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Reefs, Bears, and the Beartooths

On of the unusual features of this area are the ‘reefs’, long cliffs exposed in the mountainsides.  There’s a beautiful area nearby that I’ve been exploring this summer called Reef Creek.



A forest service road winds precariously up to the top of the reef, where you discover you’re now driving on a totally flattened surface.  You can walk to the edge of the cliffs and its a sheer drop down.  Parts of the dirt road even look like they’ve been paved.  That’s because you’re on pure rock in areas.

I’ve walked the entire road in pieces including the uphill.  I finally discovered the road’s end (of course, many people have 4-wheeled to the end without walking…but to walk it is to know it) at a small creek, aptly named Reef Creek.  Beyond is a well maintained trail that loops over a pass and back into my valley.

I hiked a few miles up the trail the other day.  The trail winds in high country, although fairly flat, and is home to abundant stands of White Bark Pines.  Alarmingly, most of the mature trees were dead from beetle kill.

White bark pines dead on Reef Creek

White bark pines dead on Reef Creek

I had seen old signs of grizzly scat with pine nuts in it.  I thought of the Great Bear and how difficult it must be to find viable cones.  Bears probably have their favorite haunts.  I imagined them returning here, only to find the cupboards bare.

I climbed higher and finally discovered a few niches of live mature stands.  There are young white barks alive among the dead, but they won’t be producing for 30 or 40 years.

I also encountered the newest addition to my tree list, Abies lasiocarpa or the Sub-Alpine fir.  Its beautiful smooth bark and christmas tree look make it easy to identify.  Abies, or true firs, always have their cones standing upright.  Picea, or spruce, have their cones pendulous (P in the Picea can stand for pendulous).  The botany lumpers and splitters seem to be warring again over exactly if there is a different species named A. bifolia that is almost a look-alike.  But for now, lasiocarpa is good enough for me.

Abies lasiocarpa

Abies lasiocarpa

In contrast to this scene of dying trees, I took a ride up to the Beartooths just two days ago.  I wanted to see this gorgeous area before the road closed.  I was not disappointed.  The mosquitos were gone.  And better than that, I spent the afternoon hiking at Island Lake and didn’t see one person.  The White Barks I encountered around the lakes there appeared healthy although I have never seen much bear sign in the higher elevations of the Beartooths. One of the WG&F bear specialists told me that there aren’t many moth sites they know of there so it’s not a frequented area by many Grizzlies.

The afternoon was warm and I couldn’t have asked for a more perfect day.Beartooth in fall


Fish in the beartooths

Fish in the beartooths

Ahh, not a soul around

Ahh, not a soul around

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