In my opinion, there is no place as grand or as beautiful as Elk Lake. I believe many, if not all, of our guests would agree. While some places can be replicated elsewhere or at least you can find a close facsimile, Elk Lake has some unique qualities which cannot be found together in one place anywhere else. It is the rare combination of quiet, serenity, an almost 'other worldliness', a wildness which allows one to feel close to nature yet without giving up the comforts of home. All this combined with the glorious beauty of our setting makes for a completely unique and not-to-be duplicated location.

So, when I even think of ever leaving Elk Lake, I feel a bit hollow. Once you've lived in such a special place, everything else seems a bit - well - second class. Nonetheless, the Greater Yellowstone EcoSystem and its surrounding countryside does take in some of the most unique and breathtakingly beautiful landscape in the lower 48. So, when we take some time away (never to escape Elk Lake but sometimes to escape Elk Lake's enthusiasts :-), we search for other special, off-the-beaten-path, and beautiful places.

While you probably don't care where I spend my free time, occasionally Elk Lake guests will ask about other areas to which they can make a day trip or where they might spend a day or two at the beginning or end of their stay with us. So, for those of you who have ever wondered, here are some photos of a couple of my favorite spots - within a day's drive, yet, quite honestly, worth a day or two (at least) of your time.

Anyone who has visited Yellowstone National Park, has gone hoping to see at least two things - animals and geysers. The geysers are predictable, stuck in one place, and easy to view. The animals, like all animals are quite the opposite (some in every aspect). Thus visitors to Yellowstone can 'plan' to view the geysers but must 'prepare' to see the wildlife.

Visitors to Grand Teton National Park (Yellowstone's neighbor to the south) plan to see the geological wonders but rarely do I visit with anyone preparing to search out the Park's wildlife. In fact, having spent a few days in the Park, I would say it is rare to find anyone who is focusing on the wildlife. Of course, with such a majestic backdrop, visitors can't exactly ignore the grand landscape. However, as we have found, the landscape is the icing on a potentially fantastic wildlife cake.

Like anything else of value, even the geological wonders do not give up their best to the casual bypasser. Yet, if you are willing to get up before the sun and head for the most scenic spot you can find, a typical sunrise will provide you with numerous photo opportunities. These Park rangers paddling toward Leigh Lake added just the right amount of action to Mt. Moran's morning face.

If you just can't drag yourself out of bed that early, all is not lost. While, personally, I believe the sunrise photo opportunities in Grand Teton National Park are the best, a good sunset photo is still a possibility - especially if you can manage to get some good reflections. The photo which follows is of The Teton Range (from the north end) reflected in Coulter Bay.

The Tetons are so spectacular you really don't need water to set them off. Granted a good reflection never hurts (like this morning picture of the Cathedral Group reflected in String Lake):

But gorgeous country is gorgeous regardless - whether viewed across a sage brush covered field:

Seen through Jackson Lake Lodge's windows at mid-day:

Glimpsed through the trees on a cloudy, wet day:

Or even looking the other way:

But like I mentioned above, the scenery in Grand Teton National Park, as grand as it truly is, is not the only reason - for me not even the primary reason - for visiting the area. It is the wildlife which bring me back time after time - particularly the elk.

I have mentioned in previous posts the thrill I get whenever I hear a wolf howl. There is truly nothing like it. And, while the wolf may be the supreme definition of 'wild', the elk (oddly enough the wolf's favorite prey) will always be another major symbol of wildness in my mind. Just thinking about an elk's bugle can send goosebumps up my arns.

If you have never had the privilege of standing in the woods, listening to a couple bulls scream their challenges back and forth - you have missed something incredibly wild and incredibly special.

While Yellowstone is home to numerous elk and while I have heard them bugle there as well, Grand Teton is the place I head if I want the supreme experience. Perhaps it is the lack of wolves. Perhaps it is the geographic formations which amplify the sound. Perhaps it is the geological format which forces the elk into a central area. I do not know the reason, I only know if I want to hear a LOT of bulls make a LOT of racket - Grand Teton National Park in the fall is the place to be.

Of course wildlife are harder to photograph. That is why the best wildlife photos I possess were taken by someone with more time, more patience, and better equipment than I. However, I did get a few shots - not the best - but proof the animals were there in abundance. This photo is of two bulls who were screaming their defiance at one another (and any other bull who would consider responding) just across the lake from our location:

This bull had already made his stand and, by the time we wandered his way, appeared to be making his way toward a nice cool spot where he planned to spend the day.

Of course there were the bull moose, but they were not nearly as visible nor as vocal. However, we did manage to glimpse a very large bull courting his lady the evening we arrived (but where does one put a big RV when they want to make a quick stop along a busy road?)

Anyone who has visited this beautiful section of the country south of Yellowstone probably has seen and experience much the same. In fact, I know some of you have better photos than I do. However, we are the exploring kind (go figure - we live in the middle of nowhere - how, exactly, did we find Elk Lake Resort anyway :-) So, it comes as no surprise we took a day to explore.

Sometimes explorations lead to something one could have done without. Sometimes they leave you saddle sore and uninspired. However, our explorations that day may have left us saddle sore, but we were definitely NOT uninspired by our find.

On the north end of the Wind River Range, tucked up on the Continental Divide, is Togowetee Pass. Now, I must admit, I wasn't overly impressed with that area. However, just to the east lies a beautiful group of mountains called "The Pinnacles". Tucked at the base of these unique mountains just a few miles off the main highway we found a lovely little lake in a pretty little meadow surrounded by beautiful mountains. Next time you take a trip to the Grand Tetons, I'd recommend a side trip to Brooks Lake.

And while I'm usually a lot more fond of rocky, rugged, 'majestic' mountains like the Centennials or Madisons, I found the painted hills near Dubois, WY beautiful in their own right.

In reality, there are just too many beautiful places to see. However, the real proof of how well you like where 'you' live is: how anxious are you to go home? I must admit, even in the face of all the natural grandeur and beauty we enjoyed on this trip, I could hardly wait to get home. And, when all my excursions are compared, my favorites are those I take out my back door - just my two hiking buddies and me!

Lady of the Lake



After six summer seasons I have grown to anticipate our seasonal traditions. Each year, the end of summer brings the departure of our summer help. The end of the year always signals the start of the winter season - and the return of guests we only see that time of year. The sun's return to the northern hemisphere, signals the end of the winter season and the anticipation of the coming green! And, of course, as spring begins to color our world, we anticipate the return of warmer temperatures and oru special summer friends who grace us with their company year after year. And, of course, we look forward to meeting the new folks who will find their way to our door.

One tradition, however, which doesn't really affect us - and yet affects us a lot - is the arrival and departure of the cattle which graze around the resort. Cattle grazing on public lands has been a controversial topic. Some see cattle as leeches up the land, depleting our natural resources without adequate compensation. Others see cattle as beneficial to the eco-system.

While sometimes I address topics trying to present a balanced view of both sides of the subject, that is not the purpose of this post. Today's post is first and foremost a support of cattle grazing on our public lands. This is one Elk Lake tradition I greatly appreciate. Why?

Especially in a dry year, I look forward to the cattle's return. Granted, cattle are not the best respectors of private property. And, with Montana's 'fence out' law, the burdon of keeping these critters (who often epitomize the old saying 'the grass is always greener on the other side of the fence) falls on us.

None the less, the service provided by these sometimes too friendly animals far outweighs any frustrations their presence may cause. What service? You may ask. Grass removal. Or, more properly - grass removal and fertilizer application.

In a political climate where we no longer manage our forests, the fire danger gets higher and higher with each passing year. If, to add to the fuel load created by the dead, dying, and overcrowded trees, we add a heavy grass fuel load, we are guaranteed the forest (when it burns) will burn hotter and longer and to more devastating effects. So, with each passing year, the presence of the cattle around the resort, consuming at least some of the fuel, is more and more welcome.

Furthermore, as wildlife refuges in some areas(such as Red Rocks National Wildlife Refuge) have found the cattle grazing helps the smaller mammals and birds by depleting the heavy grasses which actually limit or even prevent their ability to survive in the grasslands. Thus, by simulating the activity of bison, or by just doing what they do best, the cattle grazing our national forest lands are doing us a favor (at least in the vast majority of cases).

I have probably already given away this point - but I have spent considerable time in the past around cattle operations. I appreciate the perspective this has given me - not only as to the value the cattle provide, but also to the difficulty and challenges the rancher experiences.

As I've said in previous posts, there is little which gives me a greater thrill than hearing a wolf howl up the draw. However, that wolf's howl can be a precurser to the death of some rancher's stock.

Perhaps your response is, "Serves them right. After all, their cattle are trespasser's on the wolf's territory." Well, that is a point which could be argued. However, as the recent kills just outside of Ennis and Dillon, Montana prove, the wolves are opportunits who will each wherever and whatever is easy and 'good'. So, location is not the only key.

However, this is one risk the cattle rancher takes. And it is not just wolves which provide them a challenge. There are wolves, but there are also bears (Grizzly and Black), and cougars to prey upon these slower moving domestic animals. Furthermore, there are noxious weeds which poison numerous cows - some years being worse than others. Tall Larkspur has taken a heavy toll in our area the last few years.

Another challenge few people who have not been involved in this business can comprehend is keeping track of and caring for cattle who are running on such vast sections of land. I doubt there is a much more practical example of the proverbial 'needle in a haystack' than that of the rancher seeking to watch over his cattle on these vast areas of land.

My finally reason for enjoy the traditional cattle which run around Elk Lake is: cattle come with ranchers. While these hard worker, peace loving (at least the ones I know), quiet folks tend to get a bac rap from the more liberal side, I have yet to meet a 'real' rancher who didn't work twice as hard and twice as long for about half the pay of his / her city counterpart. So, when it comes to making friends worth keeping, the farmers and ranchers of this great country are some of the best.

So, while the cattle have gone and the ranchers are back at their home places buttoning things down and stocking things up for the coming winter, I wish them all the best and look forward to their return next year!

Lady of the Lake