Three vignettes

a portrait of the naturalist in her own element

— Worming my way through the throngs of tourists, who were jabbering in at least four languages, I finally could peer over shoulders and outstretched arms with attached cameras. And there they were, the objects of all this attention: a female black bear with three tiny cubs of the year. Both tourists and bears were well-behaved. The bears lolled about between the platform and Steep Creek, occasionally nibbling on a leftover bit of sockeye.

After a while, Mom got up and sauntered a few feet away, where she munched on some greens. Her salad. A bit later, she walked slowly into the creek and, in one quick rush, caught a salmon. Crunch, crunch, crunch. She took it back to the cubs, and that was the main course.

Then they all ambled off through the brush, appearing a few minutes later under the next viewing platform. There they all snuffled around in the low vegetation, picking nagoon berries. Even the cubs know what to look for. Dessert!

— Between the north end of Fifth Street in Douglas and the gravelly part of the Crow Hill Road lies a short trail. Access into and out or a steep little ravine is assisted by knotted ropes, providing a new experience and a small thrill for the youngsters with us.

A small distance along is an old concrete dam on Bear Creek. Thanks to the works of Earl Redman and Bob DeArmond, I found a little information about the dam and the creek in the State Historical Library. Bear Creek was once known as Mission Creek, because of a nearby Quaker mission (the missionaries sometimes had a hard time with the miners…but that is another story). The first record of activity on the creek was an 1882 water claim for mining use. In 1888, a short-lived mining claim saw some sluicing and tunneling action at the very end of the Treadwell orebody.

The concrete dam was built in 1934, to supply water to the town of Douglas. It no long backs up water and the little creek flows unimpeded through the base, but I failed to find out when it ceased to impound water. Judging from the vegetation in the valley, it was many years ago. The trail goes right along the top of the dam, with concrete railings on both sides. I’m sure there are folks in town who remember the history of this little dam, and I’d love to know more about it.

— The top of Thunder Mountain on a warm, sunny day in mid August was a floral paradise: Splendid arrays of the intensely blue broad-petaled gentian, whose flowers open and wait for visiting bees only in the sun; patches of the low-growing, single-flowered harebell, with its up-turned blue cup; tall monkshood with deep purple flowers; pink subalpine daisies; tall groundsels presenting their crowns of yellow sunbursts.

The ground-hugging dwarf willows were sending white tufts into the breeze, dispersing their seeds to parts unknown. Bog blueberries grew in mats over the thin soil, and some patches of them were loaded with ripe fruit.

There are spectacular views down to the glacier, the Valley, and the islands, to the bridge and on southward, and up to Heinzleman Ridge (and a possible mountain goat). The only birds were two ravens overhead, in leisurely conversation, and a few savanna sparrows (probably), dodging around in the low vegetation.

An interesting find was a single plate from the back of a chiton. A little more searching revealed a total of seven plates, weathering out of a pellet cast by some bird, perhaps a raven. So that’s one way the remains of intertidal creatures can end up in the alpine.

Lunchtime on top of Thunder has a lot to offer! Well worth the steep climb up and the long trek down through a string of pretty meadows, a scattered stand of yellow cedars, and through the woods and mud along an old pipeline to the East Glacier trail.

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