Montana Outdoors

June 22, 2007

Sacajawea Peak trail

Sacajawea Peak, elevation 6,619 ft., sits at the Southeast corner of the Cherry Peak roadless area in the Coeur d’Alene Mountains in Western Montana. The Cherry Peak area has been closed to motorized vehicles for a long time, but the great guardian of our wild country, the U.S. Forest Service, now has plans to open all of it to snowmobile use and to open two of the ten creeks whose headwaters are in the area to new logging ventures, thus destroying the wilderness characteristics of the entire 35 square mile area. Utilizing the same damned poor logging techniques now being used just East of this area, in a year or so there will be a myriad of new road scars and bare mountainsides in this area which is now covered with lush forest and one more piece of wilderness will be gone forever. The Wilderness Bill, HR 1975, is designed to protect areas like this. It is now in committee in the House of Representatives.

My hike to Sacajawea Peak began here at the start of F.S. trail 385 at an elevation of 5,000 ft. (What the sign doesn’t mention is that trail 398 begins after about 7 to 8 miles of tough hiking.)

Sacajawea Peak trailhead

Half a mile and nearly a thousand feet higher up the trail is a rest spot. Apparently a few years ago one of the guys who cleared the trail also had a sense of humor.

Rest stop

The beargrass blossoms are exceptionally large in this area for some reason.

Common beargrass blossom

Common beargrass blossom

This is what the trail looks like winding up through an old-growth forest. (If you choose to go to Flickr and view this photo in its original size, it will give you a glimpse of what a tremendous feeling it is to hike here. Just click on the photo and that will take you to Flickr. Then click on “all sizes” just above the photo. Select “Original size”.)

Trail 385 to Sacajawea Peak

In heavily wooded areas like this it isn’t always easy to see out of the trees, It usually takes a major feature in the terrain to make the long views available. At 5,900 feet I found a large outcrop and a cliff about 300 feet high that looked out toward the North and East, making these views available. (That’s the edge of the cliff in the immediate foreground.)

Scene from Sacajawea Peak area

Clark Fork Valley

The valley floor is 3,500 feet below.

Clark Fork Valley

The peak is another couple of miles and 700 feet farther up. The next post will include photos from its top.

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June 1, 2007

A change of scene

Part of the allure of the wild country is that a scene like this

Munson Creek
(Munson Creek flowing through the cedars in the Teepee-Spring Creek roadless area)

or a scene like this

Old growth cedars
(Old growth cedars along Munson Creek)

is only a four hour hike from a scene like this.

Coeur d'Alene Mountains
(North side of Coeur d’Alene Mountain peaks in the Cherry Peak roadless area viewed from the South slope of Big Hole Peak)

Both of these roadless areas would receive the Federal protection of a “Wilderness” classification under the provisions of House of Representatives Bill 1975 now in process in the 110th Congress.

May 28, 2007

Tolmie star-tulip

From six feet up, the tiny 3/4-inch white triangle didn’t look like much, but through the miracle of a lens I found a new favorite wild flower. Near the start of a hike today on USFS trail #372 into the Munson Creek drainage in Western Montana’s Cabinet mountains, it was pleasing to see the Thimbleberries were in bloom along the creek, and these blossoms are much larger than most, nearly two inches across. It will be worth a trip back later when the berries are ripe! Thimbleberry blossom Thimbleberry blossom Thimbleberry blossom After another half mile up the trail the terrain leveled out somewhat. The area had been selectively logged many years ago, and the remaining trees, mature firs and Ponderosa pines are spread fairly far apart providing beautiful conditions of open shade with low bushes and plentiful grasses. It was there that the little white triangles began to show up in the low grasses between the trees. I had not seen this wild flower before and decided to photograph it. As the lens brought it up close, I fell in love with Calochortus tolmiei! Tolmie star, Calochortus tolmiei Tolmie star, Calochortus tolmiei Tolmie star, Calochortus tolmiei Tolmie star-tulip, Calochortus tolmiei Tolmie star-tulip, Calochortus tolmiei Tolmie star-tulip, Calochortus tolmiei Munson Creek is within the 13,902 acre TeePee – Spring Creek roadless area in the Lolo National Forest. This area would receive the protection of a “wilderness” designation under the provisions of the Wilderness Bill, HR 1975 as noted on page 52 of the Bill.

May 7, 2007

Mountains from afar

Sometimes we seem to be prone to overlooking the obvious. While waiting for enough snow to melt in the high country that I could get up there to take some photos from within some of the existing roadless areas, I’ve largely ignored the fact that sometimes it may be just as well to see them from afar.

With that thought in mind, here are a few photos of the mountains inside two of those areas in the Cabinet Mountains of Montana taken from a distance. These mountains and these areas would receive wilderness designation with the passage of the Wilderness bill H.R. 1975.

This is Mount Baldy (7,464 ft) in the Baldy Mountain roadless area looking just about due east from Weeksville Divide. This is a fairly small area of 6,482 acres (10.1 square miles) and it starts about 1 ½ miles to the left of the peak, and extends roughly 2 ½ miles to the right, 1 mile below and 2 miles on the far side.

Mt Baldy

From the same place, looking north-north east, Thompson Peak (7,460 ft) in the south half of the McGregor – Thompson roadless area can be seen in this photo:

Thompson Peak

This area consists of 27,210 acres, or 42.5 square miles. The slopes below it have already been pretty heavily logged, as can be seen in the white patches of snow in the foreground.

A wider view also shows Little Thompson Peak (7,029 ft) slightly to the left of Thompson Peak. Just below these peaks, there is a beautiful spring that gushes out of the mountainside and gives birth to the north fork of the Little Thompson River.

Thompson Peak and Little Thompson Peak

Locating and understanding the outlines of these areas is possible thanks to what has become one of my favorite websites, the Roadless Area Database. This site was created by Nelson Guda who is a photographer, biologist, scientific film-maker, and the associate director of the Environmental Science Institute at the University of Texas at Austin.

It‘s an incredible piece of work and allows the viewer to locate roadless areas by state, by National Forest, and by area, and allows the data to be displayed in a road map format, a topographic map format or a satellite image format.

May 3, 2007

May wild flowers, part 2

These photos were taken yesterday along the eastern edge of one of the roadless areas that the Wilderness Bill, H.R. 1975 would protect, the Teepee-Spring Creek area, in the Cabinet Mountains of western Montana. The mountainsides on this side of the area are very steep. If there isn’t a mountain goat somewhere back in your ancestry on one side of the family or the other, you probably wouldn’t feel comfortable hiking up into it. I usually enter from the top, but last fall I did spend a day hunting there from the bottom and I still haven‘t fully recovered.

Now, back to the wild flowers.

This one is the Calypso Orchid, or Fairyslipper, Calypso bulbosa (Orchid family). The stem is only about 4 inches tall and the flower is 1 to 1 ½ inches long. It’s very rare and easy to overlook, but in my opinion certainly deserves to be called an orchid. I don’t get to see them often.

Calypso Orchid; Fairy slipper

Not really a flower at all, this Scouring Rush, Equisetum hyemale, has a spore-producing structure at its tip.

Bamboo family, maybe?

The Glacier Lily, most often around here called the Dogtoothed Violet, Erythronium grandiflorum(Lily family), has been one of my all time favorites. I remember when I was very young, we would make a special trip into the higher elevations (they are found up to 12,000 feet) each spring just to see these when they start blooming. They grow up to 16 inches tall and the flowers are around 2 inches long. They are plentiful in many areas of western Montana and bloom for about a month.

Dogtooth Violet

Wild Strawberries are quite plentiful, and the fruit, although very small is much sweeter than the much larger commercial varieties. They get no larger than about ¼ inch in diameter. We have quite a few in our yard, and although I will eat one or two each summer, I usually leave them for the Robins.

Wild strawberry blossoms

I think this is one of about 20 species of Dwarf Monkeyflowers, (Figwort family). The flowers are only about ½ inch wide and come in many different colors. They rarely exceed 2 inches in height but add tiny bits of color among low-growing greenery. I’ve often seen them growing in small clumps of kinnikinnik.

Dwarf Monkeyflower

Oops! How did he get in here? This is a rare “snake flower”. The Gopher snake, commonly called the Bull snake is actually fairly common in Montana and can get as long as 7 feet or more. When I was about 8 years old I remember seeing one on my grand parents’ ranch that reached completely across a small dirt road which was about 8 feet wide. This is a young one, 2 to 3 feet long, but quite fat. He looks well fed. I had to rile him up a bit to get him to coil up and stay still, so he wasn’t too happy with me. His markings are close enough to those of the Diamondback rattlesnake that he can usually get a certain amount of respect by acting like one, but I know better. I photographed him in macro mode with the lens about a foot from his nose.

Gopher snake or Bullsnake

April 26, 2007

More on the Wilderness Bill H.R. 1975: opposition

When the new Wilderness Bill was announced, Montana’s only member of the House of Representatives, Denny Rehberg, immediately came out in opposition to it in a poorly worded, poorly organized and factually empty statement quoted in this story in the Missoulian: “I oppose this legislation because it’s a top-down approach that doesn’t properly take into account the impacts on the local economy. Nor does it adequately protect access for hunting, fishing and other forms of recreation,” Rehberg said in a statement. “I’ll continue to work to implement responsible policies to protect Montana’s natural resources.”

Is there perhaps more motivating his opposition to the bill than that simplistic statement implies?

In March, 2007, Rep. Rehberg held a fundraising event at, of all places, the exclusive Yellowstone Club near Big Sky Montana., which is owned by, as pointed out in this story in the Billings Gazette his friend Tim Blixseth. While some of us might have been able to scrape together $1,000 to attend the event, most of us couldn’t come up with the minimum price for a home there ($1,000,000) or even the $300,000 necessary to join their private country club.

Rep. Rehberg’s friend Blixseth is an interesting person. As mentioned in this story in the Missoulian titled “World’s most expensive home’ for sale in Big Sky”, Blixseth “built the ultra-exclusive Yellowstone Club, a members-only ski and golf resort. Several years ago, he sold a 20-acre lot there for $20 million, at that time the most expensive housing lot in the state. He put the club together after buying 140,000 acres of scattered Plum Creek Timber Co. lands in 1992, then going through a series of land swaps with the U.S. Forest Service that consolidated both public and private holdings. Blixseth and his partners paid about $25 million for the Plum Creek properties, he has said”.

There was also an interesting story in the March 5, 2006 edition of the New York Times about the life and career of Tim Blixseth. It appears he is one of the highest-rolling developers in the world today. Here is that story.

Considering Rep. Rehberg’s ties to Blixseth, I am compelled to ask: is Rep. Rehberg motivated to support the preservation of Montana’s natural resources, or the exploitation of them? I am reminded again of the two sets of rules: one for the rich, and one for the rest of us. It is beginning to appear obvious which set of rules Mr. Rehberg has chosen to by play by.

It seems to me that the saving grace here is that Wilderness bill H.R. 1975 is neither in the hands of Denny Rehberg nor Tim Blixseth, really: it is now at the National level and in the hands of the American people. The natural resources that it would protect, while located in the five Western states, belong to everyone in America. Because it is at the National level, you all can play your own parts in this by voicing your opinions to the elected Representatives from your own states.

At the moment, it seems that Montana doesn’t seem to have anyone in the House to defend our natural resources. However, I think a vote of thanks should be given to its sponsor, Rep. Carolyn Maloney from New York and all of the bill’s cosponsors from other states who can be seen listed here.

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