Horse Creek Falls

It is no secret. In fact, the news media and the Weather Channel make it sound like Montana is buried - in water. However, Montana is much too mountainous for such a statement to ring true. In fact, at our elevation the extra water has created some highly desireable, long forgotten, and rarely seen sights.

Take Narrows Creek for example. In the past eight years, Narrows Creek has looked and acted like a creek only on rare occasions and for brief time periods. Thus the spawning activity which made this creek 'famous' has been non-existent. However, more than one fish has made its way up the roaring little stream which has been singing outside my window this past month.

Or consider Horse Creek. This local stream has withstood the drier weather patterns with more success - but, nonetheless, has been far from its 'impressive' self. This year it is doing a remarkable job of moving water. A water-feature on this stream was the focus of an early morning hike as May became June.

I had hiked up Horse Creek a few days earlier to check the condition of my favorite waterfall. However, I made that hike without my camera. Thus I had a perfect excuse for a return visit.

The sun comes up EARLY this time of year. Thus is was just beginning to kiss the cabins with a golden glow as I headed out

It may have been early June, but the snow didn't seem to know. At the top of many north facing ridges I have clambered over snow drifts many feet deep. While they are fading, they appear in no hurry to leave. Obviously, Bo does not mind that one bit!

The shortest route to my destination was up the draw before Narrows Creek Pond, over the ridge, and down into Horse Creek. This cuts off about a mile from the 'easy' route down Elk Lake Road and up Horse Creek Canyon. Topping the ridge I came across an unusual sight - five Pronghorns intermingled with three Mule Deer.

I doubt it is that unusual to see pronghorn and deer in close proximity. However, while both species winter in the Madison Valley, I have never seen them grazing together. Nonetheless, as odd as I found their close proximity to one another, the recent activities of these Pronghorn (which, I suspect, may be the same five who hung around last year) has been even more noteworthy.

I have seen these five animals in many places - but most often NOT where I'd expect to see them. The last time I saw them, they were at the highest point of the ridge I was traversing, on the edge of heavy forest. Since most 'normal' Pronghorn seem to prefer wide-open, level spaces, I'm not sure what to make of this little herd.

After a 35 minute hike I made it to the foot of the falls. I must add this disclaimer at the outset: These pictures do not do them justice. The canyon is narrow and heavily timbered. Thus I found it very difficult to obtain a position which would give me a decent camera perspective. Furthermore, while the sun was 'up' on the ridges, the deep canyons were still bathed in the half-light of early day. Nevertheless, if you look up the draw you can see a large fir tree which grows at the top of the falls.

Not only is the canyon narrow, the 'falls' itself is really just a jumble of boulders tossed by a giant hand into the bottom of the steep narrow gorge down which Horse Creek flows. In addition many of these boulders are the size of a full-size pickup truck, further warping one's perspective of the actual size.

The cattle or game (or both) have created a spiderweb trail network along the steep banks in this narrow draw. Scrambling along one I obtained a different persepctive.

The boulders tend to dominate the scene. This is one reason I wanted to head up while water flow was at its peak. Although I've seen this stream trickling down over these massive rocks, it is hard to portray the amount of water flowing over them this year.

These two close-up shots give you an idea - especially when you realizes this is only one 'part' of the creek. The rocks force the water to head in many directions to work its way through this rocky maze.

I was also frustrated becaise it was to show the height from which the water drops over this rocky landscape. This picture, taken from the top, shows the top of the falls (see the water in the lower right corner) and the bottom of the falls (about mid-picture). While the falls itself is out of sight, it is possible to gain a little idea how far the water drops.

It was time to leave the shadowed draw and head for the sunny ridge. From the top I had a nice view of Mt. Jefferson behind Elk Mountain.

Back over my shoulder I had a beautiful view of the Centennial Valley's lower end with Lima Peaks in the distance. This was shaping up to be a beautiful day!

While the light wasn't the greatest for 'waterfall' shots, I couldn't complain about the bright sunlight bathing the ridges for the walk home. However, I was a bit disappointed at first. There did not appear to be a single wild animal in sight. Then, way over there, I caught a glimpse of a cow elk - and, what do you know, there was a calf - I suspect it was the same one I'd spotted a couple days earlier. And, while the distance was too far for a great shot, at least I have proof there was at least one baby elk running around the neighborhood!

Closer to home I ran across a couple Mule Deer, grazing in the morning sun.

Then came the highlight of the day. As I dropped into the final draw, heading back toward the lodge, I heard a loud crashing noise ahead and to my right. At first I thought I'd startled something which was running away from me. I hate to startle the wildlife - so I stopped. Only it wasn't running away, it was coming toward me - and it was BIG!

Living in bear country I know I should have thought 'BEAR' and been looking for a place to hide. However, in all honesty, bear never even crossed my mind. But, then again, bull Elk didn't either!

The dogs and I were down in the draw (thus in the shadows). He was about 30 feet above us with his face in the sun. Thus we were invisible. Furthermore, he was panting so loudly, I don't think he could have heard us if we'd made noise - he certainly didn't pick up on the camera's shutter.

I do not think he would have recognized we were nearby (The dogs were so good. They just stood there and watched him walk by!) if his path hadn't crossed the top of the draw we had just descended.

He was amazing to watch. He walked across above us with such a stately air probably heading for a nice cool spot to spend the day. Without warning he stopped and whirled in a movement so quick it was hard to follow. Clearly he had our scent, but he still had no idea where we were. Thus he headed back along his own track and stopped directly above where we were standing.

This time, with mouth closed, he heard the camera's shutter click. While I doubt he ever saw us, this was all it took to send him back up the hillside he had just decended. Wow! What an amazing up-close and personal experience.

There aren't any 'bad' mornings at Elk Lake. It's just too amazing to live here. However, a morning like that does more to kick in the endorphins than a pot of coffee or a good run! Yet, amazing as it was, in so many ways, this was just another relatively normal day in my life. That, I believe, is the most amazing part of all!

Lady of the Lake


Wildlife In and Around Yellowstone

Many people come to our area to visit Yellowstone National Park. I certainly understand why. We usually enjoy two visits annually to the Park - once in the spring and once in the fall. In fact, we know of many people who chose to live in this area in large part because of our proximity to YNP. So, when one takes a trip to Yellowstone the7 expect to be 'wowed' - and I've never known the Park to disappoint.

Thus when some friends came to visit recently, we decided to take a trip to the Park. It was a lovely day - and we all enjoyed the experience. However, out of pure curiosity, I decided to keep track of the wildlife I saw 'inside' the Park and the wildlife I saw 'outside'. The results may come as a surpise to you - they did, at least in part, to me. (Note: The 'outside the Park' animals were all spotted between Elk Lake Resort and YNP's west entrance.)


39 Canadian Geese

1 Trumpeter Swan

3 Sandhill Cranes

2 Bald Eagles

1 Osprey

Several Ravens

Several Ducks

15 Elk

144 Bison (and 7 calves)

1 Coyote

1 Bear (at quite a distance but still a bear)

1 Chipmunk

2 Squirrels

Not too bad for a few hours in the Park. For those of you who wonder: We entered the West gate - drove to Madison Junction - headed south to Old Faithful - then backtracked a bit to the north to continue on to Mammoth Hot Springs. The Lamar was too far away for our time frame and we were told Hayden Valley was snow covered and thus not a good place to spot wildlife.


5 Canadian Geese

3 Trumpeter Swans

3 Sandhill Cranes

7 Bald Eagles

Numerous Hawks and Kestrals

1 Owl

Numerous Ducks and Ravens

About 35 Pelicans

3 Long-billed Curlews

2 Caspian Terns

About 12 Gulls

1 Blue Heron

Numerous Small Birds (Blue birds, Robins, Red-wing Black Birds, Chicadees, Juncos, White Crowned Sparraws, Meadowlarks, Magpies - to name a few)

6 Moose

33 Elk

1 Bison

14 Pronghorn

That is amazing. I'm not saying YNP isn't worth the trip. I mean it when I say there is no place like it on earth. But I think visitors to the area miss much when they assume it holds the most or even the best the area has to offer. Outside of a bear sighting (interestingly enough a Grizzly sow and her cubs crossed Elk Lake Road two days prior to our YNP outing - about 3 miles from the lodge), there was more wildlife to be seen outside the Park, that day, than inside. Even if this was an anomaly, my experiences certainly have shown the entire Great Yellowstone Eco-system is a nature-lover's smorgasbord.

Now, for the 'photo record' (WARNING: I have a LOT of photos to share so this may be a slow upload):

We'd barely left the driveway before we ran across our first 'wildlife' - a pair of Long-Billed Curlews feeding along the road.

Next came the first of several Bald Eagles we were to enjoy that day. This one perched on the top of a small evergreen just a few yards off the road.

However, Moose sightings were to dominate a good portion of our trip out that morning. Not that we didn't see other wildlife, obviously we did, but one does not find three bull Moose hanging together every day of the week! Can you spot all three?

First Picture - 0 Geyser Clock

While two of three promptly left the photo-shoot, this guy hung around. I suppose he figured he was too well camouflaged for us to see.

Even after he finally decided to stand up and pose, he seemed in no big hurry to run away.

Of course where one finds bulls, the cows aren't too far away. Thus we caught a couple of cows close enough to photograph.

The Sandhills have been much quieter this year than normal. Those of you who have been around for awhile have probably read of my compulsion to stop and listen to the Sandhills whenever their haunting cry drifts down the canyons here at Elk Lake. However, I have heard few Sandhills yet this season. Perhaps it is the weather.

One friend who has spent many years photographing in and around the Park has suggested the birds are behind in courting and mating. Perhaps it is the odd spring. Be that as it may, here is one fellow who isn't going to be put off by a wet spring. However, it looks like he's going to have to try a bit harder to get her attention!

They came late, but they made it in the end. 'They' are the flocks of Pelicans which decend upon Henry's Lake this time of year. Here is one flock we found resting on the lake shore as we headed past.

A common reason for visiting YNP in the spring is to see the Bison calves. While I must admit I do not find adult Bison to be particularly 'good-looking' (albeit they are impressive), Bison babies are darling!

Bison always strike me as being out-of-proportion. After all, they boast a HUGE head on a normal-sized body. How big is their head? This cow's head makes her calf look even smaller than it is!

As I've mentioned before, our snowy winter followed by the cold wet spring has been hard on these animals. Here is one cow who managed to produce a calf yet appeared so hungry she wouldn't even stop to let her calf suck. This gives new meaning to the phrase 'grabbing lunch'!

If you look again at the Bison count I posted above, you will see how out-of-proportion things are this year. We saw at least 144 Bison but only 7 calves! That makes this little fellow almost a National Treasure!

No one could ever rightly accuse me of being a house snob. Try as I might, I always base my property preference on location, never structures. However, there is one building which I enjoy visiting - purely for the pleasure of enjoying its beautiful structure. While we rarely make the drive down to Old Faithful anymore, I thoroughly enjoyed re-visiting the newly restored Old Faithful Lodge.

The fireplace clock in the lodge has always fascinated me. While currently it is not in working order, I did manage to catch a brief segment of the lodge tour. Thus I learned it is slated for repairs in the not-too-distant future.

I also learned that this work of art was created by the same blacksmith (did you catch that - blacksmith!) who did all the original iron work in the lodge - such as the door latches and hinges on the entry doors. Obviously this artist was a very talented blacksmith.

Next time I visit the lodge, I hope to take in the guided tour. While I'm too much of a free spirit to find most guided tours interesting, the little I heard on our brief visit had me wishing for more time and a notepad. This old building has quite a history and an abundance of beauty and style!

Of course no trip to Old Faithful is complete without joining the crowds (which were a bit thin that day) to watch the Grand Lady of the Park show her stuff.

And, true to form, she did not let us down. In spite of the 'unpredictable' weather we've been enjoying above ground, things appear to still be working like clockwork below the surface - at least if Old Faithful is any indicator.

Soon we were back on the road eyes open for the next wildlife sighting. Usually, in Yellowstone, one can find the wildlife not by looking for the wildlife but by looking for the crowd of people. However, twice now we have spotted bears not by the crowd they've drawn but by noticing one person who is obviously intent on something. Thus we spent awhile watching this fellow feeding along the hillside in the distance (and, yes, it didn't take long for the crowd to gather).

That was about the end of the Park excitement for that day. However, on the way back to Elk Lake we did spot several small bands of elk grazing on the slowly emerging grass.

And while we cannot boast of a water-spewing Geyser, sulfer-laden steaming pots, boiling mud, or even gorgeously attired historic structures - and even though I think YNP is well worth the time and effort every time I visit - I still think I live in one of the most beautiful and impressive places in or out of the Park! Certainly this sunset over Upper Lake is a fine way to end such a lovely day!

Lady of the Lake


Around The Area - Part 2

There is just SO MUCH to see. I am often amazed at the diversity and abundance which surround me. While these photos were not taken at Elk Lake, they were (Montana speaking) in our extended back yard. Most of these photos came from the upper Madison Valley and just a little further down the road.

Looking at these photos I stand amazed. It is no secret. We have enjoyed an abundant snow year followed by a wet, cool spring. Nonetheless, all these photos were taken in April. Most are wildlife - however there is beauty to be found everywhere, at least if one has a discerning eye. We are trying to make ours discerning!

Yellowstone National Park, even at its best, cannot begin to produce elk sightings to rival the upper Madison Valley from about December to (typically) early April. Numerous herds of hundreds of animals are a normal sight. The long lasting snow, this year, pushed the elk closer to town than I have ever seen them. This photo, taken only a few miles from town, shows the elk grazing alongside domestic horses.

Just because these elk spend their winter in fairly close proximity to humans, does not mean they are in any way 'tame'. I've seen elk in YNP continue grazing while humans approached within a few yards. Not so with these animals. While occasionally herds are seen grazing, apparently unconcerned, close to Highway 287, this apparent 'ease' around humans disappears the moment a car stops. As you can see from this elk's body language, she is anything BUT comfortable with our presence. In fact this shot was snapped right before she jumped to her feet.

Sphinx Mountain is not only the most distinctive peak in the Madison Range, it also has a special place in my heart after my trip last fall around its base. While elk are often the animal we go to see, the Madison Valley (this time of year) abounds with a surprising wildlife variety. Pronghorn, while not as abundant as the elk, are still seen in many areas along the road. To catch the two (Sphinx and Pronghorn) together just added to the pleasure of the photo.

These three pronghorn bucks paused for a photo shoot as we traversed one of the back roads which wind through this beautiful valley.

I am no Pelican 'fan' - at least not when they desend upon our local lakes and streams in huge flocks. However, they serve their purpose - and they are a unique and fascinating bird. Nonetheless I am thankful few visit Elk or Hidden Lakes. I found these birds fishing the Madison River.

Deer are also frequently seen in the valley through winter and into early spring. While one might expect to see more White-tail than Mule Deer, this is not the case - at least this time of year. Mule Deer herds are a common sight along the back roads (and even close to Highway 287) in the spring.

While Pelicans do not top my favorites list, we did enjoy several sightings of one of my favorite large birds. I always feel compeled to pause and listen to the Sandhill's haunting cry. A good friend who spends a LOT of time in the Park has reported the return of many pairs this year - but not a single nest in sight. Let's hope this does not negatively impact the sandhill numbers.

Here is a beautiful bird which also boasts a distincitve cry. However, I admit, I have never seen one in the Centennial Valley nor in Yellowstone National Park. However, they are residents of the Madison Valley.

Lest you think I forgot what I'd said about a 'discerning eye', here are a couple of shots to prove we were paying attention. Apparently farm auctions are not slowed by cool, spring weather. We drove past this one early in the day. When we came back by, everything was cleared out except these two tractors - an almost comical picture of then and now!

It seemed only appropriate to end - at the end! Sometimes we forget how much the farmer and rancher has impacted this area. Those tractors are not just expensive toys. These cattle are not just one man's hobby. It is the farmer and rancher who have preserved this land. It is the farmer's and rancher's land which feeds and provides for the elk, deer, and pronghorn I've shown above. Thus, my hat's off to the Montana men and women who have played such a VITAL role in keeping my extended backyard such a delightful place to visit!

Lady of the Lake