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


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


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


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