As the moon set at the dawning of another HOT day, I prepared to hike. It wasn't a perfect hiking day. After all, it was HOT by 10 am, and I started late. However, over and over I have folks ask me, 'Can I see . . .?' if I come in July (or August)?
While the hottest part of summer is definitely NOT the best time for wildlife viewing (unless you are willing to get up early, stay up late, and climb the highest peaks), I wanted to see just 'what' I could see in the middle of a hot summer day close to Elk Lake.
However, first things first. Where? Logically I decided heavy timber and water were a must! After all, I wanted to 'enjoy' this hike, at least a bit. Yet I wanted to spend my time somewhere other than the hot car. I settled on a couple of spots near Elk Lake and Culver Pond. So, what did I see? Or, more importantly, what could 'you' see?
I am always amazed at what people do NOT see. The Montana state flower, the Bitterroot, splashed pretty in pink on the open rocky hillsides. Small and delicate looking, this tough character packs a lot of punch for its little size. Even a simple dandelion glistening spun silver in an intricate pattern against mutted greens is a glorious sample of our highly designed creation. Or, the least expected find - a lush green fern tucked against the dark rock cleft. I never could keep them alive yet they grow in this seemingly inhosipitable (to ferns) place with ease!
In a healthy ecosystem, flowers mean butterflies. And, our system must be healthy for fluttering figures in colorful array danced from posy to posy or darted with surprising speed across my path.
And, as is always the case in my backyard, the scenery brougth great delight. Add a few wildflowers for foreground, a few rough edge crags and ribbons of snow on the peaks - what could be more lovely?
Of course my goal had been to see wildlife, and, in spite of the heat, I was not disappointed. This great horned owl not only pinned his 'horns' but clacked his beak and made some very un-owl-like (to my untrained ears) noises as I passed nearby. The White-crowed Sparrow didn't allow my passage to disturb his lovely song. The Sapsucker kept a wary eye, but continued with his calls and tapping while I snapped his portrait. The ducks splished and splashed, chattered and preened while I cautiously watched their play. The eagle, on the other hand, screamed his agitation - obviously enough irritated I moved on quickly to avoid bothering him any more than I already had.
The big game was scarce, as I expected. I saw many more tracks and beds and 'sign' than I did animals. However, I did manage to spot a cow elk in deep cover and a Mule Deer doe in a shaded meadow.
Further proof, given time and patience and good hiking shoes, you can find what you are looking for, even on a HOT summer day!
Yet even with sweat trickling down my brow, the thought of a cold drink and lunch awaiting my return, and the hot sun beating down overhead, I had to pause long enough on a high exposed ridge to capture the beauty at my feet. The eastern end of the Centennial Valley lying placid and green under deep blue summer skies is a view of which I never tire.
Lady of the Lake