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


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!


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


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


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


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