The Final Battle - We Won!

Eight years! Eight years equal eight totally different experiences. Like I've said before, life at Elk Lake is anything but boring. And, since you all seem to enjoy hearing about my 'non-boring' experiences in Montana's Centennial Valley, I thought I'd share the challenges spring sent our way this year.

As most of you are aware, last spring was the spring that never worked up the nerve to show its face. We jumped (or so it seemed) from winter into summer, almost overnight. However, in an attempt to keep me entertained (or so I like to think), spring decided to make up for last year's shameful performance. And so it came - early and with a bold face!

Of course one never knows what the season is going to bring until it is history. So, with no foreknowledge of the challenges we would face, we accepted a late reservation. Typically we close no later than the middle of March. This year we planned to welcome our last guests shortly thereafter. Well. . .things didn't go as planned. Our first clue plans might be changing came with the rain!

We have faced winter rains in the past. A chinook - even a little rain - is not unheard of, especially late in the season. So we watched the rain with only mild concern ("We sure hope it doesn't make the snow too soft!") Ah, ignorance is bliss!

After four days of rain and above freezing temperature, even at night, we were singing a different tune. What began as: "I sure hope this doesn't ruin their play areas" turned quickly into "I sure hope we can get out!"

The good news: We did get out, and without incident (at least that first day). The bad news: The snow was totally shot - it was more like riding in a mud derby than any snowmobiling I had ever experienced! But, of course, that is what keeps life from becoming boring. Besides, it provides for entertaining reading!

The first signs things might not turn out like we hoped were the lake's changing from white to dark grey and the dogs sinking to their bellys even on the 'packed' trails.

The snow disappeared from all the dark surfaces (cabin roofs, bird houses, trees) and bare spots began growing around the building perimeters.

The water running of the roofs and the growing 'lakes' didn't offer much encouragement either!

But the final confirmation came when hubby decided to test the lake's surface via snowmobile. Too bad this photo doesn't come with sound. While it looks quite harmless (and, in reality, he was in no danger of sinking as there was a good three feet of ice under him), it sounded quite impressive. After all, riding a snowmobile in foot deep slush changes many things - dramatically!

By the time we bid the lodge good-bye for the season, even Elk Mountain's fresh snow couldn't mask winter's demise.

We didn't have to go far to get a taste of what this trip out had in store. We'd barely left the lodge before we hit our first bog - a mass of slush and snow and water about a foot deep. Thankfully snowmobiles don't mind a little water and slush!

And that was just the beginning of the fun! The next 'bog' was more mud and water than snow and slush!

Then the snow just up and quit! No more slush and water to worry about. Now it was mud - straight mud! I told one friend we really needed a variety of vehicles this trip - a jet ski, a snowmobile, and an ATV would have done the trick! However, I have no complaint. Our snowmobiles handled the whole thing like it was an everyday occurance - even if my sled took on quite an impressive load of mud.

You may wonder why we didn't ride the ditches. After all, everyone knows the ditches hold snow longer than anywhere else. Well, the ditches just didn't look too inviting. A foot of slush over solid ice - well, that's one thing. But attempting several feet of slush overtopping mud while pulling a loaded sled - well, even I wasn't crazy enough to give that a try!

Of course it didn't seem to bother the moose. When I stopped to snap a picture of this lovely water-soaked snowfield, I noticed one moose seemingly totally unfazed by the surrounding icy swamp! (He's in the willows above the right-hand post if you haven't spotted him.)

The conditions didn't improve as soon as I had hoped. In my ignorance, I had assumed once we traversed Elk Lake Road, we'd be back to at least some snow coverage. Not! With lakes in the ditches, we decided a little rock chatter never hurt anyone.

Thankfully, by the time we reached Alaska Basin, we were back on decent snow. This is probably the first time I have been thankful this area lives up to its name in the winter.

I'd originally named this post "When 6700 feet isn't high enough"! It is amazing how much difference 300 feet can make. By the time we reached Red Rock Pass, we were plowing through 6 inches of fresh, heavy, wet snow. This is what our spring riding is supposed to look like!

That's not to say the rest of the ride was without challenge. A few more bogs awaited - but they were few and far between and true snow bogs, not mud trying to mascarade as the white stuff!

But I must admit, I couldn't help but chuckle as we scraped 6 inches of fresh heavy snow off our truck and dug piles out of its bed - all before we could begin unloading our gear. I thought we are supposed to live on the 'cold' side of the mountain!

Well, it just goes to show eight years isn't long enough! I still have a TON to learn about nature's ways. Certainly, if nothing else, I think I have finally learned not to get overly excited when things look like they are falling apart

After all, we got out. The snowmobiles handled everything like it was an everyday occurance. And, our wonderful guests (bet you forgot about them), took the whole thing in stride. (Yes, we still managed to host them and enjoyed the experience - but that is a story for another day.)

Lady of the Lake


The Birds Herald Spring

Last year we skipped spring. At least it certainly seemed that way. Winter wouldn't leave, and when it finally gave up the fight, summer stepped in to take its place. Spring really never had a chance. This year, however, is writing its own story - and once again spring has a part!

Birds are always an important element in a Rocky Mountain spring. After a silent winter, their cheerful chittering and chattering, their busy flittering and fluttering, and their constant presence is an unmistakeable declaration: "Spring IS Coming!" Thus it seems the perfect time to share some interesting tidbits about the feathered friends moving back into my neighborhood. NOTE: All photos are courtesy of David Slaughter and may not be copied.

Chipping Sparrow

A common sight around Elk Lake each spring, the Chipping Sparrow is a little bird with a big (and pleasing) voice. With their preference for mixed woodlands and grassy areas, this little sparrow finds the Centennial the perfect habitat.

A few interesting tidbits:

  1. In 1929 Edward Forbush described these birds as: "the little brown-capped pensioner of the dooryard and lawn, that comes about farmhouse doors to glean crumbs shaken from the tablecloth by thrifty housewives."
  2. According to the All About Birds website, Chipping Sparrows are creative nest builders. They say, "People have found their nests among hanging strands of chili peppers, on an old-fashioned mower inside a tool shed, and on a hanging basket filled with moss."
  3. Found up to timberline, these little birds' diet consists of primarily seeds. However insects comprise a large portion of their summer-time diet, and occasionally they also eat small fruits.

White Crowned Sparrow

A favorite spring visitor, our White Crowned Sparrow come fairly early and are a common sight until late summer. Distinctive due to their white and black 'crowns', some of these birds spend their summers in the willows near the lodge.

A few interesting tidbits:

  1. Common across most of North America, these birds often migrate long distances. While some remain in California year-round, many travel long distances between their summer and wintering grounds - some traveling as far north as the Arctic Circle.
  2. Primarily seed eaters, these birds can also catch insects in flight.
  3. The most interesting tidbit came from Wickipedia. They said, "The White-crowned Sparrow is known for its natural alertness mechanism, which allows it to stay awake for up to two weeks during migration. This effect has been studied for possible human applications, such as shift-work drowsiness or truck driving."


Did you know Juncos - one of the first birds seen hopping around on spring's first patches of bare ground - are a sparrow? I did not. I guess I just never thought about their familial connections.

A Few Interesting Tidbits:

  1. Certainly Juncos are not an uncommon site. In fact, according to All About Birds, a recent estimate puts their numbers at approximately 630 million!
  2. Very adaptable, these birds can be found from sea level to nearly 11,000 feet.
  3. Their diet consists primarily of seeds although, during breeding season, they do eat a variety of insects.
  4. Juncos commonly nest on the ground in a depression or nook. Thus, I suspect, the bird I nearly touched while hiking along a steep slope this past summer was a Junco.

Audubon's Warbler - aka Yellow Rumped Warbler

While not as common, perhaps, as the proceeding birds, this warbler is still one of the most easily spotted around Elk Lake. Furthmore, it is extremely colorful and often quite inquisitive. Certainly it is one of my favorite spring-time visitors.

A Few Interesting Tidbits:

  1. It appears, based on the web sources I read, this warbler's 'western' version is known as Audubon's Warbler while its eastern counter-part is called Yellow-Rumped Warbler.
  2. These birds feed primarily on insects
  3. A hearty bird, these colorful fellows tend to winter further north than others of their species. According to National Georgraphic, this is because of "their unique ability to digest the waxes in bayberries."

House Wren

Here is a 'common' fellow possessing a beautiful and distinctive song. Common yes - but special to me - perhaps because they have nested outside my back door for eight years.

A Few Interesting Tidbits:

  1. The most widely distributed bird in the Americas.
  2. While subspecies vary greatly, most differences are limited to 'looks'. In fact, while 5,600 miles separate the northern and southern species, their primary difference is their voice.
  3. They nest in cavities and, as I have seen, are very persistent. One of the most interesting bird interactions I've observed was between a Tree Swallow and a House Wren - both intent on nesting in the same cavity.
  4. Little wonder these birds are so wide spread - the female lays 2 to 8 eggs and the young fledge within 19 days of hatching. Furthermore, I have observed House Wrens raising more than one clutch per season.

Mountain Bluebird

No list of springtime returnees would be complete without the Mountain Bluebird. Certainly one of the most strikingly colored birds who frequent our area, the male's feathers cannot be confused with any other.

A Few Interesting Tidbits:

  1. These birds prefer open meadows and rangelands above 5,000 feet.
  2. They hover over the ground then fly down to catch insects. It is not uncommon to see them sitting calmly on a post, suddenly flitting out a few yards to catch a bug, then calmly returning to their perch only to repeat the process in a few minutes.
  3. These birds are partial to a nest box - especially if they have raised a clutch successfully in the location.
  4. While many birds will abandon a nest if human's or predators approach too closely, Mountain Bluebirds will fiercely protect their nest.

Red-Necked Grebe

Living on a lake has many advantages, not the least being the opportunity to include many shore and water birds (as well as fish eating hawks and eagles) to my list. This particular water bird is striking both in its markings and its distinctive call.

A Few Interesting Tidbits

  1. While many of the birds we have visited today are common to all or most of North America, Red-Necked Grebes are common only in Alaska, Canada, and the northern reagions of the continental US.
  2. Grebes ingest a large quantity of their own feathers. They also feed feathers to their young. These feathers remain in their stomachs but their purpose is unknown.
  3. They feed primarily on fish, crustacians, and aquatic insects.
  4. Red-Necked Grebes build a floating nest which is anchored to aquatic plants or submerged logs. I have heard the birds keep adding to their nest throughout the season as it slowly sinks due to natural causes. I have seen nesting birds who were apparently doing so.

Marsh Hawk aka Northern Harrier

Another not-so-wide-spread bird common to our area, the Northern Harrier sports a lighter coloration than many local raptors.

A Few Interesting Tidbits:

  1. Also called the Hen Harrier, these birds are most common in Canada, the extremely northern regions of the continental US and northern Eurasia. There is also at least one recorded transatlantic bird who traveled from the Americas to Great Britain.
  2. A ground nesting bird they hunt small birds and mammals and cover the ground with a contour-hugging flight pattern.
  3. A medium-sized raptor, the Harrier is also a very vocal bird - particularly while gliding over its hunting grounds.

We have visited numerous common birds today - certainly none to set a birder's heart aflame and nothing in the running for 'life-bird' - however each one is special - if for no other reason than they all bring the fresh breath of spring after a cold and barren winter.

Lady of the Lake


Chilies Rellenos Egg Bake

Since cooking is such a big part of my life at Elk Lake, it seems quite amiss to not have at least an occasional post about life in the kitchen. Thus a few weeks back I introduced a new topic - FOOD! While this topic will never be the 'theme' of Elk Lake News, perhaps you will find one of our tasty treats worth trying in your own kitchen.

Last time I shared a favorite sweet breakfast treat. Today we will look at a simple savory dish dressed up by cooking it in one of my new favorites - silicone molds. While the muffins we looked at last time are enhanced - but minimally - with the mold, these egg bakes go from plain ole' eggs to a tasty work of art with the right mold. The mold I used is a star-shaped Demarle mold - my favorite for for most of my egg dishes.

The ingredients in this particular dish are quite simple. The primary ingredients are found in most kitchens - eggs, cheese, mild diced chilies. The others are just as 'normal' making this a great dish for any 'fancy' breakfast. And, they are even hearty enough for brunch or dinner. Furthermore, the recipe comes together quickly and these individual molds reduce the cooking time so the family 'cook' doesn't have to get up with the chickens to prepare that special birthday breakfast or Easter delight.

Chilies Rellenos Egg Bake

8 large eggs
1 cup sour cream
1/4 teaspoon salt
2-3 drops Tabasco sauce
2 cups shredded Cheddar Cheese (jack or Mozzarella can be substituted for part or all of the cheese)
2 (4 oz) cans chopped mild green chilies

1. Preheat your oven to 350 degrees.

2. Place your mold (a bundt pan works - even a cupcake pan will do the trick - but if you are not using a silicone mold, spray your pan with non-stick spray before filling) on a cookie sheet - the perforated kind is best if using a silicone mold.

3. In mixing bowl combine all but chilies and cheese. Mix well. Add chilies and cheese. Stir well. Pour into your prepared pan or mold. If using individual molds, I find it easiest to use a measuring cup to fill the molds.

This photo of the finished product gives a nice side view of the mold and the perferated pan which is ideal for even heat distribution (however, if you have a silicone mold but no perforated cookie sheet - never fear. I have used various molds on regular cookie sheets with equally delightful results).

4. Bake, uncovered about 25 minutes (if using cupcake pan or individual-serving molds) or about 45 minutes (if using a bundt pan or a larger mold). They are finished when they are no longer runny in the middle (for the smaller molds I merely touch the top lightly to be sure it is set up).

5. Allow to cool slightly (up to 15 minutes if using a full-size mold). The cheese in these eggs provides enough natural 'oil' they tend to pop right out of the pan - after 5 minutes cooling time for the individual serving-size molds. The primary no-no (if using a silicone mold) is allowing them to cool completely in the pan. Some baked goods become far too attached to their pans if allowed to spend that much time getting comfortable!

I am hard pressed to say what I like best about this breakfast dish. Is it the simplicity? I always love simple dishes which taste anything but simple. Is it their lovely presentation? Certainly presentation is important - and I can't think of a simpler way to improve one's presentation. Is it their taste? Certainly these little beauties live up to their looks. Perhaps it is a combination of all three - knowing I've served a hearty, tasty breakfast which didn't require too much effort and looks mighty pretty on the plate!

Lady of the Lake


Winter 2012

Life at Elk Lake is never predictable. Oh, yes, summer follows spring and spring follows winter which comes sometime after fall - but the variations in length of season, the temperatures experienced, and even the time of year we experience each season has varied more than one might expect in our eight years in the Centennial Valley.

Thus, as it appears (as of this week), spring may be coming early this year, I decided to post a few more images of winter. After all, although it has been a weird winter (at least compared to what we have experienced in prior years), it has been a strikingly beautiful winter. Lots of sunshine. Blue blue BLUE skies. Plenty of wildlife. And, although it came late, some beautiful snow.

These images are a collection of 'impressions' and 'scenics' taken over the winter and on various of my treks.

One of the things I love about fresh snow is the new face it puts on old objects. Not only is it clean and pure, it totally changes the 'look' of ordinary things. Take this dead tree. I might have passed it by without the snow, but with sugar snow adorning its surface, it took on the look of a pre-historic snake.

Or this scantily clothed little Jack Pine tree. Once adorned in snowy white, it takes on the appearance of a modern designer Christmas tree.

This old log - the remains of one an old growth fir now enriching the forest floor - changes from a dying relic to lovely creature merely pausing for awhile on the forest floor.

Or take this 'stump' - the lower part of a dead tree which dropped its top years ago. With snow fingers painting contours upon its 'face', this old tree becomes a skinny black bear just escaped from his winter den and stretching to full height to iron out the winter wrinkles as he overlooks his territory.

Of course the snow art is not limited to wood-based objects. Even something as obnoxious as stick-seed becomes a thing of beauty with a snow coating.

However, the most spectacular winter bouquet I spotted this summer was a grass-based creation enjoyed on rare winter hike on the refuge.

Winter's beauty at Elk Lake is never limited to the snow's artistic creations. The scenery from Elk Lake Divide is awe inspiring - especially after fresh snow!

Looking the other way is just as impressive. It is breathtaking!

The beauty is not limited to the high points. Deepening snow changes the face of everything. This spot - one many of our guests have visited - shows the snow's ability to create an undescribeably peaceful landsccape. For those who haven't figured it out, this is Narrows Creek Pond.

Another 'common' spot visited by even more guests - the view from the boat dock - takes on a totally different look, but just as spectacular in the winter.

And, to finish the series, here is another picture of Mt. Jefferson. The opening shot is from Elk Springs Creek out in the refuge. This one was taken on the edge of a frozen Widgeon Pond.

Ahhh - I know I say this over and over again - but I just cannot imagine any place as beautiful!

Lady of the Lake