Wednesday, September 30, 2020

Hiking to Avalanche Lake

It started pretty easy. We had parked at the trailhead to Trail of The Cedars and then enjoyed the easy boardwalk section along Avalanche Creek. The boardwalk ended and the trail to Avalanche Lake began as it started up alongside the creek.

It was surprisingly easy, yes, we had to stop and rest at spots, but the starting elevation was twenty-two hundred feet above sea level, and we live at six thousand.

We also stopped often to enjoy the beauty of the trail and to let faster hikers bypass us, (it is a really popular trail).

It was overcast when we reached the lake, but at least it was not smoke, and we hoped the clouds would dissipate. The lower end of the lake was shallow and filled with logs from the avalanches.

There were no fish in evidence, but we had planned to hike to the other end of the lake, (a park Ranger had told us that the fishing was best at that end).

Reaching the upper end of the lake the clouds had already risen and the sun was making its appearance. As we stood on the bank, I spotted a fish rising and got out my fly rod. Tying on a purple haze dry fly, size fourteen. I coated it with gink, (a wax that keeps the fly floating, and made several casts. I had already spotted fish cruising the shoreline, now if they would only bite.

On the next cast I let the fly set for a bit and then started a jerk and pause return. I was moving the fly by stripping the line, when sudden a fish inhaled the fly and it was fish on.  It was a good hook set and the fish fought until I beached the fish in shallow water.

 The fish had a slash on its ventral gill cover, it was a Westslope cutthroat trout. Because of the isolation of the lake the cuts there are the purest stock of Westslopes and are used to stock other streams.

After pictures and a safe live release, it was Renitas turn. She cast the fly rod and reaching the edge of the drop off a nice fish hit the fly. She missed the hook set but on the next cast she was ready and set the hook on a nice fish. Landing it we both admired the beauty of the cut. It was much prettier than mine, probably a male fish.

Now our daughter had been watching and wanted a turn. I gave her some instructions on casting a fly rod and it took a bit before her casts reached the edge of the drop off.  

A fish hit and she missed it as she was looking at the spool of line on the ground. Another cast and she missed the fish again but on her third cast she set the hook and landed her own Westslope.

It was her first on a fly rod and it was love at first cast. She worked down the shoreline and soon caught another one.

I had showed her how to use a forceps to release the fish unharmed.  

Other people watched and we told them of the rarity of the fish. They are planning to reintroduce them in Yellowstone.

We finally put the rod away and enjoyed the beauty of the cascading falls. They emptied from a hanging glacier valley above. To the east on could see the mountain maned Bears Hat and to the west stood a mountain named the Little Matterhorn.

It was an easy hike back and we did stop to talk with several fly fishermen and fisherwomen. We told them of the feeding frenzy at the upper end where people were skipping rocks and the fish did not seem to care.

As we reached the parking lot a Steller jay landed on a branch near me. We had spotted another stellar jay at the lake but had not gotten a good image of it.

These are larger than blue jays and have beautiful shades of dark blue with a black crest.

The day was still young and so Eric drove up going to the sun road so we could see thee pass with clear skies. Crossing over we drove down the east side until the road was blocked. The Blackfoot Tribe had closed their reservation due to covid, a wise move with the high number of pandemic victims on their land.

Returning to the cabin, we were greeted with a huge bear scat in the front yard, (the bear had also knocked over a statue of a wolf). We never did see the bear only droppings it had left behind, (no one went out by themselves at night). It ended the best day of our trip to Glacier National Park. Clear skies

Saturday, September 26, 2020

Glacier National Park, Day 2, 3, and 4 Dense Smoke and Then Rain

We were so excited to see Jen, Eric, and their Friends and when we arrived Eric helped us to carry our suitcases inside before we met everyone for a careful social distance hug. They already had their plans for the next day, hiking the Highline Trail and we opted to hike the Hidden lake Trail.

The next morning, they got up and left at four am. It is a two-hour drive to Logan Pass and if you do not leave early you will not get a parking spot. Their hike was about twelve miles long, too much for us, and so we slept in.

Now the Hidden Lake Trail is a short hike. Its normally about four miles round trip but the bottom half was closed due to grizzly bear activity. Perhaps you saw the people being chased on the news with a bystander yelling at them to not run! That is the trail we wanted to hike. The bottom half was closed as the bears were still in the area, but it did not matter.

Leaving at seven am we it took us about two hours to reach Logan Pass.  It was not the first time we had been in Glacier National Park as years ago we took a family trip. Hat time it rained so hard and even snowed and we never could see the mountains on the other side of the valley.

This time it was the smoke and it was so dense that we only spotted the outline of the mountains as we neared the pass. Arriving at Logan Pass we could not find any parking spot and there were cars driving around like a flock of vultures, waiting to pass. WE left the flock and drove back down the steep acrophobic road stopping at several spots.

McDonald Creek runs along the road and we looked for likely fishing spots. We had stopped at the ranger station and asked about fishing as we hoped to catch two rare fish, a west slope cutthroat trout and a bull trout. The stream was too shallow in most of the stretches, but we got lucky.

At one stop, the Cascades, another car stopped and asked if we had seen the bear run across the road right behind us. Making an about turn we didn’t’ drive far before we saw stopped vehicles and we saw the black bear.

It was floating in a deep pool enjoying the cold sauna. And it spotted me as I started to take its images. It stared at me as if to say, I hate people and finally waded out on the other side of the creek. I ran back to the car switched out the lenses for my 103-305 mm zoom and hurried back to a crowd that was watching the bear.

Zooming in I got some of my best images of a black bear, and this was a huge boar! It looked around at all the people, not many compared to Yellowstone bear crowds, and finally yawned before it walked into the woods. A bear on the first day!

When we arrived back at the VRBO cabin, the others had already arrived and were celebrating their successful hike. They showed us images of a bighorn ram and mountain goats, much of the wildlife is habituated to people, but hey were jealous when we told them we had seen a bear!

The next day we tried to again drive up to Logan Pass. The smoke was a little better and we could at least see the outline of Bishops Hat. We did not spot any wildlife, so we checked out some more fishing spots. One of the spots looked promising and so we got out the fly rods and tried but to no avail. Not only did we not get a rise but we never spotted any fish in the heavily fished stream.

We also tried, and failed, to get a parking spot at the Avalanche Lake Trailhead. It is a much shorter hike than the Highline Trail and the fishing is supposed to be good there.

The rain moved in and so we spent day four in the cabin, only venturing out to visit a rock shop. The rock shop, Keholes Rock Shop, had collections and specimens that went back to the nineteen twenties. It was a real surprise and is the best rock shop we have ever seen. It even had a full-size cave bear fossil skeleton. Suffice it to say we spent way too much money. Clear skies

Thursday, September 24, 2020

Driving to Glacier National Park, too Much Smoke!


The day had finally arrived! We were heading to Glacier National Park where we would meet Jen, Eric, and her their friends. Jen and Eric had rented a VRBO house above Flathead Lake and the places was so large that we all could social distance from one another.

The trip started out in a spectacular fashion as we were rewarded with a beautiful display of fall colors. The maples had turned red, some a very bright red, and added to the yellows and greens the blend was as good as it gets out here, (the aspens had not yet turned and so we are still waiting for their bright yellow swaths.

One we got out of the canyon we crossed the Yellowstone plain. Here the land is extremely flat as its the floor of the old Yellowstone caldera and with the smoke blocking any view of the mountains all we saw was just brown dried grassland. A signed warned us to be on the look out for game crossing and sure enough we saw a dead elk cow that had been hit by a truck vehicle?

The smoke so blanked the area that when we arrived at Flathead Lake, we could not see all the way across. The reddish sunset still reflected in the nearby lakeshore. Eric told us that there was fresh bear scat in the backyard, but the bear only passed through the yard at night and we never saw it.

However, we did see Jen, Eric, and their friends, waiting for us on the large deck, (we did social distance). All of them were planning on taking a hike along the Highline Trail. It is a fourteen-mile trail that Renita and I had decided to pass on, because we would still be on it.

Instead our hope was to take the short two-mile hike to the overlook above Hidden Lake. After unpacking and getting our gear ready for the next day we made it an early night. We were exhausted from the long drive and we quickly fell asleep.  Clear skies

Tuesday, September 15, 2020

Another Hectic Week with Trips to Idaho Falls, The Tetons, and Casper, Wyoming


It has been another hectic week. First, we had to travel to Idaho Falls to fill our prescriptions. Next, we made a trip to Grand Teton National Park in search of bears. Last we made a somber trip to Casper, Wyoming to attend the funeral of my Uncle Jim.

Traveling as much as we do, getting our medications is a lot easier in a nationally available drug store, Similarly, we do our banking at a large nation-wide bank system. It is easier to get cash when needed and to deposit checks when we sell something, (we also use mobile banking).

Last year we traveled to Grand Teton National Park with our friends Fred and Becky. Like that trip we hoped to see bears. The fall is a good time because the bears concentrate on eating berries and so if you can find a berry patch there is often a feeding black or grizzly bear.

This year has presented an unusual difficulty as there are so many full berry patches that the bears are not having any problem finding lots of berries to put on their winter fat. Still we hoped to get lucky and see bear 399 and her four cubs, and any other incidental bear we could find.

We took both of our cars, so we could keep a safe social distance. Having avoided the Covid virus, so far, it would be a shame to falter as the much hoped for vaccine gets near. As we traveled up the Snake River Canyon, we could see that the fall colors had started to change. No aspen change yet but the red maples and yellow are providing some color.

Before arriving at the park, we stopped in Jackson so Renita could turn in her Cutt Slam award application. She found out that the regional office was no longer taking applications and that we could either mail the completed application and pictures or we could send them in online, (we chose online and it worked really well).

Our first stop at the park was at the Oxbow area. While there were cones out, and a waiting ranger, the bears had moved and so we did not get to see grizzly 399. We had seen a video taken a few days before where the fur cubs had wrestled and taken turns chewing on the cones. Spotting bears requires a lot of luck.


Next, we drove to the top of Signal Mountain, not a drive for the acrophobic. From the top one could see a large area of the park, including a bend of the Snake River and the terraces and potholes. A wildlife guide was there with two clients and she did have her spotting scope up, but they had not seen any bears.

There were a large number of cars in the park and we were unable to find a spot to park at String and Jenny Lake. We ended up driving to the Moose Wilson road and ate our lunch in a parking lot. A pair of elf cows grazed in the meadow below and we took a few images before hiking down the trail.

A couple passed us on the trail arguing so loudly that any bears in the area had surely left. We did see bear scat, not a lot, and we all looked for tracks as we walked the trail. The bushes and trees were loaded with berries, the most we have ever seen.

Returning to our cars we drove the Moose Wilson road but other than lots of other hopeful bear watchers we never saw ay more wildlife. A day in the Tetons is always a good day, with or without bears.

Finally, we made a somber drive to Casper to attend the funeral of my Uncle Jim Herold. It was a trip to celebrate his life, and his life was a life well lived. One story about his integrity. He worked for the Federal government as a timber cruiser and his job was to estimate the amount of board feet in a parcel of timber up for bid.

He was offered a bribe by a lumber company, a beautiful house, if he underestimated the board feet in the timber parcel. Turning in the correct amount he was punished by being transferred to Casper, Wyoming. It was a decision that he never regretted, and he grew to love the beauty of Wyoming’s mountains, deserts, and plains.

Funerals are to celebrate a life and it presents an opportunity to reconnect with relatives and friends. It was a trip filled with good memories. Clear skies Uncle Jim!

Monday, September 7, 2020

Fishing North Cottonwood Creek, Renita on a Quest for Her Colorado Cutthroat


Every year we hand out hundreds of our cards. We are lucky to meet so many people at our shows and we often tell them to give us a call if they ever get in our area. Few ever do and so it was a pleasant surprise when Sue and Les sent an email and asked if we would like to meet.

We met them at a Gulf Coast Gem and Mineral in 2016 and we even bought a fossil specimen from them, a beautiful crinoid, (a type of echinoderms, kind of like a starfish). So, we arranged to meet them at our place in Star Valley for a socially distanced barbecue.

They arrived and we had a pleasant afternoon as we talked of rock hounding and fishing trips. They were currently on an extended fishing trip in Wyoming. I showed them my cut slam award and told them that Renita and I were going to North Cottonwood creek, in the Wyoming Range, in the hopes of completing Renita's cut slam.

Now it’s a rough road up there and a long drive on gravel so I was surprised when Sue asked if they could tag along. We arranged to meet at the grocery store in Alpine and the next morning we met and then headed up the Greys River Road.

The road was horrible. It hadn’t been graded in quite a long time and the lower parts were so rocky that we had to slow down to about fifteen miles per hour. I told them to hang back, because of the dust, and I worried that they might not be too happy with the bad road. However, they are rockhounds and when we met at the Sheep Creek Road, thirty-five miles later, they were still smiling!

It’s only eight miles up the road to McDougal Gap, (Pass), and we stopped several times to take pictures. Heading down the road towards Daniel Junction, it was only a few miles of good road before we reached our fishing spot. Pulling over Les stopped and I pointed out a place for them to park and fish. Its important to not work the same water as fish become weary of the flies and become difficult to fish.

Gearing up, I told Renita I was not gong to fish until she had fulfilled her quest, to catch a Colorado Cutthroat trout. Wading down to the first hole she worked her fly, a purple haze size twelve, and quickly set the hook on a nice brook trout. Brook trout here were all introduced and actually are a plague in many Wyoming trout streams. The quickly overpopulate the streams and displace the native cutthroats.

Several more good-looking spots did not produce any fish and she moved making casts and caught another nice brook trout. The wind was blowing hard and it was extremely difficult to cast and to compound the problem the sides of the streams were lined with willows.

Still she patiently worked hole after hole until she reached a beaver dam. She made several casts and then another trout came out and hit her fly. She didn’t set the hook as it was a small fish and after watching her awhile I said she should go with a smaller fly.

Now the problem was that the wind had increased so much that every cast was blow back and she could not get her fly in the spot to catch the fish. I told her she needed to slap the fly hard, a bad technique as it usually spooks the fish. She didn’t understand so I took her fly rod and told her to watch me.

On the first cast I made a roll cast and slapping the fly on the spot was rewarded when a small trout darted out from the dam, took the dry fly, and hooked itself! I felt bad because when I landed the fish it turned out to be a Colorado Cutthroat.

Handing her rod back she emulated me and missed several smaller fish. I suggested we break for lunch, but she refused saying she was determined to catch one herself. Half an hour later she set the hook and almost jumped for joy when I told her it was a Colorado Cut.

Deciding to take a break we walked back to the truck and ate lunch. Sue drove up and joined us. She showed us her fish pictures and she had also caught three Colorado’s. She also mentioned that she had found an old and complete buffalo skull as she walked through the willows. We have never found any buffalo skulls in forty-two years of living in Wyoming. Talk about luck!

After lunch Renita and I headed back to the stream. The fish at the dam were not interested in biting and so we headed upstream to the next hole. Several holes later, Renita missed a nice fish and then caught another brook trout. It was a big hole and she continued to fish, setting the hook on another nice fish. I netted her fish and she beamed when I showed her the beautifully colored Colorado Cutthroat trout. She had a great fish for pictures much better than the small one she had caught earlier.

We caught several more cuts before we returned to the truck. Les walked up and we talked of the fishing, the scenery, and all the deer we had seen. Bow hunting season had started and gun season starts on the fifteenth so camper after camper had driven by.

Saying our goodbyes, we decided to drive down the gravel road to Daniel Junction and even though it was longer back home it was a lot easier on us and the truck. It had been a great day and now Renita needs to turn in her application for the Wyoming Cut Slam Award!  Well done Renita!

Clear skies