Tuesday, June 9, 2009

He Took Her For A Swan--Part II

Upper Red Rock LakeReeds growing in Upper Red Rocks Lake

Taken 6/6/09

Beaverhead County, Montana

NOTE PLEASE: Clicking on any photograph will open a full-screen version of that photo in a separate window. All links also open in a separate window.

Dell, a wide spot on the road, sits at Interstate 15's exit 23 in southern Beaverhead County, Montana. If you take the exit and turn east, you will find yourself face to face with an old school house (built 1903). The building is surrounded by buggies and wagons, including the shell of a sheepherder's wagon, and is festooned with ornamental lights and a sign reading "Dell Calf-A." You see, nowadays it's a restaurant. The café (or calf-a) is my favorite place to stop for a bite along I-15. Used to be service was family-style, with heaping trays of meat and veggies being passed down the long tables. These days, Health Department rulings don't allow that. Sit down, order your own meal, eat it, pay and leave. Of course, you might end up sitting down the table from a complete stranger, and you might end up having quite a conversation with that stranger. That's what happened when Kevin and I stopped for lunch, last Saturday.

You'll remember that we were on our way to the Centennial Valley, an area I thought to be north and west of Dell but which turned out to be south and east. I had my camera along and Kevin had one of his ham sets in the Saab. The weather hadn't let us put the top down, but we'd been tooling along at a good clip and the Saab was sipping its fuel instead of the pickup or Expedition gulping it. Kevin had just finished up a conversation with a painter from Arkansas who was looking to spend his summer in the Butte, Montana area. He too was headed for the Dell Calf-A, and suggested we look him up once we reached the restaurant. Such things happen when you're a ham operator--or so I'm learning. Kevin's call sign, by the way, is W1KGK, or Whiskey One, KGK, as my good Mormon boyfriend puts it.

As it turns out, we didn't meet the painter, but did end up sharing a table with a Canadian who has traded long-haul trucking for traveling North America on a Honda Gold Wing. We started talking about dogs--he has a Shi Tsu--and ended up talking about road trips. He was heading south to California, then up the coast. Personally, I'd rather do it a convertible, but to each his own.

Leaving Dell, we continued south to Monida, exit 0, and turned east. The pavement ended rather quickly, and the road sign indicated that we had 28 miles to cover before we would reach Lakeview. The road was fairly well maintained, and Kevin was able to keep the speed around 40 mph as we crossed mile after mile with nothing but grassland to see. There were mountains on the horizon, but the clouds were low enough that we could see their sides only intermittently and the peaks almost never. Listening to conversations on the ham set we kept hearing about the possibility of snow. This is Montana, after all.

Kevin braked abruptly and indicated that I should look to the left. Sure enough, there was a small herd of pronghorn just off the road. Of course, being rather skittish animals, as soon as I climbed from the car, the beasts turned tail and ran. I did get some shots of fuzzy looking animals at a distance, but nothing I'd care to share here.

Continuing on toward Lakeview and the Red Rock Lakes, we passed several groves of paper birch. I don't think I've ever seen so much paper birch before--beautiful trees. We drove through Lakeview, and on to Upper Red Rock Lake where we stopped for a potty break and some photography. Unfortunately, the wind was blowing so strongly that none of my macro shots turned out--the plants were moving faster than the shutter. I did see (and shoot) a couple of ducks swimming in the lake, and the shot of reeds in the water shown at the top of this page.

Snowslide above the Red Rock LakesSnowslide
Taken 6/6/09
Upper Red Rock Lake, Beaverhead County, Montana

Turning away from the lake, I saw this snow slide, and shot it. Later I got another shot of it from the other side of the lake. You'll note that the peak is lost in the clouds. There is a campground at Upper Red Rock Lake, and I'd like to come back later in the summer with the camper, the canoe, and my sailboard. I'll have to check if windsurfing is allowed, as the signs indicated canoeing only.

Driving on toward the east, we passed the end of the lake, and the road turned north. Soon we reached a decision point--turn to the west and drive along the northern boundary of the refuge, or toward the east and cross over into Idaho to pick up US 87. We turned west and quickly found ourselves driving through sand dunes. The Saab handled the sandy road quite well, but had the sand been any deeper, who knows.

At one point I had Kevin stop so I could try and get the grouse that were rising from the grass. No matter how stealthily I stalked, I never succeeded in getting any shots of the grouse. And the one time I thought I might get them, all that showed in the photograph was grass. Oh well. It was soon after this failed experiment that we came across the pronghorn who so graciously posed for the shot in the first Beaverhead County post.

Soon enough, we reached another decision point. 17 miles back to Monida and Interstate 15, or 55 miles to Alder and Montana highway 287. We chose the latter. In no time at all we were climbing a steep mountain road, through intermittent rain and snow, and the road was getting worse and worse.

When the car started sliding from side to side, I begged Kevin to slow down, but he replied "In mud, momentum is your friend." I tried to remain calm and held on for dear life, repeating my mantra "Today is a good day to die."

What seemed like hours later, we topped the crest and started our descent on a much better maintained Madison County road. Beaverhead County is so large, with so many back roads, that there just isn't the money to go around. Madison County is no richer than Beaverhead, but it isn't as large either.

Buffalo not roamingBison, definitely NOT roaming
Taken 6/6/09
Ruby River Ranch, Madison County, Montana

As we continued our descent, we passed the Ruby River Ranch and its herd of bison. These bison were definitely not roaming, but they didn't seem too perturbed by the electric fence, either. We also encountered some traffic on the road--much more vehicular traffic than I would have expected, but some wildlife, as well. This pronghorn seemed determined to set the pace as he trotted along in front of us.

an antelope not playingWell, if the buffalo aren't roaming, the antelope surely are
Taken 6/6/09
Madison County, Montana


Eventually we found ourselves following the upper stretches of the Ruby River down toward civilization. This is another area where I want to park the camper. My friend Rick and I camped by a small hot-springs fed pond on the west side of the Ruby River Reservoir many years ago, and I'd love to go back. This is the home for Montana's second Territorial Capitol, Virginia City, which, unlike Bannack, only looks like a ghost town. In reality it's the county seat of Madison County and in the summer time it hosts numerous tourist events. I love to go see the Brewery Follies, a sort of home-grown Capitol Steps type review of political song and satire. If you're more into the Olde Time Melodrama, you can get that every evening at the Opera House. There are staged shoot-outs on the main street, and lots of tourist kitsch to keep everyone happy.

This trip, however, we needed to get home to shoot the dog, er give Rocky his insulin injection, so we turned west, driving through Sheridan, Twin Bridges, Butte, Deer Lodge and Drummond, to get home only a little late for Rocky's evening medication.

While I can't recommend taking a sports car through the roads we traveled, if you're up for some adventure, lots of incredible scenery, and more wildlife than you can shake a stick at, you can't beat Montana's Beaverhead and Madison Counties.

If you read my first post on this subject, you may recall that the intent was for me to get some great shots of Trumpeter Swans. Well, even though the brochure we picked up at Upper Red Rocks Lake states that the swans are common all four seasons of the year, this trip we saw nary a one. Not a single swan appeared to pose for my camera. Not one! I guess we'll have to go back.

the Upper Ruby RiverThe upper Ruby River
Taken 6/6/09
Madison County, Montana

As a final note, there were a couple of things deserving of photographic documentation that, like the swans, I failed to capture. First, in southern Madison County there is a stream named "Poison Creek." It has a road, the "Poison Creek Road" that is labeled, appropriately enough, "Dead End." Unfortunately the signs were facing in opposite directions, so I couldn't get a good juxtaposing shot. And speaking of shots, at "Vigilante Station," also in southern Madison County, there is a sign that reads "No shooting." Seems like a contradiction in terms to me.

1 comment:

snaphappee said...

I love the lines in your photos! The snow "trail," the water leading through the last one...very nice!

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