Sunday, May 10, 2009

Springtime in the Rockies

Montana's Vernal Virgin

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.

They seem to know that it is spring and not hunting season. A few let us within 40 yards.

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.


Anonymous said...

That is beautiful country especially with the deer in the pictures.

Rob said...

We've had a beautiful spring here in North Texas, but don't quite have the majestic views you have there. That is some pretty country!

Dennis A Carroll said...

Rick and Rob, Thank you for the comments. I enjoy sharing our great land with outdoors folks.

Anonymous said...

Beautiful photos. Thank you for sharing.

Tim Noble said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Anonymous said...

Dear Dennis,

I throughly enjoyed reading your article. It was especially interesting to me because I am a former "LF Cowboy". Originally from Maine I was a attending MSU at Bozeman in 1971 and decided to try my hand at being a cowboy. At my job interview Fred Johnston, the manager, was so amused with me that he hired me over the objections of Joe Barbour (Big Joe) who was the Ranch Forman. I was a Vet Tech in the USAF for 4 years so I knew alot about dogs and cats but the rear end of a cow was completely foreign territory to me. I'll never forget my first day at the ranch. It was March and right in the middle of calving. I walked into the calving shead and asked for the foreman. I was directed to one of the stalls. Joe Barbour was lying on his back with his feet up on the cows butt and he was pulling a calf out. He looked up at me and said "I hope you are watching carefully because the next one is yours". And from that day on I became a real cowboy. Lots of riding moving cows around. Branding was done over a real wood fire with heelers roping the calves and dragging them in. During the winter we feed over 2000 cows and about 100 head of elk with a teams of horses. No Tractors!! Some days in the spring and summer the cook would catch fresh trout for breakfast . There were between 5 and 7 fulltime ranch hands working on the LF when I was there. It is without a doubt one of the most beautiful areas of Montana. Did you know that Charly Russell used to come out to the LF ?? One of his old cowboy friends was the forman. He used to camp beside Smith creek.

As you can see my experiences on the LF left a deep impression on me. I live in Germany now but when I retire I plan to go back to the LF for one more ride.

Thanks for listening.


Tim McCann
Otterbach Germany