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Quite a Sight a Week Ago

About a week ago, my daughter came here to get my help. On the way back home, I took these pictures. At first glance, the first couple of pictures might not look like anything special. They are simply pictures of snow-covered land and the southern boundary of the National Bison Range, if you don’t know what is there. I took the pictures as quickly as I could since we were traveling about 65 mph at the time, so I didn’t have the time to zoom in.

I was able to do some zoom-in on the computer, using a photo editor, though. I don’t know how well the pictures will turn out on here, but what we saw was astounding. I feel very privileged to have been able to see it.

zoomed in on the first picture

This is the first picture when it is zoomed in. I don't know if you can get a clear view by double-clicking the image or not, but do you see all of those dots on the hillside about three-quarters of the way up? Those are all elk and this is part of a herd that we estimate to have been about 75 head. These are all bulls and cows, no calves yet, but I'd be willing to bet that nearly all of the cows are pregnant and will give birth in the next month or so.

Second picture zoomed in

This is the other picture zoomed in. The elks in this herd are all grazing. It might not look like there would be any food for these big herbivores, but under that six inches of snow, there is still grass and the elks can get to it by using their hooves to move away the snow.

I rather wish that I'd been able to zoom in before taking this picture and would have loved to have been a lot closer because some of those bulls were huge. They probably weighed close to a half-ton. Still, it is a thrill to see this many, especially just before one of several major storms rolled through between the time this picture was taken and now. There are about six inches of snow in these pictures. Right now, eight days later, there are about two and a half feet of snow in the same location. Another snowstorm is also upon us.

Another view of the NBR

Here is a slightly different view from a little farther down the road. Incidentally, the clouds in the distance are snow clouds that are already dropping snow, although there are areas of blue sky. Again, can you see what caught my attention in these pictures?

The well

This one has nothing to do with the elk and it is much closer to home. It is only about 10 miles from here and just off the highway. This is an artesian well that flows with great tasting, extremely cold water all year long. Many people stop here to fill jugs and bottles with water. This well isn't regulated by the state and there are signs to that effect, however, the water is fresh spring water free of chlorine or fluorine. 

From here, the water flows under the highway and down through a field, before flowing into the Clark Fork River, about an eighth-mile to the right. This well is located about a mile and a half from the town of Paradise, Montana. Paradise is even smaller than our town, but the railroad goes right beside the town and in its heyday, it was probably a thriving and busy community. It is less so now because there aren't many businesses, other than ranching and the railroad. 

The artesian well remains.

Southern boundary of the National Bison Range

Do you see anything out of the ordinary in this image? The fence line is the boundary of the National Bison Range and if it helps, there are no bison in the picture, even in the distance.

What do you think?

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Written by Rex Trulove

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    • The bison would most likely just be in another area of the NBR. The Bison Range is a lot bigger than a person might think. There are several areas where the bison tend to congregate during colder weather and the one place where we’ve almost always seen them is near the north boundary of the NBR; basically the opposite side of where these images were taken and on the other side of the hills that can be seen in the pictures.

      Then, too, the bison cows will also be close to calving and give birth around the time that the elks do. They tend to do so in secluded areas. Like cattle, bison calves are more helpless after birth than elk fawns are, so herds of bison cows will often cluster in a secluded area to give birth and they tend to stay in those places from a month or so before birthing until a short time afterward. It causes an unexpected and deceiving set of events. To an observer, there are bison that can be seen here and there, but it seems like almost overnight, the bison population triples and bison calves are suddenly all over the place, along with their mothers.

      Elks, on the other hand, don’t seek seclusion. The newborn fawns can run well only a couple of hours after birth and the bull elk is quite capable of facing off predators that might threaten the calves. For that matter, although elk cows don’t have antlers, they have sharp hooves and know how to use them to protect their young. A grizzly probably wouldn’t hesitate to go after a bison calf, but unless the elk were in deep snow (2 1/2 feet of snow is not deep to an elk), there is a good chance that a grizzly would be injured if it went after an elk fawn. It sometimes does happen that they will kill a fawn, but usually, that is when the cow and fawn get separated from the herd.

    • Indeed! I’m a reluctant traveler, which is strange in and of itself when living in a state that is so far between towns, but one of the things that makes it much more bearable is the animals I see almost every time I go anywhere. Deer are extremely common, but there are plenty of other large creatures, like elk.

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