Christmas At Elk Lake

I love Elk Lake and, quite frankly, am not bashful about lavishing praise on this remarkable place I am privileged to call home. However, I rarely give you a peak at what goes on 'behind-the-scenes' at Elk Lake. In this case I'm talking about the fun of living here and sharing our special home with our friends and family.

So I decided to do a completely a-typical post and share some photos and memories from Christmas 2010. Those of you who read for the wildlife and scenery - come back next time. Those of you who we consider friends and extended family - perhaps this will provide a few smiles.

Of course Christmas includes giving and receiving gifts. And, like everywhere else, those who enjoy it with the purest joy are those who get excited about just opening a prettily wrapped (or even a not-so-prettily-wrapped) package.

Our tradition is a little different than some. After reading the Christmas story and trying to focus those excited minds on the real reason we celebrate, we take turns choosing a package for someone else. Then we enjoy watching them open their gift. Then it is their turn to 'give' to someone else, and the process begins again. This has turned the mad scramble into something we can all enjoy from both sides - giving and receiving!

Of course Christmas (or any other special day we are privileged to share with others) isn't the same without candles and festively dressed tables.

While we didn't go 'all out' to make it fancy - after all, the main 'elves' in this project were 16 and under - a table draped with cloth, laid out with silver and china, and adorned with candles always takes on a festive air.

However, the real joy comes from watching those gathered round dig in with obvious relish and delight!

Even the 'cooks' bellied up for a plate full of prime rib, roasted sweet potatoes, salad, rolls, plus all the trimmings and more! A feast fit for a king - and we felt like it, too!

But Christmas at Elk Lake isn't just about food and gifts. In fact, it isn't just about one day! Due to our unique location (and the fact we live at a resort which means guest rooms in abundance), our Christmas celebrations usually last a few days. Thus there is plenty of time for fun crafts - - - like making a Gingerbread House

Or doing some felt crafts - Christmas and otherwise

Or making Christmas cards - Thank You cards - Get Well Cards - Labels - Tags - And every other stamped card you can imagine!

Of course the cards we made were not the only kind we handled. Many a game of Spades and Squeek ate away the hours as the competitive spirits raged and roared and faded into oblivion. For the less competitive - and for a fun way to socialize with busy hands - the puzzles were a favorite.

In fact, this pastime proved to be so popular, we whipped through not one, not two, not even three but FOUR puzzles! (The one disappeared before I could even capture it on film :-)

While everyone likes gifts and food, not everyone likes puzzles and cards and crafts. Lucky for those, Elk Lake has long been 'connected' to the outside world. Thus it was not uncommon to find one or two or even three huddled around a computer!

Obviously no one was bored. Obviously we all had a wonderful time. And, like so many other normal things we experience in life, I can't imagine a better place to enjoy good food, fun, and fellowship than Elk Lake!

Lady of the Lake


Two Winter Days

I don't know what you did Christmas day - besides perhaps eating too much and opening too many gifts - but here at Elk Lake, a few of us trekked a couple miles out into the valley to look for wildlife and enjoy a spectacular sunset. Our cold fingers and noses were rewarded with spectacular views of both.

We went in search of the 'Big Bull' who has been hanging around the last few weeks. Moose are valley residents, commonly seen in the winter. However, this guy had grown an impressive rack this year - and like most 'unique' features, it garnered our attention.

However, he wasn't the only wildlife we enjoyed on this Christmas evening. While we snapped photos of the bull, other wildlife were going about their 'normal' routine - a few in quite an obvious manner.

We could easily have missed this coyote as you strolled by a hundred yards behind us. However, not everyone had their eyes glued to the moose (fortunately).

Overhead graceful swans passed back and forth several times. While our vantage point was not very close to where they had been hanging out, our presence was still enough to rustle them out and up. Thus we were able to enjoy their presence as well.

Of course the moose were our primary object. Unfortunately this bull and cow seemed to be connected at the hip. Thus my photos really do not do him justice. That didn't stop me from snapping away, however!

As we lingered, the sun sank lower, the colors intensified, and the wildlife continued to move across nature's palate. Who could expect me to refrain from trying to capture such magical moments?

Of course getting to these special spots in time to enjoy them - especially after eating too much and knowing we would be heading back in the growing dusk - required speedy and comfortable steeds. Ours did not let us down.

The Centennial Valley is known for spectacular sunsets. While other places boast of sunsets as grand, I know of no other spot (outside of the seashore) where one can enjoy a sunset so unmarred - a spot so untouched by time and development where nothing but the majesty of God's creation stands between the sun's glorious departure and the hallowed spot where I stand. So we considered it an extra special treat to watch a majestic sun sink behind so grand a curtain! What a way to close our day.

Of course evening is not the only good time in the Centennial. It is one of the better times to catch such wildlife activity, but winter's drama is just as easy to see almost any time of day - especially if the day has an unusual element.

Thus when we were given a rare foggy day, instead of sticking to the house with a good book and a warm beverage, we mounted our trusty steeds and headed for higher ground seeking to capture the fog-shroded images. Our search was not in vain.

I am not a fan of fog. However, on the rare ocassion it visits Elk Lake, it can turn our winter landscape into something surreal. At least that is how it looks to my camera's eye.

As we expected, however, the skies were clear and bright just up the hill. Our friends seemed to enjoy the sun's warmth and the beautiful mountain views as much as we did.

This winter has already proven to be of blue-ribbon quality. The snow is piling up, quiet and deep - and as of right now virtually undisturbed - on the hills above Elk Lake. Thus Horn Mountain looks to be surrounded by blankets of white, shaped only by the finger of the wind. The frosty trees, showed the fog had visited the higher country at least briefly that day.

On this particular day it was all about the clouds. Where they sat. The shapes they took. The way sun interacted with them. These elements created the mystery and magic which take the ordinary and make it look extra-ordinary.

Whether it was the fog boiling up from behind a snow-coverd hill

Or the unique fan array seen over the crest of the hill - the clouds definitely made the day.

However, nothing could top the combination of sun and cloud. The glory of the sun's rays piercing through the misty fog, especially with the trees to add drama, well, its hard to top a vision so grand or imagine a stage which sets it in a more awesome light!

Lady of the Lake


Centennial Winter

Winter at Elk Lake is not just a season, it's an event. Life here changes in the winter. Some might think I'm a bit nuts, but I think the change is for the good - at least in some ways.

For one, winter is quiet. Not that it is ever noisy in the Centennial - but winter, well, with a blanket of snow deadening the 'usual' sounds, winter can be quiet-quiet!

In addition, while the valley is home to far fewer 'critters' than the other seasons, those which remain are more obvious. A typical day can produce moose sightings, half-a-dozen trumpeter swans, a white-tail deer or two, numerous ducks, a coyote or fox or both, a covey of sharp-tail grouse, a bald eagle or two, a few hawks - and those are just the 'predictable' animals. Occasional cougar or wolf sightings are not beyond the norm.

However, even though winter is a favorite season, I have not given it near the 'coverage' I've lavished on other seasons. Thus, for the next couple of posts (or perhaps more), I am going to share something of a photo overview of winter in the Centennial. And, since this winter has already proven to be first-class, I have little doubt the journey will provide you with at least a little insight and hopefully also bit of pleasure.

At nearly 7,000 feet elevation, we are not surprised when winter starts sending its warning signs early. In fact, the first snow to 'stick' usually comes in October. It typically melts quickly as the ground is still warm from the now-passing Indian Summer. However, by November winter's voice is gaining volume and the birds are starting to listen.

Flock after flock passed overhead on their way south. These Trumpeter Swans are headed for warmer waters. Oddly enough while many leave some choose to remain. In fact, as I will show in later photos, on a quiet evening at the south end of the lake I can hear their distinct voices as they 'talk' amongst themselves.

Even grey skies (which are not the 'norm' at Elk Lake - even in the winter) cannot dampen the magical feeling invoked by a dusting of snow. The appearing and disappearing and reappearing road adds a hint of mystery to the magic.

Of course colder weather means ice - and I cannot think of a prettier way to view ice than in the long, clear spines created by the icicles which 'drip' off the lodge roof in the winter.

Not content to take the most direct route to the ground below, a warm sun combined with cool temperatures can turn a simple icicle into a thing of beauty which seems to defy gravity in its effort to curve back to its source.

There is something about ice and snow which seems to enhance everything they touch. Granted in a warmer climate where ice compounds the challenge or one where people must travel in close quarters over snow-covered or (worse yet) icy roads 'enhance' is probably NOT the word of choice. However in the Centennial we are not usually forced to view winter as the enemy seeking to make life harder. Perhaps this is part of this reason a fresh dusting of snow just makes things look more beautiful.

Of course wood does not have to be stacked to take on a new look when graced by fresh snow. Even the white-barked aspens take on new textures as the snow catches in the cracks and crevices on their craggy bark.

Then there is the Montana Jack Fence. I do not think it is possible to take a bad photo of this uniquely-styled fence. Whether you are capturing lacy snow shawls, tilted beany caps perched precariously, or just narrow snow blankets lying peacefully on the cross-bars, these fences are beautiful to behold - especially in the winter.

However winter photography (like any other time of year) is more about the less obvious than the things which we notice on first glance. Once of my favorite sights when the first snow falls are the dried yarrow flowers wearing their white puff caps. Soon heavier and deeper snow will make them a mere memory, but early in the season they stand proud with their white caps perched high on their 'heads'.

There is something about an evergreen dusted with powdered sugar snow which starts one singing Christmas carols. However, I prefer nature's design - green fingers topped by white.

Even old buildings take on a new look when dressed in their white winter wear. Nothing has changed. Still the same old log buildling - and yet somehow not.

One thing I like most about the snow is the story it tells. From these simple clues I learn a fox has ventured close to the resort and reminded the dogs this is 'My Territory'. I wonder if he grinned while marking his 'spot' so close to those big (translate that slow) dogs.

Winter's transforming face-lift is not limited to Elk Lake. The mountains take on new character as their crooks and crevices catch and hold the snow creating an ever-changing mask on their craggy faces.

Anything reflected in a still, clear pool is made more beautiful - even the already lovely Picnic Springs. However, add a little snow and it takes on a Bev Doolittle painting feel.

I've said it before - I'll say it again. In my opinion Elk Lake doesn't have a BAD season. Each season brings its challenges and its rewards. While winter's challenges are a little different than we face in other seasons, the rewards carry their own unique characteristics, and they make winter living in the Centennial more than 'worth it'! So while much of the world fights the snow and ice and traffic, I am content to enjoy the peace, quiet, and beauty winter brings to Elk Lake.

Lady of the Lake