Thursday, September 25, 2008

Catching Up - Our July Vacation Part 2

So, off we went, leaving the scenery of the Gallatin National Forest for some new scenery: The Kootenai National Forest. First we had to get there; of course we decided that it was wise and more fun to completely avoid I-90, so we took the back roads. We dropped about 5000 feet in elevation over the course of the day, but you would hardly know it because you're still very much in the mountains. Our destination was Troy, MT.

This little corner of the very northernmost and westernmost part of Montana is the road less traveled. You wouldn't pass through here because it's on the way to nowhere else, except maybe Glacier National Park, but even so there are faster ways to find that NP. We stayed at our good, very good, friends' father's cabin, right on the Kootenai river, which flows down into Montana from Canada, takes note of America for a few hundred river miles and then retreats back to Canada. And what aboot that?

ANYWAY, it was a super nice cabin with fabulous views. We took a great hike into the Cabinet Mountain Wilderness to a alpine lake. On the far end of the lake, in the shade of the shear cliffs, was a small seasonal glacier that was cleaving off right as we were eating lunch! You'd see a big piece fall off, then hear it 3 seconds later rattling and booming through the valley. Then 5 minutes later the mini-Tsunami waves would bump the far shore. Pretty cool.

But I was far more interested in the - plant geek alert - thirteen species of conifer growing in a relatively short elevation range! I counted nine of these on our hike alone, of which my old Botany professor Roger del Moral might say is totally freaking bio-diverse-tastic. Plant nerd paradise indeed. Here's the conifer list off the forest service web site:

Northwest Montana Evergreens

Douglas-fir (Red Fir)
Grand fir (White Fir)
Ponderosa Pine (Yellow Pine)
Western Larch (Tamarack)

"I went to the Cabinet Mountains and all I did was look at plants." There was one point on the hike where we stopped to look at an avalanche track on the hill across the valley: we realized that we were also standing in another avalanche track. In this area about 50 feet along the trail there were about 12 species of shrubs. Down in the Puget lowlands where I live and work you'd never get that many. Interesting (to just me I guess) was the fact that around Seattle some of these species would never grow together. Wet-loving species right next to species that don't need any water.

So the Cabinet Mountains are a pretty unique place. It's pretty much undiscovered and the locals are no doubt divided about this: Tourist money vs. the old way of life. Again, do not order the fish. Stick with cow meat.

Other highlights? The rock quarry between Kalispell and Libby, MT. This Landscape Architect almost drove off the road after seeing 30' long slabs of Montana ledgestone sitting out in the stone yard - ready for me to buy, truck down and integrate into the Garff Residence Masterplan. Should have pulled over but they were closed...

After 3 days we had to pack up and drive home.

The avalanche tracks

Shrub biodiversity at it's finest. I assure you Ginger does not care. Hey - I do too care!"

Mini-glacier creating mini-tsunamis

Thought this looked straight out of a How To Design Japanese Gardens for Dummies. The bonzai-ish tree, carefully placed stone, shrub background and beargrass foreground. All naturale.

Hurry up, my dogs are barkin'

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