Sunday, April 21, 2013

I'll Be "Dam'ed"

Because of the falls in this area (hence the name, Great Falls), there are four dams.  I had seen Black Eagle Dam and walked around there.  I tried to see Rainbow Dam, but you can't see anything from the side of the river I was on.  You have to go to the far side and view it face on as it is in a bend in the river.

With Saturday being nice weather (50's and windy, but mostly sunny), Texter and I decided to do a little hiking and try out the new baby pack we got for Lady K. 

It works pretty well.  Will work better when Lady K is a little larger, but we have a baby insert coming next week.  So after a walk around the Lewis and Clark Interpretive Center, we decided to check out the dams in the area.

First, was Rainbow Dam which I had not been able to see the first time around and was only a hop away from where we were. 

Rainbow Dam

One of the falls on Rainbow Dam

Rainbow Dam was named, it seems, by the colors of the rocks in the falls.  And the look downriver is impressive with how the Missouri twists and turns.

Then we made the drive out to Ryan Dam.  I thought that was the only one left and didn't realize there was a fourth dam, Morony Dam.  They are both outside of town about 10 miles, but well worth the drive.  Texter, on the other hand, was less than impressed by the road to "no where" which was a little bumpy and very twisty at times.

The next dam in order of placement on the Missouri is Ryan Dam.  

Ryan Dam

Falls on Ryan Dam

Bridge over to Ryan Island

Ryan Dam is impressive with several cascades after the dam itself.  What is intriguing is the "island" you can walk over to and view the falls and dam better.  However, it does not open until Mother's Day, so this is a definite revisit when I come back from North Carolina.

The fourth dam is Morony Dam and it is probably the tallest.  You can wind down the road to the river below the dam and while we were there, several people were there fishing.

Morony Dam
View downriver from Morony Dam

At Morony Dam you can hike two trails, the South Shore and the North Shore Trails.  I will have to do some research and check them out.  They might be good trails to work up to tougher  trails.

All in all, it was a great Saturday.  Now Sunday will be spend indoors, knitting and sewing, as we are expecting snow.  Go figure!

Saturday, April 20, 2013

Benton Lake National Wildlife Refuge

After doing 6 loads of laundry at the laundromat (still waiting to get ours which was damaged in the move replaced by the moving company), Texter, Lady K and I decided to drive out to Benton Lake National Wildlife Refuge and see what it was all about.  About 400 pictures later, we knew.  This is definitely on my list of 'come back and check out again in a couple of weeks' list.  So this posting will be full of pictures of birds.  I ask for indulgence on some of the bird names.  There are a lot of birds which I have never come into contact with before living in Tennessee, Texas and North Carolina.  Hopefully, I have identified them correctly.  

Benton Lake is a National Wildlife Refuge.  I am familiar with the wildlife refuges because of the one in Tennessee just a couple of miles up the road from where my grandparents had their cabin.  However, on that one, they planted corn and grain crops in areas for the animals.  Here, they are just letting nature take it's course and encouraging the native prairie and marsh grasses as food sources.

We drove the loop around the lake.  While not that long in mileage, it was long in terms of stopping and taking pictures.  Also, it was a graded, gravel road which does not encourage fast driving.

This is the view looking back toward town as you enter the refuge.  At the time we were there, it was overcast.  Chance of snow again this weekend.

This is one fellow I was already familiar with, a meadowlark.  One of the first birds we saw when we entered the refuge.

This little guy I can't identify.  Seems to have a white bar across his chest.   Then the fun began as we hit the first piece of water.  

These are Eared Grebe, I do believe.  New to me!  I am use to Canadian Geese (which there are a ton here) and mallards (also a lot of), but several 'new' types of ducks to me were seen.

This is one of the canals which moves water into Benton Lake.

A couple of Tundra Swans.  While I have seen swans before, I haven't seen them in the wild before.  Those at Apex Lake I really don't consider wild as they are fed by humans and live right in the big middle of everything.  

At one point, there was this huge flock of 'white' birds sitting in the road.  Texter and I thought they were gulls until we got closer (will post pictures of that later).  Turns out they are white geese, hundreds of them.  

Then this little guy, a red winged blackbird.  He, I knew, but lovely all the same. 

As you drive the loop around the lake, there is an observation walk out onto the marsh and up to the lake.  On a cold, cloudy day, it seems very remote out here.  It's hard to believe, less than 10 miles away is a large, thriving town.

But mother goose (or daddy) scared the pee out of me as it flew up from the marsh grasses only a few feet from where I was walking on the boardwalk.  Seems they did have a purpose there and I was interrupting it....a nest of 5 eggs only about 6 feet from the walkway.  I felt bad about leaving them out in the cold, so I didn't tarry on the walkway.


This is a picture from the walkway looking over the lake and toward the mountains.  It's so hard to describe the vastness of the place and the feeling  there is nothing for miles and miles around.

To show how cold it still is here, there is ice in the marsh still in places.  Glad I'm not a duck!

Texter declined to walk on the boardwalk as we had Lady K with us and it was cold and WINDY!  She drove a bit on the road.  Actually, she was hoping the flock of white bird we saw were her enemy, the sea gull, and she was hoping to meet some of them with the car.  But no such luck.

A possible pair of unidentified ducks in another area of the refuge.  There are about 8 water spots which form Benton Lake.  This one had not had a chance to fill up with water yet.

 This is a Long-billed curlew.  A new one to me.  Texter felt this guy (or girl) was a combination of an anteater and a bird.  I was excited to see a bird in the wild like this which I hadn't seen before.  

This is the ranger station.  I love the fact there is a wind turbine and solar panels in use here.  I wish more places utilized alternative methods of power like they seem to here.  

While Texter and I were impressed with Benton Lake and plan on bringing Gibbs out here and making several return trips, Lady K was less than excited.  Even the rough, bouncy gravel road wasn't enough to peak her interest.

Sunday, April 14, 2013

Great Springs State Park

Another location only minutes from the house is the Giant Springs State Park.  It is located on River Drive which seems to hold a ton of locations I need to stop and explore, such as the Lewis and Clark Interpretive Center.  But as Saturday was a beautiful day, I didn't want to be inside. (Note to self:  regardless of how nice the weather seems, carry a cap to protect against the wind!) So I passed it by and headed up the road a tad to Great Springs State Park.

The park is really nice and well cared for.  It is also part of the River Trail walkway, so you can leave the immediate park area and have a nice, paved trail to walk on.  

During the summer months it seems there is also a Park Ranger on duty.

This is the springs.  A large pool with the springs bubbling up in the center in several places and cascading over a small ring of stones to merge into the Missouri River.  It is also the start of the world's shortest river, the Roe.  

On the other side of the little bridge is Giant Springs and the water in the little canal there is the Roe River, so named because it is part of the hatchery at the springs.

Once again, like at Black Eagle Dam, I love the flow of the water over the rocks.  Although not anywhere near as large as the falls at the dam, it is still lovely. 

In the water of the springs itself is this lovely, lettuce looking greenery.  The water is so clear and the green of the leaves is almost neon.

I have already seen tons of sea gulls around Great Falls, flying around parking lots, looking for food.  And I knew that Montana was big on the migratory path for birds and had expected the Canadian Geese.  However, I did not expect to see a pelican on a fresh water river.  

As you walk down the River Trail, upstream toward Black Eagle Dam, there are some wonderful cliffs you walk right next to.

The swallows have not returned yet, but there is ample evidence of these cliffs being a favorite nesting site. 

Along the walkway, there are trails branching off.  Some of them are not paved and can be a little daunting, especially when you see signs showing the grade of the trail.

Twenty percent is a bit more than I want to tackle without getting a little more in shape.  
Of course, signs like this are interesting also.  

At one point, shortly after you leave Giant Springs, you walk below the Lewis and Clark Interpretive Center.  The walkway up to the center is also a little steep looking.  I think I will plan on walking down it and not up it. 

As you walk down the pathway (which I haven't yet, is the statue of a dog up there.  I will have to make the trip down to check it out.

But as you walk along the river, the sounds of the gulls is louder than being at the beach.  There are a couple of islands out in the middle of the river which are nesting places for the gulls and a few geese. 

The view up the river toward Black Eagle Dam.
And on the bluff above the river as you get near the dam, are the statues of Lewis and Clark and Sacagawea.

More of the wonderful bluffs along the trail.  With the bluffs on one side and the river on the other, this two mile round trip walk is a pleasant way to spend a couple of hours.  Not that it takes that long to walk 2 miles, but you have to stop and look.

I did stop and talk to several people along the way (yes, Savvy and Texter, mom was being social!)

This is Michael and he was fishing at Giant Springs in a little creek off to the side with his dad.  He had caught a rainbow trout.  I need to fish again for trout!  Actually, not so much as fish for them as to have a big plate of nicely cooked trout.

Unfortunately, I don't think the hatchery would take kindly if I just scooped a couple of these big beauties up.

Giant Springs is definitely a place I plan on returning to many times.  I would love to see how the scenery changes as the year progresses.