Thursday, October 08, 2020

Fall hits colorful peak on east side: Glacier, Highwoods, Blackleaf

Buffalo Lakes with Glacier Park in background

A small portion of the aspen show in the North Fork of Highwood Creek in the Highwoods

Muted aspen color and leaf loss beneath Mount Frazier in the Blackleaf Canyon

The autumn colors hit their peak on the East side of the Continental Divide this week and we took full advantage, traveling to Glacier Park, the Highwood Mountains, and the Blackleaf Canyon on the Rock Mountain Front.

These were really the best fall colors we've had in years, and we're almost manic trying to get out and enjoy them before the snow flies.

On Monday we traveled through East Glacier Park and did the three-mile hike to Buffalo Lakes in the Badger Two Medicine.  It had been one of our first hikes of the early summer season.  The aspen were spectacular.  There were terrific views of the south end of Glacier Park, which was also lit up by golden and orange aspen.  Then we took a long loop via the Looking Glass Highway to St. Mary and then up to Baab and back around to Browning.  The Blackfeet Reservation is being hit extremely hard by the Covid-19 virus, so we couldn't do much other than look.  We were thrilled with views of Chief Mountain from a Duck Lake overlook.  Brilliant aspen and cottonwoods in all directions.  One of the highlights of the trip:  a Moose just off US 89 below Divide Mountain above a fork of the Milk River.  The highway construction that has been going on for several years is nearly complete near that point.  It has straightened curves and provided pullouts and made the drive from Kiowa Junction to St. Mary more pleasant and scenic.   There were only a couple of cars on the road.

On Tuesday, Gordon Whirry and I did a 7-mile loop in the Highwood Mountains from the North Fork Highwood trailhead over and along the high ridge to the north and then down Briggs Creek and back to the trailhead.  We gained and lost about 2,200 feet.  I was amazed that the colors were even better in the Highwoods than in the Front, particularly in the draws.  We encountered high winds that sent yellow leaves spiraling into the air.   Briggs Creek, that runs in a narrow canyon, was particularly scenic and colorful.  On the way home we could see the smoldering Yogo Fire in the Little Belt Mountains.

On Wednesday, I joined Katie on one of her Girls in Glacier hikes up the Blackleaf Canyon to the pass above the East Fork of Teton River.  I had expected quite a show of color there, but either the peak has passed or the profoundly impressive limestone mountains there, particularly Werner and Frazier, overwhelm the views. We spent an extended lunch break at the pass and picked out surrounding mountains on one of the clearest days of the summer.  Haze from the California fires returned Thursday and was to have lingered until a weather change this weekend.

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