With just a few days left before summer the snow is gone from the valleys of western Montana, but some still remains on the mountains. Yesterday despite some rain in the air I tested one of my favorite trails that leads to the old lookout on the top of Big Hole peak. At the trail head the ground was bare but the breeze was quite cold. A mile up the trail and about 700 feet higher in elevation the sky was spitting a little snow along with the light drizzle and the remaining snowbanks started to make hiking difficult. I turned around there, knowing that the snow would only get deeper farther up the trail and it was still a mile and a half to the top. Another week, perhaps…
The Clark Fork Valley through the clouds, photo taken from near the start of the trail.
Winter was a little unkind to trail 368.
At the 6,200 foot level the snowbanks began to block the trail and the weather was closing in.
Wildflower species that finished their bloom over a month ago at the valley level (Glacier Lilies and Spring Beauties) are beginning their springtime bloom now just below the snow line. For the visitor from the valley it is a step back one season, while at TeePee Creek, where the road to the trail head starts its climb out of the valley, Queen’s Cup is beginning to bloom.
It grows in disturbed areas, sometimes where other shrubs cannot establish themselves. I’ve seen dense thickets of it cover old forest roads, establish itself on burned hillsides and provide green growth in avalanche tracks.
I know that it improves soil fertility by fixing atmospheric nitrogen in nodules on its roots.
I’ve had it make me extremely uncomfortable when I had to push my way through its dense growth that completely covered a back country trail while hoping that the bear who left a fresh pile of scat and minutes-old tracks on the trail was not still in its almost impenetrable thicket.
Yet it was only recently that I realized that there is also beauty to be found in the tiny flowers in its long and drooping male catkins.
Here are a few of the small critters that I’ve encountered during the last month or so: it wouldn’t be right to leave them out because they were kind enough to let me photograph them.
A Pine Siskin, maybe not the best groomed, but the friendliest of all our local birds. I think they are pretty special.
Crab spider: I thought they came in many colors until I found that they have the ability to change color, although it takes them a while to do it.
Not everyone has a hundred-pound bat hanging (literally) around the place. This one is a year-round resident.
This bull snake was pretty good sized and did his very best rattlesnake imitation for me complete with a hiss that sounded very much like a rattle and a quite professional strike at my hand. He’s a very pretty and beneficial snake!
A yellow-headed blackbird: I had never seen one before and thought I had quite a find until I read that they are actually very common.
Don’t pay any attention to this frog… he’s hiding.