Montana Outdoors

July 24, 2008

Surprised by the lens… again.

Filed under: Montana, Nature, Outdoors, Photography, Photos, Pictures, Wildflowers — Tags: — montucky @ 4:29 pm

On a fishing trip yesterday along this favorite stream,

Thompson River

I noticed many of these small flowers which grow on very short stems (1 – 2 inches high) and which are almost completely hidden by other very tall plants and tall, thick grasses. In a place which afforded a small window through all of the vegetation, I was able to get this photo of the flower and was once more surprised and delighted at what the lens revealed.

Self-heal, Prunella vulgaris

(Alice in) Wonderland flower

I’ve glanced at perhaps thousands of these over many years, but only now have I really looked at one. (You might want to click on the photo, which will take you to my Flickr page, where you can view a larger image.)

July 21, 2008

July: they keep on blooming

Filed under: Montana, Nature, Outdoors, Photography, Photos, Pictures, Wildflowers — Tags: — montucky @ 9:34 pm

Among all of the distractions of a Montana summer, it wouldn’t be right to ignore the wildflowers that just keep blooming. I greatly enjoy their beauty even though I can’t identify all of them.



This plant is quite low growing and the blossom would suggest a fruit, but I can’t place it.


Blue unknown


Elderberry. It’s interesting to see this one blooming while at the same time the fruit of the Serviceberry is already ripe.

Elderberry blossoms

Looks like a species of geranium?

Wild geranium

These bright colored blossoms are growing high on the river bank, nearly buried in the taller vegetation. (In mid and late summer, the vegetation along the river below my house grows thick and luxuriant. In the spring, one can easily walk along the bank, but now the plants are as tall as I am and walking through them becomes hazardous because of the pits the beavers will sometimes dig there and the possibility of diamondbacks nestled down in the shade.)



July 20, 2008

There’s something about this trail…

Baldy Mountain flower garden

Baldy Mountain trail, T340

(USFS trail T340 through the Baldy Mountain roadless area in western Montana’s Cabinet Mountains, another wild area under constant attack by exploitation.)

July 18, 2008

Penrose Peak, Part 9

As you look toward the northwest from Penrose, in the first photo, and a little more to the north in the second, you are looking out over nearly all of the 59 square miles of the Cherry Peak roadless area. It has long been managed as a roadless, non-motorized use area, home to abundant wildlife of many different species including the big game species of grizzly bears, black bears, cougars, bobcats, wolves, deer, elk, moose and bighorn sheep, (and very likely Canadian Lynx) and a wealth of smaller species including ptarmigan which is not endangered, but pretty darn scarce these days.

It’s an area of very secluded retreat for the occasional traveler on foot or horseback where the natural world can be viewed and enjoyed in approximately the condition it has been in for thousands of years.

In the proposed Lolo National Forest plan, it will all be opened for winter motorized use (snowmobiles), and the upper slopes of Cameron and Lynx Creeks (visible in the canyon area in the left center of the first photo) will be opened to regularly scheduled timber production (which would include road building and the further use of those roads for wheeled motorized travel). I have asked before and now ask again in concert with a large number of conservation groups… “why in the world would we want to do that“?

Cherry Peak roadless area

Cherry Peak

(These are my favorite two photos and they have made the whole trip well worthwhile for me. I will cherish them for a long, long time.)

July 17, 2008

Penrose Peak, Part 8

The “cab” on the peak.

There is very little information available about most of the lesser known western mountain peaks, and what is available is hard to come by. In my searches for information on Penrose I found practically nothing, but it did show up in one listing of peaks that had been used as fire lookouts. That fact was way in the back of my mind as I hiked the last part of the trail to the top, and therefore it was somewhat of a surprise when I ascended above this last snowbank

Penrose peak, just before the summit

and looked up to see this sight above me.

Penrose Peak

Penrose Peak

The listing was correct: Penrose had once been the site of a fire lookout, the kind that, because of the way the top of the peak was configured, needed no tower. In this case a simple cabin, called a “ground cab”, was built with rock walls and possibly glass windows all around with a gabled roof. The base is still in surprisingly good condition.

With no good information to go on, I can only guess at the dates of the lookout. While there were fire lookout towers even before the founding of the U.S. Forest Service in 1905, I would guess this one might have been built after that.

A huge wildfire in 1910 known as the “Great Fire of 1910” or the “Big Blowup” burned over 3 million acres of forest through Washington, Idaho and Montana and killed 87 people. Even when I was a kid in the 1940’s much of the burn area from it could be plainly seen across western Montana and I still remember my father pointing it out to me as we drove through some of the high mountain areas. Smoke from that fire was heavy in Denver, 700 miles southeast, and the ash fallout caused street lamps to be turned on in the afternoon in Missoula Montana about 70 miles away. There were reports that traces of the smoke actually made it as far east as Washington DC.

One of the results of this fire was that early fire detection and suppression became a priority and caused a huge increase in the building of fire lookout towers for early detection, aided in 1933 by the formation of the Civilian Conservation Corps which made available an enormous amount of manpower and funding. By the late 30’s there were around 8,000 fire lookout towers in the United States. My guess is that the one on Penrose is likely of that vintage.

Following are some photos taken from the base of that old tower.

Roughly to the southwest: some of the high peaks of the Bitterroot Mountains can be seen in the distance and just before the forest is the burn area from a very hot fire that burned 3,500 acres of beetle-killed trees in 2003. (I watched the smoke plume from it from my house.) Note the bead of old cement along the top of the wall: I suppose that was the base for whatever kind of windows were used in the cabin, if there were indeed windows.

Penrose Peak Fire lookout base

Through the door, part of the town of Plains is visible to the east-southeast in the Clark Fork Valley about 12 miles away.

Penrose Peak Fire lookout base

To the north across the Clark Fork is the TeePee/Spring Creek roadless area in the Cabinet Mountains, including Bighole Peak and its own fire lookout.

Penrose Peak Fire lookout base

Northwest of Penrose stand the other high peaks of the Cherry Peak roadless area, including Eddy peak at the far end which holds its own tower, one of the few which are still in service today.

Penrose Peak Fire lookout base

All in all, quite a viewing area for a lonely lookout who was probably communicating with those manning similar towers on other peaks by means of a heliograph, a device which used two mirrors to reflect sunlight and send messages in Morse Code.

July 15, 2008

Bighole Lookout

Filed under: Cabinet Mountains, Montana, Nature, Outdoors, Photography, Photos, Pictures — Tags: — montucky @ 8:19 pm

This old Lookout house is in the Lolo National Forest in western Montana’s Cabinet Mountains. It was built in 1930 and sits a quarter of a mile southeast of the summit of Bighole Peak on the cliff overlooking the “big hole” from which it got its name. It was abandoned in 1970 but still is in surprisingly good condition. Its elevation is 6,919 feet. It probably wasn’t a good post for anyone who might have been prone to sleepwalking.

Bighole Lookout cabin

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