Lewis & Clark Caverns Candlelight Tour 2012

For several years I’ve wanted to do the Lewis & Clark Caverns Candlelight Tour. This year it worked out. I’m so glad it did! It had been many years since last I visited the caverns, and I had forgotten how fantastic that subterranean wonderland is!

More photos from that tour are here:  http://www.bigskycountry.net/lewis-clark_caverns_candle-light-tour_2012

It turned out to be a great day, after all…

Today my sister and I met a truck driver friend at the rest area near Opportunity, MT to show him around the Deer Lodge Valley.  We were sure, just sure, that we’d be able to find some good raptors along the East River Road in the Deer Lodge Valley, or bighorn sheep in the valley west of Anaconda, or great gray owls at Georgetown Lake.  We got skunked all around and soon our friend’s free time was expired.  We returned him to his truck, but we weren’t quite ready to call it a day just yet.  So, we headed west again.  We saw distant bighorn sheep, then, at Georgetown Lake, our luck REALLY turned around, when we came upon a most cooperative great gray owl.

When I first spotted him, he was at the top of a tree about 35-40 yards away from the road.  We did not leave the road both not to trespass on private property and not to trespass on the owl’s personal space and send him flying.

After some time, he flew to a tree closer to the road, and there he stayed until our fingers and toes were numb.

It was a clear, bright, cold day and the wind was blowing. If you are familiar with the area, you just said “no surprise, that!”

On the way home, we found a small herd of bighorn sheep 20 yards off a road, in the front yard of a home in the Anaconda West Valley.

If only we had been able to share those sights with our friend!

Winter Arrives

Winter solstice is a couple weeks away, but winter has arrived in Western Montana.  From me, winter gets a friendly “Welcome!”

sunrise filtered through snow covered trees on Lolo Creek

The sub-alpine fir trees up on Lolo Pass are one good storm away from turning into snow ghosts.

Snow loaded sub-alpine fir trees

Also welcome was a visit from a flock of pine grosbeaks to the ornamental apple trees in our yard.

This young ram seem to be a little lonely – rut time and he’s not a dominant ram yet.

young bighorn ram in winter

The arrival of winter weather preceded the Geminid Meteor Shower by a few days, making watching the meteor shower from Lolo Pass a bit chilly, but still delightful.

Falling into Winter around Missoula – 2012

I enjoy the changes of seasons, not just that we have season in MT, all of which I enjoy, but I enjoy the transition from one season to another.

As autumn “falls” into winter, there are so many beautiful sights to enjoy.

Fly fishermen enjoying the fine fall day in the Clark Fork River near Maclay Flats

fly fishermen in the Clark Fork River near Missoula, MT

On another walk at Maclay Flats, I found a napping northern saw-whet owl

Napping Northern Saw-whet Owl

Meanwhile, a fine dusting of snow covered the mix of evergreen trees and western larch trees along Lolo Creek.   If you aren’t familiar with western larch trees, western larch is a conifer that has needles that turn gold and fall off in the autumn.  They are a deciduous conifer.

Western larch (deciduous conifers) and evergreen conifers dusted with fresh snow along Lolo Creek.

Ah…  Fall in western Montana!

Yellowstone, October 18-21, 2012

The family and I enjoyed a four day fall weekend in Yellowstone National Park October 18-21, 2012.

The Park was relatively quiet.  The fires of September weren’t kicking up smoke, the elk rut was winding down, migratory birds had largely departed, the bears were playing hard to find…  But, of course, there was still plenty to enjoy.

This ruffed grouse seemed to be on a mission. We were surprised when it landed on the roof of my dad’s van, but I learned later that was a routine event for this bird throughout the fall.

Gray jays and Clark’s nutcrackers made picnics a bit difficult, living up to their camp robber moniker, forcing us to keep all food covered and under close guard.  Pretty little thieves, though…

Dad and I enjoyed a bit of a chuckle when we came across this handsome coyote.  He had an audience of about 20 people as he was mousing for dinner.  His audience, however, thought he was a wolf and bolted when he charged at a ground squirrel, like a wolf was attacking.  Dad asked if I was going to inform them it was a coyote.  I said “and ruin their good find and thrill?  No way!  I’ll let them have their “wolf!”  I was pretty sure that if they reported a “wolf attack” (the only possible problem with allowing them to continue thing it a wolf), and showed a Ranger their pictures, it would be a swiftly dismissed report.  Naughty of me, maybe, but sometimes…

mousing coyote

On the evening of the October 19, I left the rest of the crew at the hotel and went back into the Park for an evening check on the Swan Lake Flat area.  There, I found a bull elk with a HUGE harem of cows under a fiery sky.

colorful sunset clouds


The next morning we stopped across the road from the Mammoth Campground where another harem bull was, apparently, too worn down from the rigors of the rut to be bothered to keep the younger bulls chased off.  This pair was sparring within the harem.

young bull elk sparring

After a day of off-and-on storms, rainbows made an appearance in the afternoon, much to the delight of one cousin/niece.

It soon started storming again, but my other little cousin/niece really wanted to take a walk at the Mammoth Terraces, so she and I took a walk in the rain.  After all, her sister got her rainbow…

Palette Springs grows more and becomes more colorful every time I visit for the last couple years.

The colors of Palette Terrace - Mammoth Hot Springs

I had not visited the Upper Terrace for several months and was not aware that the springs were “plugged up” and the terraces dried up.

dry travertine terraces at Mammoth Hot Springs

Here’s a comparison from September of 2009 – aptly titled “Where Geologic Time Flies.”  What a difference three years makes, eh?!

The highlight of the next day, and, for many members of our divided party, was this fox hunting from a fallen log the next day.

red fox walking on fallen log

Not as action packed as some trips (which have been worthy of a report each day), but a great trip nonetheless.