Early Summer Hikes

Each season brings its own special delights. In the early summer, once the grass has turned green and the wildflowers begin to dot the hillsides and meadows, hiking becomes my favorite pastime. Not that hiking isn't ALWAYS my favorite pastime, but in the early summer it seems there is a new wildflower around every corner, a new bird to identify just up the way, new tracks or scat to observe underfoot, and regular glimpses of large and small wildlife to punctuate the experience!

And so, it was with impatience I awaited the chance to enjoy my second annual hike up around Hidden Lake and to the lakes beyond. I hike extensively around the lodge, but hikes into the area around Hidden Lake are more rare because of the additional time involved. So, when an opportunity arose, I took it. Never mind the weather was less than perfect. Nevermind my time was more limited than normal. What are a few little challenges when offered an opportunity to explore?

Early in the day, Hidden Lake offered a few glimpses of ducks and some happy little birds to serenade on our 'parade'.

No big game presented themselves for our perusal, but their tracks and scat told us they weren't far away. Goose Lake offered a Trumpeter Swan. In fact, as we approached the lake (quietly contrary to what you are 'supposed' to do in bear country), it was feeding near the shore totally impervious to our presence. In an effort to avoid startling it, we stopped and waited until it lifted its head, saw us, and swam away. Our efforts were rewarded. The swan swam quietly across the small lake as we took a water and snack break.

No Audobon Warblers hopping around our feet this time. However, in such wild country, beautiful things are nearby - you just have to look for them. So, while the birds were not as abundant, I enjoyed the wildflowers. I found a few I knew such as Rock Clematis:

The wild strawberries were in bloom too:

One of the most interesting things I noticed, plant wise, was a brilliant orange fungus growing on the Low Growing Juniper. While it is probably nothing new, this is the first time I have noticed this phenomenon:

To my disappointment I did not find the Sandhill Cranes from last year. It could be they were still on their nest. It could be they were just out of sight. I had already decided not to poke around too much for fear of disturbing them when I started hearing a very unique sound from the nearby thick stand of timber. Something like a snuffing - but sounding like it was coming from a quite large animal - accompanied by a soft moaning. I approached the edge of the grove and peered in. The sound did not diminish, and I could hear no sound of movement. However, I decided sometimes the better part of valor (or intelligence) is to back away. So, I did.

My suspicions - a bear. Do I know for sure? Obviously not! But, then again, I'm still around to tell you about it, so. . .if nothing else it makes for a good story!

On the way back, I spent a lot of time looking for new and unusual wildflowers to add to my growing list of identified plants. In fact, I would have tried to identify these new 'specimens', but I have loaned out my flower book to a guest. So. . .maybe you can tell me?

While my primary focus was around my feet, I did managed to get a nice look at a pair of Yellow Belly Marmots posing on what I have dubbed "Picture Rock" along the shores of Hidden Lake. She was a bit more shy, but he hung around for the photo shoot.

The day ended memorably - with a couple of up-close and personal squirrel encounters. I know, you are wondering why that was any big deal? Because, when you are wandering through a quiet wood and have the tree trunk next to you erupt with the scurry of nails on bark followed by a sharp reprimend (especially after hearing a 'bear' or something in the woods), it gives just the right amount of adrenalin push to finish the walk. So, we end with my Pine Squirrel friend. Maybe he didn't consider me a friend, but he sure was curious about the bright light flashing below him!

Maybe next time I can tell you about hiking up into the Horse Creek bowl - nothing spectacular but certainly some gorgeous, wild country!

Lady of the Lake


Summer Returns To The Centennial

While I may not always notice the wildlife's departure in the fall, I certainly relish their return in the spring. Of course many critters remain in the valley year round. For some winter is life as usual (with a few extra challenges thrown in). For others it is the ultimate nap. For others it is travel time - from summer grounds to winter grounds and back again.

One way or the other, the onset of winter and the arrival of spring affect the valley wildlife. One of my favorite times of year is spring. If you have never lived in snow country, it may be hard to imagine the metamorphosis which occurs.

As the snow melts, brown grass is revealed. With the departure of the beautiful white snow, everything appears drab, dead, and lifeless. Then the sun's warmth works its miracle. As if by magic the brown grass turns green. Slowly the sun coaxes vitality into the bare, lifeless tree branches, and soon we are surrounded by varied shades of green. Next come the first wildflowers. Sprinklings of yellow (Early Buttercups) and blue (Leafy Bluebells) and white (Phlox) are the first to appear.

Then I start looking for the animals. Of course some have been trickling in for the last few weeks, seemingly on the trail of the first tender shoots of the new, green grass. However, once the landscape has undergone its dramatic change, the animals just seem to appear - back in their old haunts.

The mule deer on the hillside above the spring. The elk on the higher ridge tops. The pronghorn on the valley floors. Bear scat on my hiking trail. A wolf kill just south of the lake.

With each new arrival my heart leaps a little higher. It is as though I am enjoying a visit from well-loved friends. The first elk sighting cannot help but stir my blood. Stumbling across my first fawn, hunkered down and oh so still against the forest floor can bring tears to my eyes. Seeing the first pronghorn young bouncing gaily beside their mothers on legs resembling match-sticks always brings a smile.

However, before I enjoy these anticipated summer pleasures, I revel in the birds and squirrels and chipmunks which appear even before the summer is in full swing. Regardless of the weather, I know summer is here when I wake to the Tree Swallow's chit and chatter. Being serenaded by a House Wren while I hang fresh laundry - ahhh, what could be sweeter. The rat-a-tat-tat of a Woodpecker or Yellow-Bellied Sap Sucker punctuates my hikes. The thump-thump-thump of a grouse tells me the game birds have returned. The familiar tunes of a fat, red breasted Robin perched in a nearby willow. The sweet chorus which begins before the sun caresses the hilltops and continues until it has long passed below the horizon. These are the sights and sounds of summer!

This past weekend we were privileged to host a group from the Montana Audobon Society. A group of 23 people were here for the sole purpose of enjoying the Centennial Valley's beauty and serenity and wildlife. While they spent much of their time in the wide open spaces which make up the Red Rock Lake's National Wildlife Refuge, they also enjoyed traversing the local hillsides seeking glimpses of the many birds (and the various game) which spend their summers in our backyard.

And, while they managed to hear and / or see over 120 species in their day and a half search, I stayed home and enjoyed the birds which came to visit me. I do believe both of us were equally blessed in our encounters with nature.

One of the leaders, Bob Martinka, has a passion for birds (and even insects) and a great hand with the camera. You might enjoy reading his rundown of the weekend as well as perusing the photographic images he captured during his stay in the Centennial. His blog, Bird Man Bob, is fairly new but very interesting. Check it out!

Well, I must run. There are birds to listen to and animals to watch and a brief summer to enjoy to its fullest.

Lady of the Lake


The Faces of The Lake

One of the most special things about living here at Elk Lake Resort is living on the shores on Elk Lake. Watching the face of the lake change, season by season, is completely fascinating. Like any other aspect of our change from winter to spring in the high mountains, watching the lake shed its icy cloak is intriguing.

Last fall, for the first time, I had the opportunity to watch the lake ice up. It was a fascinationg process. Each morning a little more ice. Starting with a thin surface, the ice remained clear enough to see through even when it thickened enough to hold my weight. Furthermore, it had a reflective surface. Granted, it wasn't like the water's reflecting quality, but it was amazingly reflective.

And, of course, the most unexpected part - the sounds. I have heard the ice's deep boom. I have had the ice crack and shudder under me in the winter. However, because the lake frozen over most but not all of its surface, the wind could still reach the water's surface. As a result, Elk Lake's personal lake monster became very vocal. Loud enough to be heard inside the lodge, the wind and water created something which sounded like a whale.

By spring, however, I am more than anxious for the ice to leave the lake. For one, it is not nearly as pretty in the spring as it is in the fall. For another, the water wildlife cannot return until the ice is gone. But, most of all, I anxiously await the sunlight dancing on the ripples or the picture perfect (where does the water end and the land begin?) reflections of a quite morning. Even the wisps of fog which raise off the lake on an occasional early summer morning are gorgeous. And, one of my favorite aspects of open water - my occasional excursions in the kayak.

So, in keeping with last week's post, I decided to share a few of my favorite lake images with you.

Believe it or not, the lake is frozen in this picture. The trees and light are reflected off the ice's surface. As you can see, the reflection is quite clear.

While I am not a fog lover, there is something about watching the fog lift off the lake's surface which turns 'fog' into a thing of great beauty.

You just can't be a quiet morning on the lake. The water is so still and calm. The reflections are almost too life-like. The water fowl and even animals along the shore often seem a bit lazy, as if they, too, are wroth to disturb such peace.

Canoeing and kayaking are not the only ways to enjoy the lake's beauty in the morning. A hike up the hill often provides incredibly beautiful opportunities to watch the lake's face change color as the sun comes over the mountains.

No matter the time of year, no matter the time of day, Elk Lake always adds to the delight of living on its shores surrounded by the beauty and serenity which is Montana's Centennial Valley

Lady of the Lake