at our elevation the extra water has created some highly desireable, long forgotten, and rarely seen sights.

Take Narrows Creek for example. In the past eight years, Narrows Creek has looked and acted like a creek only on rare occasions and for brief time periods. Thus the spawning activity which made this creek 'famous' has been non-existent. However, more than one fish has made its way up the roaring little stream which has been singing outside my window this past month.

Or consider Horse Creek. This local stream has withstood the drier weather patterns with more success - but, nonetheless, has been far from its 'impressive' self. This year it is doing a remarkable job of moving water. A water-feature on this stream was the focus of an early morning hike as May became June.

I had hiked up Horse Creek a few days earlier to check the condition of my favorite waterfall. However, I made that hike without my camera. Thus I had a perfect excuse for a return visit.

The sun comes up EARLY this time of year. Thus is was just beginning to kiss the cabins with a golden glow as I headed out

It may have been early June, but the snow didn't seem to know. At the top of many north facing ridges I have clambered over snow drifts many feet deep. While they are fading, they appear in no hurry to leave. Obviously, Bo does not mind that one bit!

The shortest route to my destination was up the draw before Narrows Creek Pond, over the ridge, and down into Horse Creek. This cuts off about a mile from the 'easy' route down Elk Lake Road and up Horse Creek Canyon. Topping the ridge I came across an unusual sight - five Pronghorns intermingled with three Mule Deer.

I doubt it is that unusual to see pronghorn and deer in close proximity. However, while both species winter in the Madison Valley, I have never seen them grazing together. Nonetheless, as odd as I found their close proximity to one another, the recent activities of these Pronghorn (which, I suspect, may be the same five who hung around last year) has been even more noteworthy.

I have seen these five animals in many places - but most often NOT where I'd expect to see them. The last time I saw them, they were at the highest point of the ridge I was traversing, on the edge of heavy forest. Since most 'normal' Pronghorn seem to prefer wide-open, level spaces, I'm not sure what to make of this little herd.

After a 35 minute hike I made it to the foot of the falls. I must add this disclaimer at the outset: These pictures do not do them justice. The canyon is narrow and heavily timbered. Thus I found it very difficult to obtain a position which would give me a decent camera perspective. Furthermore, while the sun was 'up' on the ridges, the deep canyons were still bathed in the half-light of early day. Nevertheless, if you look up the draw you can see a large fir tree which grows at the top of the falls.

Not only is the canyon narrow, the 'falls' itself is really just a jumble of boulders tossed by a giant hand into the bottom of the steep narrow gorge down which Horse Creek flows. In addition many of these boulders are the size of a full-size pickup truck, further warping one's perspective of the actual size.

The cattle or game (or both) have created a spiderweb trail network along the steep banks in this narrow draw. Scrambling along one I obtained a different persepctive.

The boulders tend to dominate the scene. This is one reason I wanted to head up while water flow was at its peak. Although I've seen this stream trickling down over these massive rocks, it is hard to portray the amount of water flowing over them this year.

These two close-up shots give you an idea - especially when you realizes this is only one 'part' of the creek. The rocks force the water to head in many directions to work its way through this rocky maze.

I was also frustrated becaise it was to show the height from which the water drops over this rocky landscape. This picture, taken from the top, shows the top of the falls (see the water in the lower right corner) and the bottom of the falls (about mid-picture). While the falls itself is out of sight, it is possible to gain a little idea how far the water drops.

It was time to leave the shadowed draw and head for the sunny ridge. From the top I had a nice view of Mt. Jefferson behind Elk Mountain.

Back over my shoulder I had a beautiful view of the Centennial Valley's lower end with Lima Peaks in the distance. This was shaping up to be a beautiful day!

While the light wasn't the greatest for 'waterfall' shots, I couldn't complain about the bright sunlight bathing the ridges for the walk home. However, I was a bit disappointed at first. There did not appear to be a single wild animal in sight. Then, way over there, I caught a glimpse of a cow elk - and, what do you know, there was a calf - I suspect it was the same one I'd spotted a couple days earlier. And, while the distance was too far for a great shot, at least I have proof there was at least one baby elk running around the neighborhood!

Closer to home I ran across a couple Mule Deer, grazing in the morning sun.

Then came the highlight of the day. As I dropped into the final draw, heading back toward the lodge, I heard a loud crashing noise ahead and to my right. At first I thought I'd startled something which was running away from me. I hate to startle the wildlife - so I stopped. Only it wasn't running away, it was coming toward me - and it was BIG!

Living in bear country I know I should have thought 'BEAR' and been looking for a place to hide. However, in all honesty, bear never even crossed my mind. But, then again, bull Elk didn't either!

The dogs and I were down in the draw (thus in the shadows). He was about 30 feet above us with his face in the sun. Thus we were invisible. Furthermore, he was panting so loudly, I don't think he could have heard us if we'd made noise - he certainly didn't pick up on the camera's shutter.

I do not think he would have recognized we were nearby (The dogs were so good. They just stood there and watched him walk by!) if his path hadn't crossed the top of the draw we had just descended.

He was amazing to watch. He walked across above us with such a stately air probably heading for a nice cool spot to spend the day. Without warning he stopped and whirled in a movement so quick it was hard to follow. Clearly he had our scent, but he still had no idea where we were. Thus he headed back along his own track and stopped directly above where we were standing.

This time, with mouth closed, he heard the camera's shutter click. While I doubt he ever saw us, this was all it took to send him back up the hillside he had just decended. Wow! What an amazing up-close and personal experience.

There aren't any 'bad' mornings at Elk Lake. It's just too amazing to live here. However, a morning like that does more to kick in the endorphins than a pot of coffee or a good run! Yet, amazing as it was, in so many ways, this was just another relatively normal day in my life. That, I believe, is the most amazing part of all!

Lady of the Lake

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