Monday, September 26, 2022

Day One With our Daughter Jen, The Grand View Trail, Moose, and a Black Bear

We were surprised when our daughter asked us if it would be ok for her to come down and visit us. She had some unused vacation days and she had to use them or lose them so of course we readily agreed to spending some more days with her, (Eric didn’t have any extra days off). The night she arrived we talked about her itinerary and she enough on her list to keep us busy for a lot longer than three days. Her list included, hiking the Grand View Trail, bear watching, wildlife viewing, driving up to Yellowstone, and some more flyfishing lessons! The next morning, we got off to an early start and arrived at Grand Teton National Park about nine am. We drove to the Moose Wilson Pond, parked, and were rewarded with a resting moose calf. It was resting below us, unconcerned with all the people taking pictures.
Heading down the trail we hoped to see a bear, so of course we didn’t see one. Instead, we spotted a moose and her calf. As the cow moose was feeding three people got way too close, less than twenty-five yards!
Luckily for them the cow did not stomp them and instead flushed out into the sagebrush covered bench,
(Jen took a video of them but I have not figured how to post it on the blog).
Upon returning a larger moose had showed up! Loding into the car, we drove south on the road hoping for a bear encounter. We did not have any luck as there had been a sow and cub black bear, but they had walked off into thick brush. After several more loops without seeing any bears, we decided to drive to the trailhead for the Grand View Trail. Armed with our lunch, walking sticks, binoculars, cameras, phones, and our lunch we started up the trail.
The first part of the trail is easy, but Renita and I soon had to stop to catch our breath. There was too much weight! Jen showed us how posture helps to expand your chest and allow in more air, but we still had to make frequent rests. She patiently waited for us but after a while decided to wait for us on the top.
We finally caught up to her as she was visiting with two other young people on top. We rested, ate our lunch, and then posed for a picture on top. After admiring the view of the Tetons, Emma Matilda, and Two Ocean Lakes, we headed back down the trail.
The others had stopped their descent, and were taking pictures of three ruffed grouse. One posed in the middle of the trail, and we took a great picture. The camouflage of these birds is excellent! If they hadn’t moved, we never would have spotted them.
Returning to the car we decided to drive the loop looking for bears and on the last loop we saw a bear jam. It was a large black bear, eating berries, and we were so close to it that we had a hard time getting a god picture.
It’s really hard to get a good picture, but my best one only shows the bears ears and the outline of its head. It had been a wonderful day in Grand Teton National Park, and we celebrated it by eating pizza at the Snake River Brewery. The individual pizzas were so large that we could only eat half of them! WE will definitely stop there again. On the way home we decided that tomorrow would be dedicated to flyfishing. Tired we collapsed into our beds. It was a great day! Clear skies

Monday, September 19, 2022

A Day of Bears, Moose, and a Picnic at Phelps Lake

We are trying to make weekly trips to Grand Teton National Park. The bears and moose are extremely active right now and are easy to spot as the bears, are gorging on berries. We also heard about bear activity at Phelps Lake and decided to try and hike the four mile round trip from the LSR Preserve Headquarters, (we have never hiked it).
Meeting our friends Fred and Becky we first had to take some images of the moose and red breasted mergansers feeding in the pond. Next, we decided to hike the trail near the pond and we encountered a flock of cedar waxwings. They were gorging on the ripe hawthorn berries and pretty much ignored us as we took their pictures.
Heading down the trail we met a group who told us about a cinnamon black bear feasting on berries. It was easy to find the spot as there were people peering down the hill. We couldn’t see anything but after a bit we could hear branches breaking, (thank goodness I have hearing aids).
The brush was so thick that we couldn’t see the bear so we waited patiently and finally were rewarded with a brief glimpse of the beautiful cinnamon black bear. It was difficult to get a good shot, due to the thick brush but We got lucky and took an image of the bears face. It showed its ears, snout and even one eye as it glanced around looking for berries. It moved back into the thick brush and so we headed back to the parking lot.
When we returned to the parking lot we were lucky to see a second moose, (there are three hanging near the pond, two cows and on small calf that hides in the tree line). If you are lucky, you can spot the calf by for its ears. We spilt up as our friends decided to take the Park Road and look for the bald eagles that had been fishing at the Oxbow.
We next decided to drive south to the LSR Preserve. Renita and I choose to try the hike to Phelps lake. Its normally a three point four mile round trip but the first part of the trail was closed due to black bear activity. A reroute had been devised which added another six tenths of a mile. Loading our backpack with our lunch and both of us armed with bear spray we headed up the narrow trail.
We ran into a man who mentioned to us that we should have the bear spray more readily available and so we readjusted our gear, (he was right we were being careless, it was on the side of the pack, not on our belts). Crossing the closed road we started going uphill. It was much easier than the Grand Vista and so we didn’t have to stop much to catch our breath.
Soon we reached the trail intersection where we took the Phelps Lake loop. About the time we spotted the Lake, a side trail was closed due to all the bears. At the lake we found several available rocks where we sat down and enjoyed the view. The waters were still and the sun was out so we had a perfectly enjoyably lunch.
After finishing our lunch, we took some pictures before heading back down to the LSR parking lot. We never did see any bears, but we now have another hiking trail to add to our list, (perhaps the next time I will take our fly rods).
As we returned to the Moose Entrance Station, a member of the bear management team was directing traffic. It was a bear jam. The cars ahead of us were stopped, which they are not supposed to do and we both looked for the bear. Not seeing it I stuck my head out of the window and there was the bear! It was right below me. I ducked back into the car and told Renita we needed to drive, “Now!” I could have almost touched the bear, (it was so close Renita could not see it).
I stuck the camera out and tried to take a picture and luckily got one of the bear’s face. It had turned it head and was looking at me. Finally, the car ahead of us moved and we were able to get away from our close encounter. We did turn around for another picture but really could not see it good enough for more shots. It moved into the thick brush, and we didn’t see it again. Passing the park headquarters we ran into another jam. This time a cow and calf moose were feeding along a side channel of the Snake River. The moose had moved into the thick brush, and we never did get a good picture. It didn’t matter it had been a great day! The count was two black bears, four moose, and a new trail! Clear skies

Wednesday, September 14, 2022

The Ravalii County Fair, Hamilton, Montana

It has been a long time since we have been to a rodeo. So, when Jen and Eric asked us if we would like to attend the Ravalli County Fair we agreed! The only stipulation was that we did not want to go on any rides. The smoke had worsened since our sapphire mining trip and Eric had to work so Jen drove us in her car. The rodeo had not yet started so we first walked around the fair enjoying the animals, Jen really liked the exotic chickens. We bought food from several of the venders and headed to the grandstands looking for a place to sit. It was crowded but we managed to find three spaces on the wooden bench seats.
The first event was mutton busting, something we had never seen. In that competition, three, four, and five year old kids, attempt to ride a young ewe, (a female sheep). The kids wear helmets, armored safety jackets and are first lowered on the sheep.
Several decided they did not want to and so they were lifted off, (they still got the t-shirt).
Now the idea was for the kids to grab ahold of the sheep’s wool and hang on for the ride. The first two out grabbed a rope that was circling the sheep’s front quarters. It may have helped a little, but they were bucked off in short order. Others grabbed two handfuls of the it’s wooly hide, with the same results.
One of the little cowpokes/gals rode the sheep backwards by wrapping their legs around the neck of the sheep.
He/She actually hung on for quite a while!
After the riding was over all the kids were lined up and giving their prizes!
After the opening remarks the first adult competition started, Bare Back Bronco Riding. The cowboy would climb down into the gate, get situated, and then the gate was flung open.
The first three were accomplished riders who were then followed by rookies.The seasoned riders did better than the rookies, but it was close. The next event was the Bronc Riding.
These riders had a small saddle and very strict rules which had to be followed to score on a full eight second ride. There were quite a few riders, and they were also competing for a chance to ride in the state championship rodeo, (the winners there would qualify for the National Finals Rodeo).
About half of the riders made the eight full seconds and received a score, Several of the horses, had to be prodded to get out of the gate. After a successful ride two other horsemen would grab the horse and then help the cowboy to safely dismount. The fourth event was the steer wrestling. There were not many cowboys in this event and of those that tried, only one was successful in catching up to the cow, did I mention they have horns), the cowboy jumps off his horse onto the side of the animal, grabbing the steers horns and then twisting its head.
Once the steer lays down, he then wraps a short rope around the legs. Obviously, there was only one winner. The final event we watched was the calf roping. A calf bolted from the gate and a cowboy chased it twirling his lariat. Of the six riders, only two caught the calf in their noose. The horse would take stop and pull the rope tight as the cowboy leapt off the horse and tied three of the calf’s legs together. The calf had to remain motionless for six seconds to earn a score.
The rodeo was half over when Eric called and said he was too tired from work to attend.
By then my back was hurting from the wooden benches and hard wood backs so I was ready to go. It had been entertaining, watching each event but Renita and I never would have let our kids compete in the mutton busting. Three seems a bit young, to us anyway. At least at that age their bones are a little flexible, and they were wearing helmets and flak jackets. Clear skies

Thursday, September 8, 2022

Sapphire Mining at Gem Mountain, Montana

We arrived at Jen and Eric’s House and the planning started! Jen and Eric had gone sapphire mining and of course we wanted to try our hand at it. She called and made reservations and the next day Eric drove us up and over the Sapphire Mountains to the entrance of the Gem Mountain Mine, (the road was gravel, and narrow with no guard rails and a cliff on one side of over six hundred feet).
The place was busy as many of the tables were occupied by other hopeful prospectors. We entered the Mine headquarters and paid for our buckets of mine material. The sapphires were mined from a placer deposit which was then passed through a trommel with three-centimeter holes. It was next hauled to the headquarters where we paid forty dollars per bucket.
Selecting our buckets. We carried them to our table and poured a shovelful into the screen shaker. One of the many helpers came over and showed us how to work the sifter. We first shook it to eliminate much of the dirt and then submerged it into the sluice water. Moving the screened box sideways, we rocked it which moved the material into a pile with the large rocks on top. Next, we rotated the box ninety degrees and repeated the process. The final step was to gently shake the material up and down forming an even spread of the cleaned gravels.
Finally, we carried it over to the table and quickly flipped it towards us. The sapphires are denser than the rest of the rock and so most of them are on top. Then the race was on as we both tried to spot and pick the sapphires. We them put them into the capped tube which had an elastic opening.
The process was very similar to the method used when mining for diamonds at the Diamond Mine State Park in Arkansas. Our first pan contained four small sapphires! Gently raking the material, we found another one. Now the process became tedious as we worked through our buckets. Most of the sapphires were small, less than a karat in size but we did find a larger one that was 1.34 karats. It took us two hours to go through both buckets. By that time my back was sore and we were ready to call it a day.
The last step was to pay five dollars to have our gems weighed and graded. Many of our stones were cuttable. While being cut the finished stone is about one third of the weight of the original gem. That’s typical and when we make our cabochons, we expect to lose about seventy percent of the original rough, (sawing into slabs, then into preforms, and finally shaping into the finished stone).
We are not going to have our sapphires cut/faceted, (too small), but we do plan on making them into a bracelet/pendant of the rough stones. We had fun, found our own gems, and next year hope to return. After all large sapphires are sometimes found, one of which was reported to be valued at twenty thousand dollars,(An average bucket contains fifteen karats, Jen and Eric got lucky and found sixty in their two buckets). Clear skies, (and clear gemstones)!