Hiking to Cold Lake, At Last!

Driving north up Montana Highway 83 we see the Swan Mountains on the right and the Mission Mountains to the left. Gorgeous scenery as we drive up the Swan Valley. There is a hike that has been on my mind for two years and today, finally, I will make it to Lower Cold Lake. Look, there’s Swan Mountain, the rocky peak between the tree-covered mountains. It is the second highest peak in the Swan Range at 9,289 feet and it even has glaciers, but today we hike in the Mission Mountains. It’s only a little further to US Forest Service road #903 which begins our climb to the Cold Lakes’ trailhead. It’s a beautiful day and I’m sure you’ll enjoy this hike with me!

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To the trailhead . . .

Ride~About: The Unique Pryor Mountains

What a great idea. We have the maps and a free day, so leaving at 5am we journey three hours east to the unique Pryor Mountains. They are very different from what we expect in Montana that boasts of the Rocky Mountains in the west and the Great Plains in the east. Rather than the glacier-carved granite of the Rockies, such as the Beartooth range only 40 miles west, here we have an island of sandstone and shale mountains reaching up from the prairie high enough to including spectacular limestone canyons. The Pryors are not only geologically unique, but culturally, ecologically, and meteorologically as well. What an unexpected and beautiful landscape!pryor mountain road Continue driving with us . . .

SNAP*Shots: Mountain Goats

There is one thing about mountain goats; they really blend into their surroundings. Considering they were about 10 yards off the road down a slight slope with a nearby parking area, it didn’t seem possible that no one saw them, but no one stopped. I don’t think people knew what we were photographing so intently as they drove by. We loved it!blending-1784

Continue . . .

The Lake They Call Avalanche

Glacier National Park is a gorgeous and amazing testament to the glaciers that covered the area for thousands of years with ice up to a mile deep. All that moving, melting, and re-melting ice formed this northern section of the Rocky Mountains. A carved masterpiece of U-shaped valleys, hanging valleys, cirques and tarns, paternoster lakes, and moraines. So let’s walk a little over two miles to see a glacier-formed valley which is the home of Avalanche Lake. I know it is uphill all the way, but we just have to go. Come on!
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Continue our hike . . .

SNAP*Shot: July 4th Dazzle!

Is there any better way to spend the July 4th weekend than taking a photo seminar at Lamar Buffalo Ranch? Hint: the answer is NO! Bison walking around the cabins, badgers visiting, Pronghorn and even moose wandering through the valley, and a short walk into the mountains for flowers and quiet.
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Wait a minute, it is July 4th. We are missing the fireworks, the ooo’s and aaaah’s, the smiles on everyone’s face. So as the sun begins to set, looking west we have an amazing golden evening. Not fireworks, but beautiful. The clouds begin to cover the sun that we will not see again today except for it highlighting the clouds and offering orange along the horizon.
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In Yellowstone it is always a good idea to turn around. There might be something big coming your way, but more often there is a beautiful sight you just couldn’t see from the other direction. Right now is no exception. The storms are coming in from the east, and as the golden sun hits the storm clouds–we have our “fireworks”!

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Don’t forget to slow down and look behind you! Until next time . . .

SNAP*Shots: Eared Grebes

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What a surprise! On my morning walk around Cattail Lake there were six pair of Eared Grebes. I have only ever seen them in Yellowstone but here they are. I know they nest in colonies, so maybe six pair could be a colony? I’m so excited that we may have baby Grebes close to home this year! The young ride on their parent’s back for the first two weeks of their lives. What a sight that would be! Let’s see what a little research turns up.

Continue . . .

Early Spring at Trout Lake

Early spring in the Rocky Mountains is a roller coaster ride–nights below freezing then days in the 70’s followed by days in the 40’s. We start with a beautiful sunrise followed by rain, sleet, hail, then snow before we again watch the sun as it sets. A time when winter will not give up its grip but summer will not be denied. Snow is receding and green is winning the day, so let’s head to Trout Lake in the Northern Range of Yellowstone and search for signs that summer is on the way.

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Up to the lake we go . . .

Ride~About: Savoring Spring

Early spring, a time to savor the blessed warmth of the sun rising higher in the sky, the snow giving way to flowing creeks and warm ground, and all nature’s creatures relishing the release from the frigid challenge of staying alive. Soaking up the rays on a beautiful spring day is wonderful for all of us and this bison cow could not be more peaceful. springToday we will drive the loop from Bozeman, MT to enter Yellowstone through the West Entrance in West Yellowstone. We’ll then explore sections of the park that are open to early-spring auto travel, and return to Bozeman by way of Mammoth Hot Springs. Come, let’s explore together the season that is the promise of renewal!

Continue in anticipation. . .

SNAP*Shots: Trumpeter Swans

Trumpeter Swans, beautiful and majestic, are North America’s largest waterfowl and heaviest flying bird. This dark, windy winter day is brightened by this white beauty keeping an eye on us as she guards her family. Females are called a pens; males are called cobs.adult trumpeter swanTrumpeter Swans are a native species to North America. Most Trumpeters weigh 21-30 pounds, although large males can reach 35 pounds. Standing on the ground, an adult male can stand four feet high. With a wingspan over seven feet carrying that heavy body, Trumpeters need at least 100 yard “runway” of open water; running hard and fast across the surface of the water in order to generate enough speed for take off. What a sight!

Beginning in the late 1800s, Trumpeter’s were hunted to near extinction for their feathers to adorn fashionable hats, skin for face powder puffs, and long flight feathers coveted for writing quills. Aggressive conservation efforts helped the species recover by the early 2000’s. Since they generally build their nests atop beaver or muskrat dens, overhunting of these rodents diminished breeding habitat for Trumpeters. As the rodent populations recovered, the swan numbers improved. One of these years you’d think we’d recognize that this world is a system with each part relying on the others, including animals, bugs, birds, plants and people, hopefully helping preserve the balance. Sigh . . . but we did good with the Trumpeters since in most of their range there are healthy populations that continue to increase.

Nests are sometimes built on large floating mats of vegetation. Their nest can be 11 feet across and 3 feet high and is often used by the same pair year after year. The young swans, called cygnets, turn white at about 1-1/2 years old. There are usually four to six eggs in a swan’s clutch. Trumpeters have an unusual way of incubating their eggs: they warm the eggs by covering them with their webbed feet. Once hatched in June, the cygnets can swim and feed within 24 hours. By 15 weeks they will have gained over a pound a week reaching up to 20 lbs. and will now be able to fly.young trumpeter swansIt is assumed that Trumpeters mate for life, but it appears that they change mates a number of times over their normal  lifetimes of more than 20 years. Cygnets stay with the parents over their first winter, but the parents chase them away in the spring as they begin planning for their next family. The young swans stay in sibling groups until about two years old when they themselves start the search for a mate and a new life in a remote open-water area.

SNAP-Shots: Winter at the Lower Falls

Yellowstone in the white wrapping of winter is a stunning wonderland. Winter at the Lower Falls is magical with blue ice growing ever thick and wide in this frigid season. An ice cone forms at the base of the falls from splash, mist, and snowfall until it is over half as tall as the falls itself. The water, thick with cold, crashes down 308 feet sending mist into the air taller than the falls. The roar of the falls from Lookout Point is muffled this time of year from all the constraints in it’s path, but once at the bottom, the Yellowstone River flows downhill and north, free of the ice cover it struggled through before the falls. The beauty of this place just begs for us to linger. As the wind picks up, we don’t have enough layers to keep the freezing chill at bay, so time to return to the warmth of the snowcoach and smile at the beauty of this special place.

Lower Falls in Winter

White Porcelain

Yellowstone in winter is truly a wonderland. A quiet solitude, the result of few park visitors and the muffling effect of deep snow. Vast sparkling snow landscapes that feel disorienting and measuring snow depth in feet defines winter here. Last autumn we visited Porcelain Basin, one of two basins at Norris Geyser Basin. Today we will marvel at the basin in its winter glory–White Porcelain this time of year! Welcome to Yellowstone’s most acidic and hottest hydrothermal area and one of the most active earthquake areas in Yellowstone.Porcelain Basin

Bundle up and let’s go

Sugar Sand Dunes

The Gulf Coast is beautiful, but walking away from the beach to the other side of the sugar sand dunes there is a beautiful area that has salt marshes, sand live oak shaded walkways, a rare dune lake, and beautiful scenery. Are you ready to go for a walk in Grayton State Park? There’s an inviting entrance–let’s go.sand live oak trail

Continue our walk