Monday, November 26, 2012

Sheep on Road

Last Year's View (12/3/2011)
What the sign actually says is "Sheep on Road Next 1 Mile."  It's an electric signboard where someone can change the message, and the power comes from the sun.  For as long as I can remember, it's read just what it said this afternoon.  Usually there are no sheep on the road.  Occasionally there will be one or two.  Last winter, my cousin Ron and I slowed down to follow a pair of rams walking at a leisurely pace down the middle of the west-bound lane.  Oh, did I mention we're talking about Montana Highway 200, between Wild Horse Plains and Thompson Falls?  And the sheep in question are Rocky Mountain Big Horn Sheep (Ovis canadensis canadensis)The sheep are manifest, blatantly taking their space in the narrow canyons between the Clark Fork River and the rock walls along the north side of the highway.  There are at least three sections of road between Plains and Thompson where you are likely to see sheep, and only on rare occasions have I traveled the twenty-five miles without seeing sheep somewhere along the road.

The View West from Lower Lynch Creek Road
This morning Kevin and I drove into Thompson (the Sanders County Seat) to pay the taxes on our new home, check on employment possibilities with the Sanders County Sheriff's Office (for Kevin, not me), and pick up some groceries so I can use up the Thanksgiving leftovers.  It was a beautiful morning, blue skies, sunshine, hoar frost on the trees, low clouds rising off the river, in short--a great day for a drive.  I always intend to have my camera ready, but I have to admit, that more times than not, the camera ends up left on my desk in the library at home, and I find myself staring at absolutely gorgeous scenes with no way to share them.  No so today.

After stopping at the Post Office to pick up any new mail, then hitting Sinclair for Kevin's morning Pepsi, we turned the big red wagon toward the West, and headed to Thompson Falls.  Now the way I direct people to our new home is by telling them to drive west through Plains (Wild Horse Plains, to give it the full and proper name), drive past the bank, past the hospital, past the dinosaurs (yes, there are three concrete dinosaurs next to the highway), then at milepost 75, turn right onto Lower Lynch Creek Road.  After three and a half miles heading north, you'll come to a junction with a poorly designed road sign.  That is the sign shows the names of both roads, but doesn't indicate which road is which.  Take the left fork onto High Country Road and climb the hill for roughly 9/10s of a mile.  At that point, there will be another fork, and this time you take the right fork onto Baldy View Road.  Baldy is the mountain that rises directly behind the town of Hot Springs,  about eightteen miles north of Plains.  If Hot Springs claims the face of Baldy, I guess we view the back side.

Baldy, as seen from Montana Highway 200
A little further west on 200 and you're in the canyon so loved by the sheep.  This canyon extends most of the way to Thompson Falls, with a few sections where the valley floor might be a mile wide.  Most of the way, the mountains come down to the river on the south, and climb right back up on the north. Often there are rock faces, and these are where the sheep live.  There are several places along the highway where I long to get out with my camera in hand, but places to pull off the highway are few and far between.  One of these days, however...

For this trip, I was content to set my camera on Shutter priority in order to beat the highway speed Kevin was driving, and I took my shots through the windshield and side windows of the truck.  I'm not complaining, although usually I am not happy with the results when I try this trick.  In the past, however, I've kept the camera on Aperture Priority, and often end up with very blurred foregrounds.

The River, the Railroad, the Highway, and the Mountains Beyond
In Thompson Falls, we stopped at the Court House and paid our property taxes.  Kevin tried to catch up with a colleague in the Sheriff's Office, unsuccessfully, and we headed to Genki for lunch.  Genki is an "Asian Fusion" restaurant, which means, as near as I can tell, that the menu is a mixture of Japanese and Chinese dishes, as are the decorations on the wall.  Kevin and I both had the daily special "A" which consisted of a cup of egg drop soup, a serving of shrimp and veggie tempura (one shrimp, one slice of yam, one slice of zucchini), a serving of sweet and sour chicken, and a ball of rice which served as the East China Sea separating Japan and China, at least gastronomically.  I'm not normally a fan of egg drop soup, but this was quite tasty, easily the best I've had.  The tempura and chicken were both very good, and I left pleased with my meal.  I have no idea how such a restaurant will survive in meat and potatoes Thompson Falls, but I wondered the same thing about the restaurant that used to reside in exactly the same location.  Years ago, my friend Vaun Stevens and I drove to Thompson for the simple reason that Montana Magazine had reviewed a restaurant there and named it one of the best in Montana.  I cannot at this point summon the name of that place, but I'll never forget the experience of walking in, sitting down, and having the owner ask what we wanted--refusing to give us a menu as he didn't want to limit our choices.  I no longer remember what either of us ordered, but I do remember the meal was superb, and I also remember a special treat that the owner set down before us.  Sliced strawberries in a brown liquid that he identified only after we praised the dish.  That was my introduction to Balsamic vinegar.  I asked him at the time how he planned on surviving in Thompson Falls, Montana, with a choice of entrees that would please the most jaded big city palate.  I didn't ask the folks at Genki that question, but I do wish them well.

The Thompson River at Montana Highway 200

On the way home, I grabbed a quick shot of the Thompson River, just barely catching the river in the frame as I aimed my camera past Kevin out the driver's side window of the pickup. I set the camera on the floor, content to ride home enjoying the day.  The sun was not in a spot conducive to good photography, and besides, I figured I had a nice selection of shots already.

What the sign actually says is "Sheep on Road Next 1 Mile."  It's an electric signboard where someone can change the message, and the power comes from the sun.  For as long as I can remember, it's read just what it said this afternoon.  Usually there are no sheep on the road.  Occasionally there will be one or two.  This afternoon, what the sign should have said was "Sheep on Road Immediately In Front of Your Truck and Before You Ever Actually Reach This Sign."  Kevin hit the brakes as the five sheep, three rams and a couple of ewes, raced across the road directly in front of us.  At one point, all I could see was the tail end of a sheep so close to the hood of the truck I have no idea why we didn't hit it.  But we didn't, and I guess that's what really counts.  It doesn't matter that it all happened so quickly that I didn't have time to pick up the camera and shoot the damn sheep!

P.S. If you're coming to visit, and I really wish you would, once you turn off High Country onto Baldy View, you'll drive a short ways till you see a road leading off to the left with a street sign reading Kay Wood Dr.  Turn onto Kay Wood and proceed to the end of the road. That's where you'll find us--the only house on the street and clear at the end.  The door is open and the light is on.  Ya'll come!

1 comment:

High Anglican Hiker said...

Your sheep crossing the road remind me of the bear we saw at Yosemite a few years ago. Must have been shooed out of a campground by the rangers because he was moving at warp speed across the road. 3/8 of a second later and we'd have hit him. 4/8 of a second later and he'd have hit us.