Smoke from nearby forest fires has made its way to the Flathead Valley and our usually brilliant blue sky is now overcast. This past week we headed to the northern end of the lake and the haze was so bad that it felt like we were canoeing at dusk even though it was noon.
The north end of Flathead Lake offers a stark contrast to what we are used to in the Lakeside area. The Somers end of the lake used to be home to a saw mill and railroad tie factory and the remains of industry can still be seen in old pilings and buildings.
Along the shoreline the water is very shallow and sandy compared to the rocky shore that we usually swim off at West Shore State Park. The Younger Fives had a ball jumping out of the kayak and running along the lake bottom while we floated along behind them.
With the overcast sky it seemed like we were canoeing along an ocean bay instead of on Flathead Lake. The bird spotting was thick along the shores of the lake with geese, gulls, and osprey spread out in the shade of the large cottonwood trees. We all enjoyed the change of environment even though we were still on the same body of water.
The Flathead Lake Biological Station was established in 1899 making it one of the oldest active biological field research stations in the United States. This past week we were fortunate to take part in their open house. We had never explored the Yellow Bay section of Flathead Lake before and were astounded by the number of cherry orchards that we passed as we drove to the station. Even more exciting however, was being able to tour the Biological Station and find out more about the research projects taking place on and around the lake.
As we toured the grounds we met a variety of scientists both international and local that were more than happy to explain their research projects to us. We viewed and learned more about drones that are being used to map mountains and floodplains. The kids took part in a hands on experiment that helped them understand the many shapes (and their function) of plankton. At one display the kids were tasked with finding a representation of Nitrogen and Phosphorus in a large bucket of sand. This helped explain how little Nitrogen and especially Phosphorus there is in Flathead Lake. The Phosphorus in the lake is used so quickly that it is incredibly hard to detect in water samples.
After making our way through the Biological Station’s buildings we headed down towards the dock where we watched two dogs that were trained to sniff out invasive species. It was incredible to watch one of the dogs find a Zebra Mussel hidden in the motor of a boat within seconds of the scent hitting her nose.
For the grand finale of our tour we went out on one of the field station boats towards one of the monitoring buoys placed on the lake. The boat operator (a long-time researcher at the station) gave us a great overview of the work going on at the Flathead Lake Biological Station. The kids especially enjoyed the high waves that the boat encountered due to it being a very windy day!
All in all it was a fascinating open house and a great hands on look into the science being conducted just across the lake from us. It was especially wonderful to hear that Flathead Lake is a very healthy ecosystem and that a lot of work is being put into keeping it that way.
We moved into our current rental house in November when the trees had all lost their leaves. So, it was really exciting this spring when we discovered that we had several fruit trees growing in the backyard. As the fragrant blossoms died away and we became occupied with swimming and hiking the fruit trees faded from our minds. So, it was really exciting this past week when the Younger Fives came running into the house with huge smiles and handful of ripe cherries. The tree is absolutely loaded with fruit keeping our stomachs very happy. At some point we will probably need to start thinking of what to do with all these cherries besides just snacking on them. It will be interesting to see if the other fruit trees in the yard (apple and plum) yield as much fruit.
Testing the water.
Our vacation to the coast is over and we are back in Montana. While we miss the ocean we are excited to be back near the lake. The snow and ice are gone from one of our favorite state parks and we were able to spend a very sunny day sitting along the banks of Flathead Lake skipping stones and dipping our toes in the chilly water.
Hunting for the perfect skipping stone.
That one was at least four skips!
Letting it fly.
The big excitement of the day was building a bridge out to a few off shore rocks. Finally the perfect piece of drift wood was found and after much exertion it was put into place as the official bridge out to “Kids Only Island”. This definitely counted as a homeschool lesson for the day.
Measuring the distance.
Floating the wood down lake.
Enlisting the help of some muscle power.
Trying it out.
Admiring the view.
A little over two weeks ago we crossed the Continental Divide to our new rental house in the Flathead Valley. We are now much closer to water and to the mountains. Even though we should have been unpacking these last few days it has been very hard to stay away from the abundance of new recreational opportunities. We can’t wait to post about our upcoming adventures in this amazing part of Montana!