This time of the year we get a lot of days where the skies are blad or the skies are filled with clouds so dense the light doesn’t pop through. Some say it can be really depressing and arguably they are right, too much time looking at nothing but grey can get dull. Now and then the sun pops out and lets in just enough light to make it worthwhile. Truthfully, these nights where just enough comes through are great times to be watching the west and seeing what happens in the east.
Winter is truly around the corner and with the changing of the season comes the changing of the habits of wildlife. Large ungulates like these Rocky Mountain Elk, have to conserve calories as they become harder to acquire in the cold months. Often I find males with their harems bedded down throughout the day. This particular male was enjoying a sleepy afternoon perched on top of his hillside with his ladies.
With one big snowstorm, our Fall season seems to be over before it even started. While the peak Fall color in the area was said to be at the end of September, beginning of October, what little color was present has quickly disappeared. Just like the light that was present this evening many years ago, what was there for a moment disappeared in a flash.
It’s both actually. If the fishing is good, I fish. If the photography is good, I take pictures. It all really depends on what’s happening. There are plenty of times when the bite isn’t on and bringing out the camera is the best option. Then again, there are times when the bite is so good that you just can’t stop. Winter photography I found to fit this paradigm really well as often the skies are filled with heavy grey clouds that aren’t that compelling. Sometimes, if you wait long enough those skies will open up and enough light will emerge through to make it interesting.
Well, it definitely feels like Winter skipped Fall this year, with the high winds, cold temps, and the snow falling in the valley and the mountains, this could be the start of a great snow year. Over the weekend the mountains turned a beautiful shade of white which made them look majestic. One skill I learned long ago when it comes to photographing winter landscapes is to really go into little sections of the mountains and bring out just those areas in your composition. The tree lines and the snow can be great subject matter without any other distractions.
I’ve heard the name for years but have never visited it. I have driven by it and through the valley but never stopped. This month I finally made the journey over to the Ruby River which is considered one of the most beautiful rivers that flow through Montana and for trout fisherman one of the hardest to fish. The Ruby River is a tributary of the Beaverhead River and flows from Beaverhead National Forest north until it merges back into the Beaverhead River at Twin Bridges. Along the way, it goes through the Tobacco Root Mountains and the Ruby Range making it beautiful to observe.
Due to the location of the river and the amount of private land that resides along either side of the river as it flows through the Ruby Valley, there is limited access to public fishing areas. Beneath the dam at Ruby Reservoir, there are several access points that allow people to get to the river. As a result of the limited access, fishing can be very tough. The biggest factor I found was the color of the water was always a glacial greenish-blue due to high mineral content. This made matching color patterns difficult. Despite these obstacles, the drive over was definitely worth it as the scenery of the river was like nothing else I have seen. Photographically the river is a treasure trove of different possibilities.
I have lived in Bozeman for fourteen years now and in all that time I have never had to deal with a fire that was so close it was visible to the naked eye. We’ve been very fortunate in this town to avoid such fires despite the surroundings and the constant influx of outdoor recreation. Eventually, it was going to happen and sadly it did this year when so many other fires were burning throughout the western US. The Bridger Foothills fire started on Septemeber 4th when winds kicked up an ember that was in a dead tree caused by a lightning strike. That little ember was believed to have been there for as long as a week before roaring to life. It quickly moved past the famous “M” and over the ridge to the east side where the fire made its way along the eastern slope of the mountain range.
For weeks the fire remained uncontained due to high winds, nearby housing, and accessibility. The priority on the eastern side was to stop the fire from spreading to the houses, which the fire crews did an amazing job but sadly 28 homes were still lost. Currently, the fire is 83% contained but the recent cold weather should help. The road leading up to the Bridger’s was closed for a long while but finally, it reopened this month, and naturally, I had to make my way up there to see the damage. It was remarkable. The difference between years past and the current status of the range is striking. Being a photographer you get to see and capture these changes when they occur, and while it is sad, it is also nature’s way of managing the forest. In time, the eastern slope will be green again but for now, it is a stark reminder of the power of mother nature.
The 4th Saturday of September is National Public Lands Day. Since 1994 it has been held to encourage people to get out and enjoy the beauty this country has to offer. National parks have free admission this coming Saturday so if you have one nearby you, then you might want to consider going out. If not, then it’s still a good day to go out and enjoy the wilderness. If you do go out be sure to bring a camera and be safe.
Some years it’s harder to tell than others that it is actually Fall. Thanks to the Typhoon in the Pacific a couple of weeks ago there has already been a significant dump of snow in the Rocky Mountains, while not unusual to have a storm in September, it was a lot at the time. All of that has melted away of course but it was a welcome sight for the fire season. In the time I’ve spent in Bozeman the weather has always seemed unusual. We get weird chinooks where it goes from warm to cold and cold to warm. There are have been past October’s where a T-shirt and jeans were too much and Septembers where you need a down jacket. The best advice for shooting under such conditions is to be prepared for just about anything. Do some homework and see what the weather gods bring.
Well, we aren’t quite there yet but pretty soon there will be snow on the Bridger Mountains. Right now we are faced with a terrible fire on the Bridgers and honestly, I can’t wait for the snow to show up. This past Monday we had the first minor snow flurry come through in the higher elevations and a welcome reprieve of cooler temps. Pretty soon it will be chasing fall color and fall spawning Brown Trout. Until then, here’s hoping the fire will get contained.