Lewis & Clark Caverns

"So, where do 'you' go when you get time off?" Elk Lake Resort's guests often ask this question. Of course my first answer is always - "Stay here and enjoy Elk Lake!" Since I have yet to find a place more enjoyable than right here, that is a no-brainer.

However, south-west Montana offers many beautiful and unique natural (and man-made) wonders. Thus, over time, we have ventured out to enjoy a few. And, since these all make nice day trips from Elk Lake, I like to share them with you.

So, over the next couple of posts, I would like to introduce you to the Lewis and Clark Caverns.

This amazingly large and diverse cavern lies in what looks to me (I admit my ignorace on such subjects!) to be an unlikely location. Rolling ranchland. Sparsely timbered hillsides. A few rocky points - but nothing which jumps out at you. Located about 5 miles from the junction of Highway 287 and Highway 2, the caverns is a mere 40 miles north of Ennis.

Past the entrance sign - past the lower visitor's center - one begins the steep climb up the mountain. As the road winds up and up, the bare hills give way to pockets of timber and scattered rock outcroppings.

Five miles up the mountain we reached the upper visitor's center. Perched in a saddle with lovely views in every direction, this inviting building blends nicely with its surroundings.

I am a bit claustrophobic, so the idea of worming my way down into the earth - regardless of how 'safe', made me a bit nervous. Yes, I'd have many companions, but that offered scant comfort! A good hike - now that's a different story. Perhaps I ought to enjoy the above-ground trails!

Or. . .perhaps not! I've often said I'd rather hike in Grizzly and Wolf and Cat country than in snake country. After all, around here I am sharing the forest with 'big' critters. I quickly decided the smaller, slithery ones made me more nervous than a trip down into the earth's belly!

Besides, it sounded like I was going to get a decent workout - and, if it took that long to see the whole cavern, the earth must have one BIG belly!

However, one look at our guide assured me the physical part shouldn't be too hard. While he didn't appear to be in tip-top physical condition, he was a GREAT guide. Entertaining. Knowledgeable. Pleasant. We couldn't have asked for anyone better!

And so the adventure began. I had been looking around for a gaping mouth without success. Once our guide arrived, I learned the first part of the tour included a climb up the mountain. If you look closely at the lower of these two photos, you will see to lines paralleling the mountain-side. The lower originates at our final destination (the cavern's exit). The upper leads to our first goal (the cavern's entrance).

While not strenuous in the least, I could see the wisdom in requiring folks to exert themselves before entering the cave. I suspect this moderate ascent tended to weed out those who 'thought' they were up for the adventure but, for whatever reason, were not.

An obvious question - and one no one had bothered to answer up to this point was: Did Lewis and Clark REALLY find this cave? After all, we are a LONG way up from the river they were following. As the sign tells us, they did not! The caverns were first discovered by some hunters in 1895. A few years later, Dan Morrison improved access and began leading tours into the depths - even after he was warned off as a trespasser!

As our guide said, it didn't seem nearly as interesting or romantic to say I visited the "Morrison Caverns". Thus that name just didn't stick! Nonetheless, regardless of who discovered them, by now our guide had provided just enough information to peek my interest. At this point, I wasn't even thinking about closed in dark spaces full of bats!! I could hardly wait to begin our exploration. (However, you'll have to wait until next time to discover what I found in that hole-in-the-ground.)

Lady of the Lake


Walking Around My Yard

A common question posed by prospective Elk Lake Resort guests is: "What is there to "DO" around there?"

It's a great question, and one I expect to hear from folks coming to such a nature-based location. Because Montana's Centennial Valley offers such diverse terrain, such incredibly beautiful scenic vistas, and such wildlife variety, questions such as these are easy to answer.

However, the other day I started thinking about how 'far' one had to travel from their cabin door to find something to 'see'. So, I decided to take a walk around MY yard! Camera in hand I hurried out in the middle of the day (note: the worst time of day really) to see what I could find in the few minutes I had to spare.

I knew I could find some scenery pleasant to behold. However, mid-day photos often fail to capture the beauty. Thus I was pleasantly surprised to find such eye-candy under the afternoon sun! This prompted me to look a little closer.

Nighttime temperatures in the upper 20's have become the norm this past week. Thus I was amazed to see so many butterflies! At least four varieties were still coloring the resort grounds in profusion!

The waterfowl are always the last to leave, so the ducks feeding in the shallows were no suprise. I had hoped to see the swans, but they didn't come by until later (so I heard).

Many of the smaller birds have departed for warmer climates. Nonetheless, the Juncos (who wouldn't stand still for a photo) and the Finches (who weren't much more cooperative) still fill our days with their twittering songs.

The Raptors are still in residence. However, in my limited time frame I was only able to capture one Osprey screaming at me from overhead.

Of course my favorite spots are near water. The lake is often the best place to see critters of all sorts and sizes. However nothing is more relaxing than sitting beside a burbling brook watching the sunlight dance on its smiling face!

A few golden aspen leaves floating past sent me looking for color. Some folks can only see brown in the fall. But, if you look close, the brilliance is amazing. Golden aspen leaves. Bright red Geraniums and Gooseberries. Even a lone Indian Paintbrush (how on earth did 'that' survive this long?).

The more I looked, the more I saw. Textures. Colors. Patterns. Designs from the Creator's fingers adorn my backyard in every direction! Each knook and cranny seems to hold its own treasure trove if one really looks. How lucky I am to live in such a place!

So, have you ever taken a walk around 'your' backyard? If not, give it a try. Next time you feel the urge to escape the four walls, grab a camera, any camara (because it helps you to look and sometimes even to see) and stroll around your yard. I'd love to hear what you find!

Lady of the Lake


A True 'Family' Vacation

I have talked often and voraciously about the benefits derived from a nature-inspired family vacation. Thus I decided it was time to do a post on a 'typical' Elk Lake family vacation. So, with their permission - and omitting names to protect their privacy - I have the privilege of introducing you to a 'typical' American family enjoying a 'not-so-typical' family vacation.

Nature-based activities abound at Elk Lake Resort. Some like to hike (I've done numerous posts about the Centennial Valley's hiking opportunities). Some like to mountain bike. Some like to ATV ride. Some like to relax and rejuvenate and maybe just sit around and catch up without all the distractions. Some like to swim. Some like to kayak, canoe, or boat around on the lake. Some like to watch and photograph wildlife (I recently posted on this as well). This family had two MAJOR desires: FISH and HORSEBACK RIDE. Elk Lake and Montana's Centennial Valley are a great place to enjoy these activities.

Most days found a happy mother-daughter duo off on another exploration of our back country. Day after day they probbed into some new and rarely visited mountain treasure trove.

Each day they learned some area history from their learned guide. One day they even visited an old mining cabin.

Perhaps the 'highlight' of the girls' trip was participating in a local cattle drive. While this is not a typical experience all guests can hope to enjoy, at times the opportunity presents itself. These gals chose not to let the chance slip by.

Of course all this 'horse time' meant they grew quite attached to their mounts. The youngest often spent break times decorating her horse's bridle with the profuse wildflowers.

One day they even had the opportunity to explore an old cave. While both did not choose to participate (can't say I blame the non-participant. I'm not sure I have the nerve to crawl into a dark hole in the ground!), the one who did came back with stories to tell.

While the adventures were great fun and left them with memories to last until their next trip to the Centennial, I think they'd both agree the mother-daughter time was the icing on the cake!

Nonetheless, the best vacations include some time spent relaxing and just hanging out. While they spent a LOT of time actively enjoying Elk Lake's rich natural setting, they also set aside time to chill out and soak in some peace and quiet.

Each morning the guys wished the gals a great day, then picked up their poles and headed for the water. You see this family had a distinct division of interest. The girls enjoyed the horses. The guys the fishing. The Centennial provided them with the best of both worlds!

So while the girls explored new country and awed at new sights, the guys stalked their prey - and with great success!

In fact, they had such good success, some fishing buddies who had flown out to fish the Madison became so jealous they had to drive over and join them on their last day fishing. That is quite a feat! The Centennial Valley beat out the Madison! (Not that we were the least bit surprised :-)

And, of course, one fish you will never catch in the Madison is a fairly common sight in the Centennial. How about hauling in a Grayling like that?! From the reports I heard, this was just one of many they enjoyed catching during their daily excursions.

All in all, a good time was definitely had by each one. And, as far as we're concerned, the best news: They had so much fun they were already planning their 2013 trip before they left! Now, that is what I call a memory-making, family-bonding, plain-ole'-good-times family vacation!

Lady of the Lake