A brief visit on a warm summer morning to the National Bison Range in Montana showcases this wildlife refuge's star attractions, along with other flora and fauna, and classic Western mountain scenery.
1Hillside Bison with Lupines This bull (male) was the first bison we encountered on our visit to the refuge, just calmly walking in a field of pretty lupines and other wildflowers on the side of a hill. His expression here looks almost curious as he gazes back at me.
2Home on the Range One of the smaller herds of bison migrates not far from the main loop road in the refuge. The grasslands in the foreground and forested mountains behind are typical of this area -- and the growing thunderclouds also common for the time of year.
3Bitterroot Beauty We found the most amazing flowers growing all over the hillsides in the refuge -- brilliant blooms in shades of pink and purple that seemed to burst straight out of the dark soil with no foliage to be seen. Only later did I learn that this is the bitterroot, Montana's state flower and the origin of the name of a mountain range, river and other natural features in the state.
4Bitterroot Montana View Bitterroot flowers pepper a hillside overlooking one of the small valleys in and near the National Bison Range in Montana. Snow still clings to the higher peaks even in late June.
5Needs a Bigger Hiding Spot American Bison can be incredibly docile in appearance, like this fine specimen that we were fortunate enough to see when we first entered the park. Of course, they are still wild animals and must be given their distance and treated with respect -- this image was shot from farther away than you might think.
Anyway, it seems to me that this guy needs to find a bigger tree to try to hide behind if he wants to avoid the wildlife paparazzi. :)
6Hazy Day Over the Flathead Valley This view from the top of the hill in the center of the range was typically, wonderfully Montana. On this hazy morning, it was easy to see a good portion of the Flathead Valley laid out before us.
7A Bird not in Hand We saw a number of interesting birds in the park, including the beautiful magpie (which unfortunately eluded my camera...) This little fellow was a bit of a surprise, though; we found him hopping around in the brush near where we parked our car for a short hike. I am told this is a sparrow chick; I hope we didn't scare him too much, between the kids excited for a better look, and me trying to get a good photograph! :)
8The Lone Grazer A young male bison wanders, grazing across the grassy plain of the National Bison Range, as late morning thunderclouds grow over the mountains of Montana.
9Antler Collage One of the odder curiosities of the National Bison Range is a huge pile of antlers near the visitors' center. For many years, rangers have been collecting antlers that they find in the field -- from any of the several species of animals that live in the range -- and stacking them into a huge mound at least ten feet high and over six feet in diameter.
This is a somewhat more abstract view of the stack, showing the interesting textures and shapes of the antlers.
10A Bison Family Affair Bison cows and calves out for a stroll on a warm morning.
11Diagonals, Hills and Mountains A scene of layered diagonal ridges and hillsides in the National Bison Range. I believe this area is the Elk Creek drainage basin.
12Bison Herd on the Move This was the largest herd of bison we encountered in our brief visit to the National Bison Range -- several dozen bulls, cows and calves. They were all migrating from one end of the range to the other, for reasons that I could not discern.
13Solitary Bison A solitary bison grazes, framed by wildflowers, hillsides and billowing clouds... a classic Montana early summer scene.
14Rockpile View I'm not sure if this rockpile is a natural feature or one that was created by the rangers for some reason, but I thought it made a nice foreground for another image of the fine scenery in this area.
15Bison Calf Lunch No, I don't mean that we had the calf for our lunch! :)
Actually, most of the bison calves we saw stayed very close to their "moms", but this one ventured off a bit, allowing me to snap a shot. Cows are very protective of their young, of course, and getting too near the calves can be dangerous. This image was taken from the protective cover of our car.