Hiking To Lillian Lake

It has been several months since my last hike to Lillian Lake. While Blair Lake is the more impressive of the two (sitting as it does on the Continental Divide), the Lillian Lake hike offers some expansive vistas, a chance to cross the upper reaches of Hell Roaring Creek (the furthermost source of the Missouri), and less elevation gain. Thus it was the perfect destination for a hike with friends last week.

The day dawned grey - which meant a cooler hike but flat light for photographs. The intermittent breeze helped, but did not totally remove the overly friendly bugs! Nonetheless, my hiking companions and I started for the mountains determined to enjoy the sights!

Within the first half hour our 'Fearless Leader' (my 10-year-old son) started asking, "What time is it?" It took him asking several times for me to figure out he was very concerned we not miss lunch! Thus, about 1 pm, we settled on a lovely knoll overlooking the upper drainage of Hell Roaring (and catching a nice breeze to keep the hungry bugs at bay).

Fearless Leader and I even posed for our picture. I must say, I think he outdid us all. He was still running by the day's end! In fact, after his bath he informed me he as ready to take another hike - right now. Oh, for a kid's energy!!

Lunch over we started down off the ridge to continue our journey. Our Fearless Leader headed boldly over the steep edge. However, after surveying the scene, even the dogs decided to join the rest of us in taking the gentler slope back to the trail.

About 45 minutes later we reached Lillian Lake. I've always wanted to explore that meadow behind the lake. It didn't happen today. However, we did enjoy watching the birds, soaking in the lovely view, and catching our breath.

Little did my companions know (and I chose to keep them in the dark - no sense in worrying about the inevitable :-), the 'real' fun was just beginning. While we had crossed numerous little creeks - with Josie showing us her impressive dance step at one - Hell Roaring, even at the upper end, was the largest of all. Those logs don't look very wide when you're evaluating their 'bridge-worthiness'!

Perhaps the worst part, however, of a cold stream crossing is knowing you cannot safely drink the water, even from a high mountain stream. Although I had a filter straw in my pack, no one else was able to take advantage of the water's cooling properties. So when we came to the pipe driven deep into a fresh water spring a few yards later, we were all eager to fill our bellies and our bottles.

Refreshed our journey continued downstream toward Hell Roaring Canyon and our vehicle. The view remained amazing - the bugs hungry - the breeze intermittent - and the grey skies relentless.

One more challenge awaited us before the last push to our car. I have noted this before but I still wonder: Why does every other stream crossing of any size warrant a bridge (and even several piddling swampy areas), and this major crossing has nothing - not even a log? Whatever the reason, while the water felt good, walking across the slippery rocks is quite the foot massage! I suspect we all (except our Fearless Leader who scampered across with glee!) might have looked for another way out were this not the shortest way to the car.

But, we made it - and the consensus was a great time had by all. I must admit I love introducing people to my backyard and some good clean healthy fun - Centennial Valley style!

Lady of the Lake


An Evening Of Birds (P2)

Montana DOES have a beautiful face! Yet, I know many would agree, she puts on her most impressive show in the Greater Yellowstone area. It is a grand area bursting forth with high mountain peaks standing sentry over lush valleys filled with icy-cold mountain streams and pure blue lakes. I am privileged indeed to daily experience the mountain's magic!

And so, on a recent summer evening I headed for a rarely visited spot to see what wildlife I could find. Last post I left you on the mountainside preparing to head down to the lush savannah-like valley floor.

As we worked our way down the steep hillside, my friend spotted a Sandhill Crane head poking up above the marshland grasses. While the grass is quite deep, I was starting to wonder if this Sandhill was particularly short!

That is until I spotted the second head. Can you see it? (Just left of center) The chick still has some fuzzy down on its topknot - thus it is not fully grown. Now I understand why the parent was trying to keep a low profile while watching for 'intruders'.

Down near the water's edge we rejoiced to see and hear the abundant bird life - particularly the water fowl. The water seemed to team with life. These Ruddy Ducks are sporting a bright blue bill! Very cool!

The more we walked around, quitely moving from one bush to the next in an effort to keep our wildlife disruption to a minimum, the more babies we observed. Clearly we had stumbled upon 'The Nursery'!

Of course the marshlands abound with more than waterfowl. Based upon the interest we garnered, I'd bet the Red-winged Blackbirds were nesting in the area.

The even more illusive Yellow-Headed Blackbirds seemed to be thriving in this lovely oasis. We saw several males and females - and heard many more!

But our daylight was running out. Thus we headed back toward home. However, along the way, we stirred up this Spotted Sandpiper who kindly posed for its picture before heading downshore.

It was time for us to head back too. Thus with hearts full of the wonder of creation we turned away from this glorious little world-within-a-world. Perhaps I'll have a chance to visit again. Perhaps not. Either way, I am sure the photos and memories will rekindle delight many times in the future.

Lady of the Lake


An Evening Of Birds (P1)

Some days are magic. Words become an inadequate medium to share the wonder. So, I take pictures - usually lots of pictures - trying desperately to capture the enchantment. Sometimes I am fairly successful. Other times - well, you just need to be here to experience the moment.

Earlier this week I enjoyed a bewitching evening in the hillsides and along the marshes near Elk Lake. What started as a simple hike turned into one of those 'not-to-be-forgotten' moments. Thus, over the next couple of posts, I will share some of my many photos - all in an effort to seize a window in time which all to quickly slamed shut.

Over the years I have learned a few lessons. One important lesson: If you take along a companion, consider your purpose before handing out the invite! For example, I love sharing the glorious of creation with my 10-year-old, but I do not invite him if I'm hoping to see much. However, there are others - one friend in particular - who only enhance the experience. So. . .cameras in hand, we headed out!

While my hopes are always high, it had been so warm, I considered it unrealistic to expect very much. However, we had barely crested the first ridge before we found ourselves nearly nose to nose with a Mule Deer Doe. While Muleys are less flighty than White Tails, even they don't usually stand around and stare. I take it she as as surprised to see us as we were to see her!

It soon became obvious we'd chosen a location which the wildlife considered a bit 'exclusive' territory. We had barely started out before this hawk began screaming at us - non-stop! While I never spotted the nest, I assume we were too close for this bird's comfort.

A long time ago I learned many birds seem to prefer an edge of timber location. Thus, when looking for birds (which was part of this evening's goal), I like to visit these bird-friendly locations. Sometimes it works - sometimes it does not. This time we hit the jackpot!

The 'good' bird photographers (we have some staying with us this past week - a future post will feature some of their photography - - - many, many steps above mine!) will tell you to go and SIT or, at the very least, move very very slowly. I rarely have the time to do either for long. Thus when I come away with many decent bird photos, you know the location was superb.

Another semi-frustration is the lack of time to research all my feathered friends. At one time I knew almost every bird which frequented my 'yard'. Elk Lake, however, offers far too much variety. Thus, while I believe the bird two photos up is a Wilson's Warbler, I'm just calling this one "Red Mohawk Bird" :-) Not only is its red top-knot obvious - it clearly indicates this bird was a bit excited about our presence.

And, while bird sightings were definitely the 'highlight' of the evening, as always, the scenery took my breath away!

As I worked my way down the hill toward the open meadow below, this finch (I believe) allowed me to come quite close. The window blowing in our faces appeared to ruffle its feathers more than I did.

Like the finch above, this bird has a striped chest, however, it is much larger - and thus remains a mystery. As always, I welcome your input if you can put names to these feathered beauties!

All too quickly the light began to lengthen and highlight the marshes below. From our lofty perches, the lowlands took on an exotic appearance - almost like a photo of a wet African Savannah. Like a magnet, this beautiful landscape drew us down to experience the treasures along its peremiter before the light completely faded away. Next time I'll share some photos from what we enjoyed.

As privileged as I feel sharing my Elk Lake experiences with you, I always experience an undercurrent of inadequcy. The words and photos just cannot do justice to what I enjoy day after day. I realize the Centennial would be the loser were you all to live here, thus I am even more humbled and amazed that I, among the millions out there, have been honored to enjoy such an amazing place for so long. I hope, in the smallest sense, this feble attempt allows you to catch a hint of the magic of my world!

Lady of the Lake


Elk Lake Spring Photo Collage

I cannot begin to count the number of times I have been asked, "So, what did you see this morning?" Even those guests who would never consider rising with the sun to hike a couple of hours, wonder what is interesting enough to prompt one to participate in such a behavior. Granted, there are other photographers and nature lovers who visit the Greater Yellowstone area who are out there doing the same thing. But, for those of you who have not or cannot or are just not so inclined, I decided to put together a brief photo collage of some of the 'things' I have enjoyed thus far on my morning excursions.

While several of these photos have been taken with a little pocket digital camera, my 'best' pictures always come when I use the SLRs. However, carrying a heavy camera around my neck over hill and dale for several hours - along with all the other paraphernalia needed (plastic bag for flower specimens, bear spray for just in case, water bottle, extra lenses, monopod, etc) really is a pain in the you-know-what without a proper carrying system. So. . .I started thinking and scheming and musing.

Take a lot of time, mix in a good sewing machine, a couple of used backpacks, and a need for a better carrying option and out pops (well, not quite but, you get the idea) a solution. While this photo does not show any details (that will be the focus of a later post), you can see I have my hands free and my camera within easy access (right behind the yellow flower). Thus I now "have-camera-will-hike" (with comfort).

So. . .why start a post about all the glorious things I see and experience on a morning excursion with such a gory picture? Because, with the fires consuming the western states, I have been freshly reminded life is not all about life and beauty. Death and gore play a role too. This muskrat, food for one of our beautiful bald eagles, is a reminder of the darker side of life!

Bald eagles are glorious to watch, but they are definitely opportunists. Catch a muskrat today - steal breakfast tomorrow. At least that was what one bald eagle attempted to do a few days back. However, this Osprey proved to be far too tenacious. Furthermore, he showed his ability to outmanuever the eagle in flight. Their brief confrontation was amazing to watch!

On the other hand, watching the eagle consume the muskrat and attempt to steal from the Osprey gave new meaning to the phrase "a sitting duck". I have little doubt Mr. Eagle would love a baby duck appetizer! Fortunately I have seen these little guys and gals growing rapidly on the pond above the lodge. On last count, they all looked to have escaped the coyotes and foxes and raptors!

Water fowl - Raptors - and little song birds fill my hikes with visual and auditory delights. The cheery Finches and Juncos are common sights around the area.

Of course it is always special to see (and hear) one of our less commonly sighted feathered friends. So, when this Yellow Warbler led me on a merry chase along the lakeshore (in hopes of snapping its photograph), I was more than willing to follow.

However, this big boy was an even more impressive find. While we have enjoyed numerous Great Grey Owl sightings up near Hidden Lake over the last three years, every season I expect to be our last. I'm starting to think these birds mate for life - and he/she has lost their mate. For, never have I seen more than one.

Over the years I have learned a lot of people feel they have not 'seen' anything if they do not see wildlife. I have been guilty of the same philosophy myself. Thankfully I have learned there is an amazing world growing below knee-level. As a result I love 'seeing' things like these Gooseberry blossoms.

Even more amazing is all the things I see which, even after hiking over the same terrain numerous times, I had never seen before. Take these two flowers. The top (Starry Solomon) I have only seen this once. While there were numerous plants where I found the bottom flower (which I have yet to identify), this was the only place I've seen these before or since.

Even more striking flowers - like these White Mule's Ears - are not commonly seen around Elk Lake. However, if one happens to be in the right place at the right time - you just might find the unexpected (kinda like looking for wildlife!)

Really, that is the most challenging part of my morning excursions. Shall I look down in search of the glories at my feet - or up in search of the wildlife which just 'might' be over the next hill - like these beautiful bull elk I nearly ran into one morning or this lovely bunch of does which crossed the meadow just ahead of me on another early trek.

In reality, I know how blessed I am. It really doesn't matter whether I look up or down, near or far - wherever my eye happens to rest there is beauty. Be the day stormy and grey or bathed in the rosy glow of sunrise, this Montana Big Sky Country has a beautiful face!

Lady of the Lake