My Montana

My Montana
My Montana

Thursday, June 20, 2013

Holland Falls Hike

Be warned - this is a longish blog.  But I couldn't stop myself from adding more and more pictures and text. . Grab your coffee first.

Last Thursday, I woke up all ready to go hike to Holland Falls, but it was raining and we had a high probability of rain throughout the day.  So I stayed home and ended up doing more volunteer work, including closing down the Auto Tour. The volunteer work consisted of designing and doing some of the writing for a brochure that we needed to have done several days ago.  It took up a lot of my rest time but didn't interfere with my play time.

Friday was still going to be cloudy and rainy, but I'd started to discover that the rain forecast here is always much worse than the the actual rain.  So I packed up my lunch,  raincoat and my Wildfire, in case I had to sit out a shower, and traveled to the next mountain range over.  This is probably thirty miles as the crow flies, but not being a crow, I had to drive south, then east and then north to get to an almost straight east destination. 

The directions were easy to follow and I enjoyed the trip.  As I approached the town of Seeley Lake, I realized I was going to pass the street that led to a larch grove that contains the continent's largest larch tree. So I took a little detour and found a pretty nice Lolo National Forest campground, along the Clearwater River.

The parking lot for the larch grove was just past the bridge over the Clearwater River. It has a circular trail with interpretative signs. This was a place the native people gathered and they managed it with fire to keep the larch trees from being overgrown by Douglass firs. Recently the Forest Service did another logging and burn to restore the area to it's historical appearance. 

The largest larch tree was on a side path leading into the center of the grove. It was so big, I had to take two pictures to show the top and bottom.  Notice the size of the other larch trees around this one. It appeared to be many times thicker than the surrounding trees and at least a fourth to a third taller.

This is all I could get of Gus's base.  Notice how skinny the surrounding trees look.

As much of the top as I could get in one picture.  I probably missed the middle third to half of the tree
This tree, believed to be 1000 years old,  is called Gus. He has a wonderful presence and a very expressive trunk.  And he definitely has character. He stands 164 feet high, down from 174 feet before his top died. His circumference is 21 feet, 11 inches. The signage says it takes twenty children to hold hands and circle him.

After a short visit with Gus and his progeny, some of which are probably about 600 years old, I returned to Highway 83 and continued north.  But only a few miles further, I had to pull of  to see what the numerous white flowers were that had not been blooming the first time I traveled this road. 

The forest floor was covered in  blooming beargrass.

Beargrass Blooms

 A few miles north of Seeley Lake, I saw the turn to the Holland Lake Recreation area.  I stopped to explore the lakeside campgrounds and the day use area, before reaching the trail head. From the vantage point of the bridge at the top of the lake, I saw a tiny, curving white line that appeared  from and then disappeared back into the trees. This was Holland Falls, my destination. But I still had to drive over a mile before starting my hike to it.

The trail to Holland Falls was one of several that could be reached from this parking lot.  I think I had to walk a fourth of a mile to get on that trail and then another mile and a half to reach the falls.  The trail started out flat and then had a few undulations before I reached the lake side. The day was cloudy with off and on misty rain, but not to the point of needing a raincoat. Mine was the only car in the parking lot and I had the trail and the day all to myself. I enjoyed the misty light on the lake and plants.

Trail near the start

This red squirrel insisted on posing for me
I enjoyed watching the raindrop patterns on the lake

Several ravens were having a confab
I was surprised to see this Mariposa lily growing on the lake bank under Douglass firs
The path started to climb amid plants that were growing every more lushly.  At a few points, I could only see a foot-wide path and was pushing through the shrubs.  Soon I was hearing the sound of falling water.  Then I saw a bridge over a small stream that was falling down the mountain in a series of waterfalls.  Not far past that, I walked over an even smaller stream that was racing down the hill. The path continued to climb and I came out of the lush area to one that was more rocky and open. 

Climbing but still pretty easy

Thimbleberries were making up part of the lush growth
The largest of the two small streams.
Then I got to a steep part of the trail that went through a rock fall.  But it was still pretty easy to walk, even though I was glad I was using my walking poles. And I was hearing a huge roar, so knew my destination was near. And my views now stretch for miles across the lake to the Mission Mountains.

View from near the top of the trail.  Mountains are in sunlight while the lake is under clouds
The falls were fantastic.  The overlook was probably about a third from the bottom of the falls.  I think they were probably a couple of football fields long.  They ended at least another couple of football fields from the lake.  I was still at least a hundred feet from the falls but occasionally felt some of the mist blowing off them. I stayed long enough and took so many pictures that I felt almost immersed in the falls.

Long view of the falls from the overlook

Close view of the top of the falls
A closer view

My favorite picture - the falls fill the whole background, strike the rocks and then pour out the lower left

The falls continued below me
 After spending about twenty minutes at the falls, I turned around and made my way back.  I was amazed at how much time I'd spent taking pictures. It only took me about forty minutes to get back after it had taken about one and a half hours to get up to the falls. I did stop twice to take pictures.  Once of a fabulous area, the size of a large house that was full of lupines and red Indian paint brush. The other time was when I met what must have been a whole camp group of children when I was over half way down.

Nature's garden
The only hikers I saw

Another wonderful exploration day.  And  had a visit to a family of new friends to look forward to  on Saturday.  I had another wonderful day of visiting and hiking with Zoey and her girls.  That will have to wait for the next blog.

Thursday, June 13, 2013

Hike in Rattlesnake National Recreation Area

The  thing I love most about working in the northwest is the remarkable amount of public lands on which to play.  I had to go to Missouli, so chose to go bird watching in the morning, run some errands, then hike, before getting my groceries.

I found my way to the Rattlesnake Recreation Area and then noticed I had a plethora of  choices. And by the looks of the full parking lot, a lot of people planned to be hiking or riding bikes in the area, even though the day had turned cloudy. AND there is a separate parking lot for horse trailers.  Each trail is labeled as to who can use it.  All can be hiked, but on some ridden on horseback or bicycle.

Part of the large parking lot
I started off along Rattlesnake Creek which was running full, fast and loud from the snow melt.This wide trail was through a flat area and I saw a few families with children along here. I also took several short detours to get better views of the creek and look for blooming wildflowers.

I think this is large false Soloman's seal

The trail was wide, flat and well maintained along the creek.
Some of the signs along the trails were about invasive plants.  The signs and even the map of the area asks you to pull up ten of the noxious weeds and to check yourself and your dog for seeds and remove them.

One of the noxious weeds - leafy spurge
Soon I decided to leave this trail and hike up through Spring Gulch, which went up into Strawberry Ridge. But even here, I found a bathroom. I meant to climb higher but spent lot of time chasing bees and flies - sometimes I couldn't tell what I was chasing until I blew up the picture.  So I ended up turning before I meant to. 

A real bathroom way out in the woods

A tiny creek made for a much nicer hiking  music but was mostly invisible

One of the bees I found
 I headed down Stuart Park Trail, which parallels Spring Gulch.  Soon I was finding signs of the people who used to live in this area. Lilacs are always indicators of former dwellings.

 There were lots of wildflowers blooming, and most of them were ones that grow in open forests so we don't have them on the refuge.

Tall lupines grew in big groups

The first red  Indian paint brush I have see around here.
The longer I hiked, the smaller the trails became. I met several people - some hiking with dogs, some on bikes, and a group of young men hiking to the area where they are allowed to camp. When I reached another junction, I decided I needed to walk more longer, so took a trail that wound up hill.  This would not have been so bad except I'd walked about five miles already, sostruggled to reach the top.

Will this trail ever end?
But finally I got to the top and started back down.  Soon the woods gave way to meadows and I started to find Mariposa lilies among the grass. Some kind of beetle had also found them.

Only a few miles left to go to get back into the valley in the back left of this picture
The trail wound down and around and finally entered another wooded area.  I came out on to a road that was closed to cars - this is Sawmill Gulch.  There is also a narrow,  parallel trail that wound through the woods and was very popular with cyclists.  Finally I reached the parking lot.  This was a trip of about eight miles.

I was tired and ready to go home but still had to go grocery shopping. But I did have fun except for maybe the last mile.  Hopefully I can get back in shape be able to walk fifteen miles at a time.  Some of the prettiest places take a lot of work to get to them.

Saturday, June 8, 2013

Bird Watching at Kelly Island

I failed twice to get a prescription filled without making a personal trip to Missoula, so I planned a trip there for Friday. A new friend recommended some places to visit in the area.  The one that seemed the most interesting for birding was a place called Kelly Island Fishing Access on the Clark Fork River.

My GPS couldn't find it, so I tried using 7th street in Missoula as a point. This made me end up in the next town past Missoula.  I regrouped, re-read my directions and tried using Mullan Road.  This plus stopping to ask for directions eventually worked.  After I got home, I looked it up on line and found there are two more ways to access the area - and think will give access to more territory. I'll have to go back because this was a really productive site.

I started the trip with a lifer - a red-naped sapsucker.  What a brilliant guy.  But he was not in a good location for me to get a full picture of him. And I hadn't even crossed the bridge that leads into the area yet. A blue-winged teal flew by.

Red-naped sapsucker

I stepped over the chain preventing car access and started across the bridge.   Then I heard a chickadee.  I was able to get pictures of him both at the start and end of my trip.  The couple of trees/shrubs held Bullocks oriole, cedar waxwings, Eastern Kingbirds, brown-headed cowbirds, robins,  a kingfisher, and probably several birds that I didn't ever get clear views of.

Actively foraging black-capped chickadee

Brown-headed cowbird

Female Bullock's oriole

One of four cedar waxwingsI saw  - all in pairs.

I finally tore myself away from the area around a little creek and started walking through a meadow.  Two ospreys flew overhead while I walked through the meadow to the trees.  My plan was to walk east until I got to the trees along the stream, then turn and follow the curve to the south  and west.  I was soon forcibly reminded of mosquitoes - haven't seen any since I've been here. I think I provided about a cup of blood to the food network.  So I brushed mosquitoes off in groups while watching  starlings, magpies, red-winged blackbirds and other species flying overhead. Tree swallows flew or perched in dead trees.Two birds that flew in to the dead tree turned out to be cedar waxwings.

The creek I found where I expected the river

When I reached the shrubs, I found I was walking by a little creek that was full, fast, and loud. There were a few little birds feeding but I couldn't get good looks at them, due to dim light, and their fast movements. So I moved out from under the thick shrubs and walked so the sun would be behind me, to help see the birds I could hear. A bright yellow flash caught my eye - it turned to be a female yellow warbler who mostly moved fast through the bushes catching insects. I caught lots of glimpses of singing catbirds - and heard many more. In the same area, I caught the flutter of a male American Redstart but could only get mediocre pictures of him as he fluttered through the branches in search of insects. 

Female yellow warbler

American Redstart
Right after I saw the redstart, I worked my way down to the intersection of this creek with the Clark Fork River and watched lots of birds flying over, including blackbirds, and Eurasian starlings carrying food and Eastern Kingbirds catching insects. Then a lone duck swam back and forth across the inlet to the creek.  It was a common merganser.

View from almost the end of the second creek

Common Merganser

I had to stop and admire some cute little blue and yellow flowers which, I think, are American speedwell.  Then I walked as far west as I could and admired the conjunction of the western stream and the river. This was the one I had walked over on a bridge at the entrance to the area. A movement caught my eye.  It was a mother mallard and several ducklings swimming close to the far bank.   I had my camera set to find faraway birds and couldn't get the entire group in the picture but I think she had six or seven ducklings. An "auntie" bird - or at least another female, was at the back of the scraggly line.  Then I caught the flash of a bird landing and looked way up the hill to see a flicker sitting in a pine tree.

American speedwell

Momma Mallard and some of her half-grown ducklings

A flicker watched over the duckling scene from way up the hill
 I finished walking back to the bridge but had to stay there a while to enjoy the birds. Then the bison in the adjoining field start acting up and a pair challenged each other. Another bull joined in and there were three of them chasing each other. The second one was the main aggressor and the third one just seemed to be enjoying running after the first two.

Bison confrontation

Chasing through the creek

And just as I left the area, I had to stop and take a yard full of alpacas.  The yard had to be less than half an acre, but had more alpacas than fit in my picture. Pretty amazing in a neighborhood.

And that was just my early morning adventure. After running a few errands, I went on a hike in the Rattlesnake Creek Recreation Area.  I'll tell you about that next time.