Last weekend we explored Montana’s newest spring. Nearly a month old it really isn’t new. But spring along the Rocky Mountain Front isn’t a sudden whelping; it’s a staccato-like journey from cold and frozen to warm and growing.
Several weeks ago, temperatures cleared 80. Two weeks ago we endured the largest spring snowstorm in decades. On the plains today, only remnants of drifts remain. Temperatures have rebounded to the 60s, but drifting clouds and variable winds bring sudden snow flurries and darkness to bright, blue sky.
Like the fragile wildflowers that push up between shoots of green, my wife and I ventured into the foothills and embraced this year’s spring.
On Saturday we drove to Smith Creek. On the way we noticed our friends Tim Tew and Bob Chesmore gathering cow/calf pairs for branding. Tew is manager and Chesmore is the lone worker on the LF Ranch. The two cowboys take care of thousands of acres and about 1100 mother cows. We stopped and helped brand Saturday’s quota of 100 calves.
The LF has been hit hard by wolves. The recent snowstorm made it impossible to tell which calves had been killed by wolves and which succumbed to snow. Without evidence of wolves, ranches don’t get reimbursed for their losses.
After branding we enjoyed a couple beers and lunch hosted by Tew.
On Sunday we drove south to a small ranch on Skunk Creek near Lewis and Clark pass. The pass was Meriwether Lewis’ return route from the Pacific in 1806. The LF owns the the Skunk Creek ranch, but it’s nearly 20 miles removed from the ranch proper. Over 1000 elk have been wintering there. Most of the elk are still in the vicinity since mountain snow is still deep and crusted. We saw hundreds from a distance but didn’t approach them for photos. Cows will calve in a few weeks and there is no reason to stress them.
On our hike we saw plenty of mule deer chasing green grass. Sweet green shoots are a welcome treat to a winter of cured brown grass. Newness of the season shows on both deer and elk. Their hair is about to shed and they look shaggy.
Returning to the truck Wende and I found a pair of shed elk antlers. Bull elk viewed through binoculars already show a couple of inches of new horn growth—some say the fastest growing tissue on the earth.
Winter hasn’t died, yet the vernal virgin is sprouting along Montana’s Rocky Mountain Front.
Wende and I hope everyone has a spring to rival ours and the Front’s.