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.
The Flathead Valley gets very busy during the summer, and we’re always on the lookout for places that are off the beaten path and don’t require sitting in traffic in order to get there. Finger Lake, about a half hour north of Whitefish, fit the bill and was the perfect hike for cooling off on a hot day.
The trail head, which provides access to three different family-friendly lake hikes, is just before the Upper Stillwater Campground (follow the signs to the campground just past mile marker 151 on Highway 93; the trail head is right before the campground itself). Thanks to the Farm to Market Road, we could avoid traffic and bypass both Kalispell and Whitefish. Finger Lake is a 3 mile round trip hike with about 100 feet of total elevation gain. There are a few brief inclines but nothing too taxing for anyone in our group.
Besides the lake itself, the cliffs are the other main attraction. The trail peters out at a large section of outcroppings that provide a many options for making a splash into the lake. Some are not for the faint of heart, but others are just rocks jutting out into the water that rise only a few feet out of the lake.
After our return hike we continued down the road to Upper Stillwater Lake. The Younger Fives had a blast riding the current of the Stillwater River just before it empties into the Lake. We didn’t have our boogie boards with us, but they will definitely be packed for our next visit.
After spending the day we feel like we only scratched the surface, and we’re eager to check out Wall Lake and Lagoni Lake. With another few weeks of dry, hot weather in the forecast, we’re sure to make another visit soon.
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.
Ever since our thwarted efforts to reach Glacier National Park’s high country during our first visit to Montana, we’ve been eager to make the drive up to Logan Pass on the Going to the Sun Road. This past Wednesday the entire stretch opened after plow crews worked diligently for weeks to clear out the feet of snow and debris left over the winter. Knowing how busy Glacier gets in the summer, we jumped in the car this past Thursday to make our first successful trip to Logan Pass.
While the road itself was clear of snow, the top of Logan Pass definitely was not. After a quick picnic lunch, we headed out on the Hidden Lake Trail. The mix of snow below and sun above made for a quasi-winter wonderland. Hikers, skiers, and snowboarders shared the trail, and quite a few snowball fights were in full swing all around.
Columbian Ground Squirrel – Glacier National Park, MT
On the way back down the trail Five Spice had the inspiration to pull an emergency tarp out of our backpack and fashion a makeshift sled. While not the smoothest sledding experience, the backdrop of the surrounding peaks couldn’t be beat!
When we set out for the park we hadn’t planned on a romp through the snow, but it ended up making for a wonderful day. The park had definitely transformed since we last visited this past winter, and it was hard to imagine just a few months previously we had been cross-country skiing on the road we were driving on. For those not yet ready to let go of winter, Glacier provides plenty of snowy fun well into the summer.