Three Days at the Bow

For days now,  smoke has hung on the air, seeming to press in on me.  It is a difficult thing to take pause and contemplate the horrendous impact so many wildfires are having on people and their homes as well as wildlife and its various ecosystems.  The yellow cast of grey over every landscape is a constant reminder.  An absence of the mountains on my horizon to the west is disorienting. The burning sensation behind my nose and throat brings on headaches and a heavy feeling.  It is a difficult time for so many people north and south of the border, east and west.  This is a strange and other-worldly experience.

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At the river, the mornings are quiet, with far less activity and chatter from the birds.  I don’t know if other birder friends have found this, but the Red Winged Blackbirds, usually first to arrive in early spring, seem to have taken their offspring and skipped town.  I miss their calls, especially at the pond.

The Bald Eagle couple have been diligently observing the Juvenile as he/she figures out what it means to be strong and determined.  Mr. and Mrs. did an amazing job providing for two kids at the nest.  I will never know what came of the first fledge.

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When I walk the river’s edge early in the morning, the earth is spongy and feels as though it has breathed in moisture somehow, magically, through the night.  I no longer look down as I walk because every day for days I observed a snake silently slip into the brush as my foot fell onto the path.  I’d rather not see that anymore.  Of all of the amazing creatures there are to enjoy, I have not yet learned an appreciation for snakes.

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Birds, in training, are practicing skills of flight.  For days, the Eastern Kingbirds, Cedar Waxwings and Wrens had taken to the higher canopy.  But, since the smoke, they’ve been found in the lower branches, especially in the evenings.

Juvenile and Adult Cedar Waxwings.

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American White Pelicans.

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Eastern Kingbird.

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Osprey against smoke.

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Juvenile House Wrens actively chittering for food.

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Sometimes, when I get home and download my photographs…I see things I hadn’t noticed while snapping.  The following two unfocused photographs speak to those surprises.

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Yellow Warbler and Cedar Waxwing.

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Berries and berry pickers have been in evidence at the river’s edge.

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It has been a most amazing experience to watch the progression of life and death and life and death on the river, even through the brutal winter.  The wildfires remind us how tenuous life is for all.  The leaves, now turning gradually and the plants-gone-to-seed remind us of how quickly everything changes.

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Quiet Like Watercolour

My son and I have been hanging out quite a bit.  Honestly, while there’s not a lot of talking, I am getting so that I just enjoy being still with him.  We sit across from one another at the feast table for our first coffee each day.  Not much gets said but “Good morning.”

Recently, a friend from my teaching world and my church family, lost her eight year old son, very suddenly.  He will be laid to rest this week.  Caleb gave the gift of his organs so that others might have life.  Everything about the situation seems impossible.  I hold Caleb’s family…his two brothers, sister and Mom and Dad very close to my heart. But, as a mother, I most deeply imagine (because one can not truly know) Caleb’s Mommy’s pain.  It is such a feeling of helplessness, no matter what way you look at it.  I am so sorry. In thinking about it, I’ve decided that the best I can do in my life is to honour the lives of those I love, most especially, my family.

I haven’t been much for hanging out in crowds the last long while.  I like the quiet that my son and I share.  I like walking with my daughters and my grandson at the river.  I like hanging with Max on the red couch.  I enjoy my daily conversation with my father via Skype.

Today, I nudged my son to drive out to the Leighton Center with me to see, on its final day, an exhibit by beautiful lady and watercolourist, Brittney Tough.  I met Brittney, gratefully, through my experiences painting down at the Rumble House.  She is one amazing artist!  This exhibit demonstrates her patience and her skill.

The drive to the Leighton Center is so calming; the countryside, so beautiful.  Presently, canola fields are ripened.  Hawks call out from above the landscape.  Mountains to the west are veiled in smoke.

The exhibits Threaded Through Paint and Bison, Bison, Bison were both stunning.  I really felt at ease and peaceful sharing this time with my boy.  Congratulations, Brittney! (Say ‘hi’ to Harley and Alistair) Your notebooks and explorations in colour are spectacular…your compositions, pure genius!

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House Wrens

I enjoyed my river-walk with Max today.  There were several baseball games going on while I was there, so there were more people at the Bow. (Pet Peeve = people who throw cigarette butts into the bush.  Buddy, are you aware of the fires burning in B.C.?)  I made no sightings of the Bald Eagles today, so they must have withdrawn into solitude elsewhere.  I’ve enjoyed the nesting House Wrens as their wee ones have fledged and it’s like all of the dead fall becomes a home for the ‘chittering’ sounds.  This morning, I focused on capturing them with my camera.  I stood still and enjoyed every moment.

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For the Birds

The most calming activities of my day are my walks with Max.  I am either over at the wetlands drainage site that I named Frank’s Flats some years ago or at the Bow River.  I used to diligently pick litter daily at Frank’s Flats…I guess I did that for six years.  A man named Frank slept under the trees through summers there and I made a habit of chatting with him as I circled the pond.  He would drink six beer in the time it would take me to pick a full bag of litter.  He was one of about ten people who thanked me…but, he thanked me every day.  He would also bag up his cans and I would collect those for coin.  At some point he told me he had to head for Vancouver.  He said the weather was more predictable there.  I told him that I was going to name the pond and the area after him.  And, I did.

That space and the river have provided me with a great deal of solace.  I’ve done some grieving and a lot of growing.  Ideas, images and poetry have surfaced in these places. Many walks have been shared with friends and family.  I’ve watched these places change and sometimes, in good ways and not-so-good ways.  Because of walks at the pond, I purchased my first really nice camera, a Canon Powershot.  I began to notice the birds and vegetation.  Some time late last year, I picked up and read the book,  Birds Art Life: a Year of Observation by Kyo McClear.  I realized that she had written about my own journey and my own experiences, somehow.

Once I had the camera, I captured images of birds and vegetation, as well as learned to identify these varieties.  It has given me immense pleasure and creates a form of meditation for my daily life.

This past while I’ve been in awe of the nesting behaviours of the adults, as well as the dedicated effort that is made once the eggs have hatched and there are so many little mouths to feed.  The predatory activity is also huge and so there are a lot of lessons to be learned regarding the survival of the fittest.  It is sad to see such effort exerted in protection of the young when in the end, a quick visit from a Crow, Magpie, Bald Eagle, Merlin or Osprey can end it all in a flash.  One grows in acceptance as one considers the way that nature provides and one species feeds upon another.  Everything is interconnected.  Life is both brutal and beautiful.

I’ve captured a few little photographs the past couple of weeks…going to post them here.  However, if you have the opportunity to visit Alberta Birds or Birds Calgary, please do!  The photography is beyond anything you could imagine.  I love being a part of this group of people, regularly making observations, whether that is in a back yard or by the water.

Savannah Sparrows…a great program on CBC a few weeks ago caused me to feel even more enamored by these lovely little birds on a CBC program.

A 2016 brief about the Sparrow.

and also, an article titled Different kind of tweet: Study says oilpatch causes sparrows to sing a new song.

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The American White Pelicans have been exceptional in numbers this year and are stunning against the colour of the river.

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The red on the male Red Winged Backgrounds is far more subtle now than in mating season.  They continue to play an important role in protecting their little ones, but most of the feeding seems to be taken care of by the mamas.

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Wild Delphinium…there is just no way that I could capture the electric blue.

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An unlikely duo on July 25.  I looked through my archives and have a series of this Swainson’s Hawk casting dirty looks at this enthusiastic male Red Winged Blackbird.  It’s interesting how, for every raptor out there, there are a whole crew of Magpies or Crows or Blackbirds looking for easy pick’ns.

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Cedar Waxwings showing really brave behaviour around me…coming quite close at a point, although the camera wasn’t ready at the most remarkable times.  I think that I figured out why they were less shy than usual…I’m pretty sure in this set, I captured more than a few fledglings.

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I saw four Black Crowned Night Herons…most avoiding me and flying from one end of the pond to the next, but managed to see this one adult sit quite patiently in the midst of all of the earth moving and noise.  It seemed like a huge visual dichotomy.

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Lots of Blackbird youngsters about…mostly continuing to cry out to mama for bugs and dragonflies.

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Spotted Sandpiper…very distinctive and high pitched call.  It seems like this guy was hanging about for almost three weeks.  I spotted him again this morning.

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I call these Blue Bells, but don’t know their actual name.  The flowers have been lovely in the wild, this year.

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The Bald Eagle family continues to provide much viewing pleasure.  I’ve captured some nice photographs from this side of the river, but, for the most part I love spending the hours just watching them.  I’ve only spotted one fledgling, although I watched two eaglets at the nest for a couple of months.  I’m hoping that one has not come to some demise.  Perhaps other observers know?

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Since fledging, the little Wrens have caused me great delight.  When I step into their little part of the world, their chittering raises up in unison.  There’s just no missing them.  However, they are so darned tiny, it isn’t easy to capture them.

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These sweet buy sometimes-annoying House Sparrows at my backyard bird feeder.  When they’re young they are so darned funny.

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White-breasted Nuthatch…so tricky to capture.

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Here’s the wee guy again…vocalizing to Mom and Dad who are trying to ignore the noise from a tree near-by.  My friend, Doug Newman has captured some amazing close ups of Mom and Dad…

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And of course, there are a few families of Mallards nearby…on this particular day, sunning themselves.  Mom was keeping an eye on me.

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I’ve got some others to add to my portfolio, but, HEH!  A former student of mine and his wife are preparing me an Italian dinner, so I need to blow this pop stand.  I’m glad I got a good start on this.  July has been amazing for the watching.

 

 

Coutts Centre for Western Canadian Heritage

My friend, Pat, has an astonishing way of discovering new and wonderful places to visit around Calgary.  My tendency is to always say “YES” when an invitation comes my way from Pat because, in the end, I learn something new and see something fascinating.  So, when I received an e mail to travel south to Nanton and to see the Coutts Centre for Western Canadian Heritage, I was keen.  Included in the experience would be a lovely and reasonably-priced brunch served up by Brown’s Catering and live music under a tent (although we all agreed the musician of the day might have turned down the mic…just a little).  As well, we then strolled about and admired the gardens and the buildings.  Delightful!

We could not have had a nicer day…a huge open sky and golden canola fields in full bloom created a backdrop of magic. The drive was filled with our usual enthusiastic banter and that always makes the miles fly by.  Gail, Mary, Pat and I embraced the visit and the views.  It was an exceptional time.  I’ve been digging myself out of a period of sadness, despondency and disconnect.  I am grateful for dear friends who have stuck with me through the malady, and anticipate, as I do, better days.  What can be more healing than amazing sky, flowers and forever-friendship. Thank you, Pat.

Click on individual photographs, in order to have a better look.

 

Thanks to Gail who hosted a further debrief at her home in High River.  I appreciate the hospitality and it was so wonderful to see you again.

Boulder Hot Springs and Farewell, Dear Friend!

I felt a degree of anxiety about the drive into Boulder.  It was raining on and off and I was lagging behind Ramona.  I didn’t sleep well on this trip.  I was processing a lot and it had been a big day…cattle drives, Lost Creek, the Mineral Museum and the Copper King Mansion.  The skies were dramatic and thunder was rumbling.  I was really happy when we pulled into the Boulder Hot Springs, shortly after pulling off of the I-15.

The building facade was magical.  The receptionist was calm and welcoming.  I liked the place from first site.  Some time in the early 1990s, this space was purchased by writer Anne Wilson Schaef and is presently owned by a Limited Partnership.  I’ve read some of her work and it was a surprise to see some of her titles sitting on the counter.  From that point forward, the entire evening became one of continued healing and peace.  I am so grateful that Ramona sought out this venue.

I wouldn’t go into the hot pools while the thunder was booming…but, as time passed, the weather cleared, we popped into the outdoor pool…and then popped out, with the coming of the next series of sky flashes.  It was wonderful for even that short time to recline back, pool noodle on my neck and float with Ramona…speechless…ears submerged…until I shouted out to Ramona that we needed to get out.

I then stepped into the hot springs steam where I shared space with a naked woman doing yoga.  Briefly, I remembered my younger body.  I remembered the University of Lethbridge and the wonderful cleansing feeling of the sauna in the Physical Education department.

This would be magic…I knew it.

Our room…

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and the art…

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I claimed the time as mine…shared with a friend…so, no photos of the pools.  And because of the rain, we didn’t head up to the sculpture, Seven Generations.

The space…the food…

Click on individual photos to enlarge.

 

 

 

 

Ramona’s camera…

 

 

 

 

After a scrumptious breakfast, I went for a walk on the property.  Everything about the air was delicious.  I watched the swallows, followed closely by the cat and listened to the cock crow.  I felt mixed feelings as I headed for the parking area and embraced Ramona for the last time.  Tears wouldn’t come…not until Ramona headed east, at the end of the driveway and I headed west.  I had tears until I reached the town of Boulder, stopped at the gas station, filled my water bottle and resolutely headed north on the highway.

It was a wonderful time, dear friend.

 

 

Montana Bureau of Mines and Geology Mineral Museum in Butte

I have yet to complete my archive of events celebrated with Ramona in Montana this summer.  We headed into Butte, on our way to Boulder Hot Springs.  Back in the day, Ramona attended what is now called Montana Tech Campus.  Ramona can not possibly step into nature without stooping to pick up a rock.  I’m pretty much the same way.  So, with geology being one of our common passions, we ended up in the Mineral Museum.

Honestly, I haven’t seen anything like it.  And because my photographs hardly capture the space, I hope that my readers will visit the link provided above.  I took photographs of some of my favourites.

I remained very ‘present’ on the short campus walk, enjoying the feeling that I was sharing a space that was once home to my High School bestie.  This space was like an old friend to Ramona and she knew these treasures so well.  I’m grateful that she had a chance to share all of it with me.

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Lost Creek

I haven’t been writing my daily post, because the story of Lost Creek just wouldn’t be the same without Ramona’s contribution and this morning, I received it in the form of an electronic mail.

Read this, will you?  Delightful!  Ramona is just one of those women who has created an amazing life.  I love her so much! (your stick is in the mail, Ramona!)

In 1975 a fellow named Tom G. came to The University of Montana, looking for candidates to apply for summer jobs with Montana Fish Wildlife and Parks. I was interested in working on a maintenance crew north of Missoula, near Kalispell. It looked promising…until he called me in to chat. He told me the 5-man crew had threatened to quit if a woman was hired to be part of the team. He said they wanted to be able to spit, fart and tell crude jokes and I wouldn’t fit in. Well…I said to Tom ” if that’s what is required I can do all those things too, and probably could share stories that would make them blush.”

He offered me another position, working mostly by myself. I would take care of Lost Creek State Park, near Anaconda and several fishing access sites on The Big Hole River-east of Wisdom.

I was issued a State pickup and found an old 1-room miner’s shack to rent near Lost Creek. A retired fellow named Sid C., from Anaconda, came with me to clean Fish Trap and Sportsman’s Bridge on the river twice a week. The summer went by quickly. Sid showed me where he picked puffball mushrooms near The Big Hole and I ate some-without getting ill.

One day, when I drove to Fish Trap alone, I saw a weird-looking 4-legged beastie in the road near a creek. It had a large head, some spots and long, long legs. Just then Mama came out of the Alder bushes. It was a new-born moose, probably with afterbirth sac pieces still on its back.

Another time I’d gone for a walk behind my shack-sweet-shack, checking out the old kilns and a mine opening. I continued up the crest of a rocky hill and about pooped my pants. A sentry male Mountain sheep and I locked eyes as he jumped up and quickly sprung away, alerting the other 3 with a huffing vocalization. I’d been downwind and coming around a rocky outcrop. After I caught my breath and slowed my racing heart I laughed.

There were both Mountain goats and sheep back then. The ewes stayed on the south canyon and bucks on the north; meeting of course during mating season. The Mountain goats were easier to find after a rain; when the rocks were shiny with water and they weren’t. I’m sorry to share that neither is found in Lost Creek Canyon now, as they all died of a lung disease. There are hopes some may be reintroduced from The Bitterroot Mountain herds.

I remember climbing all over the canyon rocks and up the talus slopes, somewhat fearlessly. I even crossed the creek near the falls by scooting my heinie along a log. On the other side I found a trapper’s or miner’s little shack- about 8 x 6 feet, made of log and hand-hewn split window and door openings. There was an old table and bed-both mounted to the wall. The roof was disintegrating and the whole shebang is no-doubt melted back into the earth by now.

This summer, when I visited with Kath, I could see evidence of a wildfire. My favorite campsite was more open. But the large car-sized boulders still held their ground, birds still sang and wildflowers flourished-maybe more so with fewer tall trees.

An afterlog…I worked with Fish Wildlife and Parks for 2 school years with the work-study program for 15 hours a week and for one more summer-doing visitor surveys along The Blackfoot River and for Salmon and Placid Lakes proposed campground improvements. In 1978 I took a job with The USDA Forest Service on The Clearwater National Forest in Orofino, Idaho; and that began a 33 year career. In May of 1979 I joined The Peace Corps and went to Chile; another story all-together. Mona 7-2018.

Isn’t that remarkable?  And, to think I was able to revisit this amazing and beautiful place and picnic with my buddy at the Lost Creek site.  Again, photos hardly do it justice.  I am profoundly grateful for the chance to do this journey with my dear friend.

We saw these two lovelies as we pulled out of the area…time to head for Butte!  Another awesome adventure!

 

 

Scenic Driving Again and Again

Morning saw us eating a hearty breakfast, chatting it up with some of the folk at the Elkhorn Hot Springs and sitting for buddy photos on the porch swing before heading it out for Wise River and the return of our sifting screen (is that what they call it?), so that it could be sent on up to Wisdom and returned to Big Hole.

Scenic Drives Montana

Ramona and Kath Elkhorn

Sunshine’s Photo. Included here, a local resident’s beagle.

We drove separately, into Anaconda…stopping at the beautiful places along the way. The first stop was overlooking the Grasshopper Valley and enjoying the wild growth of purple Lupins.

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Yes! Of course we did this! Two ladies who get tremendously excited by natural beauty! We had to celebrate it! We snapped photographs of one another. For those of you who don’t know…Ramona and I shared life at CMRussell High School in Great Falls, Montana 1971-1973. THEN!

Ramona

NOW!!

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Stopped, hoping to get better colour shots of the Camas in morning light.

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Real evidence of glacial work on the landscape. Very cool. Mt. Haggin Scenic Drive.

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At least 300 head of cattle were being wrangled up the highway…Ramona is in the car ahead of me, snapping away. A bull tried, unsuccessfully, to mount a cow directly in front of my car…I rolled up the window, at her refusal and then he slid his horns along the drivers side window and my car, in some sort of snorting frustration. This was an experience! Wonderful to see the worn and muddied border collie in the rear, with the cowboys. They tipped their hats and I felt that I had enjoyed a truly western experience. lol

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Just as we started back on our way…these two entered the frame.

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Mount Haggin area.

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Anaconda…the stack…we pulled into a grocery store parking lot and jumped into one vehicle. Off we headed for Lost Creek.

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Crystal Park and Elkhorn Hot Springs

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The mosquitoes were horrendous (predictable, given the wet spring and so much snow through the winter), so we did some very quick digging and screening of a few shovels of earth at Crystal Park…just long enough for me to get THE BITE.  It’s really ugly what has been allowed by the National Forestry people, but the place is a big tourist draw. We didn’t see anyone else digging at this time of day…a little stop we made on our way to the Lodge, from Coolidge.

Watch the entrance to the park!  I practically took the bottom of my car off, getting over the cattle guard at the entrance.  Time for a bit of patching to happen there!

Crystal Park is a unique recreation area at an elevation of 7,800 feet in the Pioneer Mountains in southwest Montana. Crystal Park is open for day use only and has a fee per car. Facilities include 3 picnic sites with tables and grills, information signs, toilets, and a paved trail with benches and an overlook. The facilities are designed to be universally accessible.

Quartz crystals are scattered liberally through the decomposed granite of the unique 220-acre site that’s been reserved by the Forest Service for the popular hobby of rockhounding. Quartz crystals are hexagonal (six-sided) prisms, with a pointed “face” at each end. The crystals found at Crystal Park can be clear, cloudy, white, gray or purple. They can be smaller than your little finger or up to several inches in diameter. Gray, purple and other colors are caused by minerals within the quartz. Gray crystals are known as “smoky” and the highly prized purple ones are called amethyst. Single crystals are most common at Crystal Park. Most of the crystals have little value other than as collector’s items.

Rules established for Crystal Park include a ban on tunneling. The rules are listed on signs and in brochures available at the site. Other rules include use of hand tools only, and a five-day-per-person season limit on digging.

Even with the short dig that we made, Ramona and I unearthed some bits of crystal.  We brought our spoils back to the lodge, washed them up and divided up the treasures…a beautiful remembrance of our first day in the mountains.

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Big pits dug all along the incline and apparently, down the other side.

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Elkhorn Hot Springs is a beautiful little spot!  Getting there and journeying back over the winding roads, Ramona and I enjoyed the siting of a beautiful fox.  Ramona was able to snap a couple of quick photographs for our remembrance.  We were like two little kids, so excited to see the beautiful and shy creature disappear into the tall woods.

Foxy Sighting

This is Ramona’s photo, lifted off the internet with absolutely no permission. Love you, Sunshine!

The Elkhorn Hot Springs are a delicious place to stop and rest for the night. If you’ve been used to tent camping, this is a huge step up in terms of accommodation.  Some would describe it as rustic, but with running water and potential to clean up, I thought it was insanely wonderful!  We got to float in the soothing waters of natural hotsprings and to rest in a cozy and friendly lodge.  Breakfast was a cowboy’s breakfast, all included.  As a Canadian, this hit my pocketbook a little more than if I was a citizen, but with my cut $25.00 American currency….it was an unbelievable deal and a treasured experience.  If anyone wishes to travel the United States, connect with my buddy Ramona.  She has done the research.  She knows how to create memories on a very good budget.

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In the day, I would have roughed it more…now, places like these are the bomb!  So much fun!

Nestled in Beaverhead National Forest, the historic Elkhorn Hot Springs has been a favorite resting and soaking spot for a hundred years. Step into Montana’s past and stay in the main lodge which was built in 1921 or one of the many authentic and romantic cabins built during the 1920’s and 1930’s. There are two outdoor hot pools as well as an indoor Grecian style sauna. The mineral waters are 100% natural and because of the substantial rate of flow from the source, no chlorine or other chemicals are required to be added to the water – there is a constant flow of new mineral water entering the pool at all times.

Just an hour’s drive from Dillon, Elkhorn Hot Springs is the perfect spot to explore all that Southwest Montana has to offer. About 4 miles away you will find Maverick Mountain Ski Area. Close by are miles and miles of cross country ski trails and sled trails. During the summer, in less than 7 miles you can dig for buried gems at Crystal Park. Just a 25 mile drive from the Hot Springs is Historical Bannack State Park and it’s a great way to relive some of Montana’s colorful past. If that isn’t enough for you, and you are the adventurous type – you may want to take a trip to the real-life ghost town of Coolidge!