Photo of the Month: Ol' Gator Mouth

Photo of the Month: Ol' Gator Mouth

Wednesday, March 17, 2021

When You Just Need More Weight

As a fly fishing guide, there are lots of little tips and tricks I get to pass on to my clients. It would be nearly impossible to compile those into one resource unfortunately. Okay, so maybe not impossible, but it would take me a while to think about it while I'm sitting at home writing. Most of these things have a way of coming up during the natural flow of a day on the water. That is what guides should do, offer advice on how to improve, or at least on different ways to do things. A guided trip should be as much a chance to improve as an angler as it is a chance to catch lots of fish. Those two things generally go hand in hand. 

Anyway, these little tips often come up in the natural flow of a guided trip. One that comes up quite often is the idea of getting your flies down to the fish. One of my favorite guiding moments happens when teaching nymphing strategies, either for the Nymphing Class at Little River Outfitters, or just on a regular guided trip. What usually happens is something like this. 

We are fishing nymphs, either under a strike indicator or high sticking (tight lining/euro nymphing) and not catching any fish. At some point, I suggest that we add some split shot. Sometimes there is even already some shot on the line. However, it sometimes just isn't enough. The split shot needs to be heavy enough to get the flies down. Depending on stream flow, depth, flies used, and technique, you might need anywhere from one #8 split shot to a string of #1 or even heavier shot. Sometimes just one addition works. Other times it can take two or three. Either way, the best part happens when the first cast is made after the correct amount of shot is added. Almost invariably, the angler will catch a fish. That is a much more effective lesson than simply telling someone they should add more shot if they aren't catching fish. 

Of course, if you add too much shot, you'll be hanging on the bottom continually. Thus, a good rule of thumb is to add shot until you're constantly hanging the bottom. Then, take one off and you should be about right. You want to be ticking the bottom some but not losing flies.

The funny thing about tips and tricks is that sometimes you have to remind yourself about them. Yesterday, after a morning guided trip, I had a little time to kill before heading back home. Last week, on a guided trip, I had come across a couple of nice brown trout that seemed willing to eat dry flies. In fact, we missed one of them on a dry fly that day. I had been wanting to see those fish up close and had already devoted one quick stop to try and catch one to no avail. Yesterday seemed like a good opportunity. 

I got to the chosen spot and waded right in. Drifting a dry fly through the run produced exactly zero takes, so I changed tactics and tied on a nymph rig involving a small pheasant tail nymph and a small hare's ear nymph on 6x tippet. To this, I added two #4 split shot. For the depth and current, that seemed about right since I had small flies and fine tippet. A New Zealand Indicator finished the rig. 

For the next five minutes, I got many drifts through what I thought was the sweet spot. There were exactly zero strikes. Knowing how many fish this pool typically contains, I was a bit shocked. Surely something would want to eat my nymphs! I was just about to give up when it occurred to me that I might not be as deep as I had assumed. Deciding to get to the bottom of things so to speak, I added a #1 shot and now felt confident of getting down. 

On the very next cast, I had a quick hit from an eight inch rainbow that just as quickly released itself. That was enough, however, to convince me to try another five minutes of casts. In fact, it only took about three more casts before the indicator dove convincingly yet again. This time, I could tell there was some heft to the fish. In fact, it didn't want to move where I wanted it to at all!

Babying the 6x tippet, I took plenty of time fighting this beautiful brown trout. Every time I thought it was about whipped, it surged back into the depths. Finally, after a couple of downstream runs that prompted me to follow, I got it close and with the head up, quickly scooped with my net. 

Large Great Smoky Mountains National Park brown trout


This was probably one of the larger brown trout I will catch this year in the Smokies, possibly even the largest. I've had plenty of years where this would be my best Great Smoky Mountain brown trout. Not bad for fifteen minutes or so of fishing and just about as much time fiddling with my rigging. Sometimes you just need more weight. I shouldn't be surprised anymore, but for some reason this lesson always gets me. Anyway, next time you aren't finding success with nymphs, try adding some weight. You just might be surprised...

Sunday, March 14, 2021

A Quick Getaway

Fishing trips are few and far between these days, at least the kind where I get to hold the fly rod and do the catching. One amazing perk of life as a fly fishing guide is getting to be on the water every day. However, your own personal fishing time usually suffers. This year, I'll fish even less than usual since we have a little one on the way. Last week, I enjoyed what will probably be the last overnight fishing trip until fall at the earliest. It was a much needed getaway to get me excited about the guide season that is now in full swing. 

Spring Hatches

The first hatches of spring have commenced. Quill gordon and blue quill mayflies are hatching well most days and provided excellent dry fly fishing on the Oconaluftee River. On the first day, in particular, my friend and fellow guide Pat Tully and I took our time seeking out risers in the afternoon. The hatch was a bit slow to get started with very cool overnight temperatures. Once it started though, we found rising trout the rest of the day until quitting for the evening. 

Blue quills have the edge in numbers, but where quill gordon mayflies hatch in enough numbers, the trout get excited about them. That said, we caught a lot more rising trout that we targeted with smaller patterns instead of larger. In addition to the mayflies, we are seeing good numbers of early brown stoneflies, little black stoneflies, and little black caddis. Midges hatch prolifically every day as well.

Fishing the Oconaluftee

I enjoyed this river all three days, but really focused on it the first and last day of my trip. The surprising part of the trip was how poorly certain sections fished. That is typical of early season fishing, however, and probably has a lot to do with the fact that the wild rainbows are largely busy spawning right now. Thankfully, the brown trout were looking up by afternoon every day and we caught enough to keep busy. Here are a couple of pictures from my time on the Oconaluftee. 



Fishing Noland Creek

One thing I have become much more intentional about the last few years is trying new and different things. That is how I stay interested and enjoy fly fishing even while my career means I'm on the water every day. This has been a huge benefit to me over the last few years. I've got to explore more and further, and fishing new water is always a blast. 

On this trip, I was debating fishing Deep Creek which is a long time personal favorite. When it came time to head over there, I even stopped by the parking area at the trailhead. However, I decided to continue my policy of trying new places to fish at least once per trip. This led me on a short drive down the Road to Nowhere to fish Noland Creek. 


Now, this wasn't the first time I've fished Noland Creek. I had fished there before, but always down towards Fontana Lake. I've caught some nice fish down that way as well as seeing some big bear tracks along the lake shore. Anyway, this trip would be my first time venturing upstream from the Road to Nowhere.

When I got to the parking lot, I took my time rigging up. No one else was there, so I didn't need to rush to find that perfect place to fish. After checking and double checking to make sure I had packed my light lunch, I headed down the trail. It really didn't take too long before I just couldn't help it anymore and had to duck in and start fishing. This is one of the prettiest streams and was just the perfect size to fish. The fish were not large, but they were willing for the most part. Here is one of the larger rainbows. Notice all the spots. 


Over the next few hours, I caught and released 30 or more wild rainbow trout. Supposedly there are some brown trout in Noland Creek as well, but I never found any. The rainbows were absolutely stunning. Since we are right around the spawn, they are colored up about as well as you'll ever find them. This one had fewer spots but a stunning red stripe.


One rainbow even had some "cutthroat" markings that suggested something other than pure rainbow trout in its lineage. You see that on most Smokies streams from time to time. Way back in the day, hatcheries were sending all types of trout all over the place. Official stocking records don't ever show cutthroat being stocked in the Smokies, but some of the fish certainly appear to have a few cutthroat trout genes. This fish looked a lot like cutthroat and had almost no spotting but had the red slash under the jaw like a cuttbow.



The fishing was fairly simple, with a Parachute Adams or Pheasant Tail nymph doing most of the damage. While I caught good numbers overall, I still had to work just a little. By the time I fished, ate some lunch, and caught a few more fish, I was getting tired. I decided to walk out before it got too late. Surprisingly, there were several cars in the parking area with at least a few people now fishing close to the road. Still, this seems to be a generally underutilized stream overall. 

A Good Trip

Overall, this was an excellent trip and a nice quick escape before I'm slammed with guide trips. I'll probably end up with one or two more days to fish if I choose to do so this spring, otherwise I'll be busy for a good long while before I get out to fish again. 

Instead of fishing, I'll be thinking about past and future fishing trips. Coming up soon, I'll try to share the next installment from our Glacier trip. The last full day in Glacier is next, then it is on to the fishing part of the trip!






Friday, March 05, 2021

March 2021 Trout Zone Anglers Newsletter

If you haven't checked out our newsletter, please do so HERE. It has lots of good info for upcoming fishing as well as some deals. You can also navigate to the SALE page via the menu bar and see what is for sale. Thanks!

Wednesday, March 03, 2021

Caney Fork Scouting Trip

Low water on the Caney will be a rarity for the next couple of weeks, but I found a few while it lasted. If you haven't subscribed to my YouTube channel yet, you probably missed this video. Check it out below, or even better, head over and watch it on YouTube and subscribe to my Trout Zone Anglers channel while you are there. 



Monday, March 01, 2021

First Spring Wildflower Hike

Spring wildflowers and spring dry fly fishing go hand in hand. Both usually kick off the season around the same time. With more than a little rain lately, the spring dry fly fishing might be tougher than usual this year, but the wildflowers are still blooming where they are supposed to. 

Yesterday, I wanted to play around with some new techniques with the camera and post-processing. Focus stacking is a way to get better depth of field in pictures, and my main motivation for learning this technique is spring wildflowers. That said, I'm sure I'll also be using this technique in landscape photography as well. 

Practicing Focus Stacking

Before leaving home, I gave it a quick try on the crocus blooming in my front yard. The method of focus stacking in Photoshop was quite simple, and I was ready to get some wildflowers photographed.

Focus stacking crocus

We headed to a nearby segment of the Cumberland Trail that we enjoy short trips to quite frequently. We are tremendously blessed to have so much good hiking close to home. On many days, we have a hard time deciding where to go because there are so many choices. This time, not wanting to spend a whole day, we decided to stay closer to home. My main goal was wildflowers which narrowed down the options considerably since it is still early in the season. 

Applying Focus Stacking Principles in the Field with Spring Wildflowers

Arriving at our hiking location, we were surprised to find the gate closed. The sign still said it was open, but we couldn't access the usual parking area. Thankfully, there was room to park just outside the gate without blocking anything. Soon, we were walking down the hill and starting the loop hike we enjoy. It didn't take long to find the first wildflowers of interest. 

Spring beauties are one of my favorite early season wildflowers. They often grow in profusion, covering large areas in small white and pink blossoms. The main color is generally white, with small streaks of pink if you look closely. My parents' yard is always a treat this time of year once they start blooming because of the density of blooms. Since it was still early, we didn't find as many as there will be in another week. There were still more than enough to enjoy some photography and practicing my photo stacking technique. 

My camera is a nice one, but so far I only have two lenses for it. Thus, I was stuck using a non macro lens and doing my best to make it work. The results have been better than I expected, and while I still want a dedicated macro lens as soon as possible, this will at least get me through spring wildflower season. 

Spring beauty wildflower focus stacking

Obviously, a macro lens would have been sharper, but considering how small these flowers are, I'm still reasonably satisfied with the result. I at least have something to play around with during the spring wildflower season. 

After I took a few pictures, we continued our loop. The main attraction would be close to the end I hoped. In the meantime, I was keeping an eye out. Surprisingly, all I found was some type of speedwell, and a few more spring beauties. I had been looking for some other early bloomers such as bloodroot or anemone or toothwort, but they simply weren't there yet. 

By the time we were approaching the end of our loop, I was excited to see what was blooming where I expected things to be. Sure enough, we rounded a corner and I began spotting blooms right away. Sharp lobed hepatica blooms in profusion in this area due to a strong limestone outcropping. I have a few places in our area that I know I can go find these beautiful flowers, but this is the most accessible. There were even a few exceptionally colored blooms in addition to the usual white flowers. Here is my favorite, shot using the focus stacking technique. This image is a composite of eight individual images, each with a varying depth of field. 

Focus stacking sharp lobed hepatica spring wildflower


Sunday, February 28, 2021

Glacier Day Seven: Late Day Bonus

After completing a 14.5 mile hike, you might assume we would be tired and done for the day. Part of that assumption is correct: we were tired. However, we were not so tired that the day was over. The big hike to Gunsight Lake and Florence Falls had been a lot of fun, but we finished early enough in the afternoon that we still had many hours of daylight left. Before any further adventuring though, we wanted to eat some more. Lunch had been completed on the return hike from Gunsight Lake, and we were starting to get hungry again. 

Relaxing in Camp and Eating Yet Again

The drive back to camp was completed as quickly as one can under the conditions, and we were soon devouring another delicious meal featuring burritos. This had become a big favorite for us on this trip. We eat a lot of them anyway, but they had turned into a quick and easy but delicious meal with good nutrition after the big hikes we had been doing. An ample amount of black beans, lettuce, tomato, a little shredded cheese, avocado, and either salsa or Taco Bell sauce provided plenty of calories.

While we were relaxing in camp, I decided to try and get some pictures of the wildlife around camp. I was particularly interested in a little oven bird that had been hanging around. While I got a picture or two, they didn't turn out nearly as well as that of a robin that was hanging around. Here is what that one looked like.

American robin at Glacier Campground
American Robin ©2020 David Knapp

Late Day Drive to Polebridge

After lunch and a little time to sit and enjoy the birds, we started thinking about an evening adventure. With nothing better to do, we headed back up to Polebridge. We drove up there far more than was probably necessary, but we enjoyed the late day drives and the scenery was beautiful. The first trip had produced some good fishing, but in subsequent trips I simply enjoyed the drive.

On this evening, we again struck out on wildlife. This trip produced less wildlife encounters than we had hoped, but the scenery more than made up for that. Being there in the middle of the heat of summer probably didn't help. Without any wildlife to keep us occupied, the highlight of the evening ended up being the sunset. 

Sunset at Polebridge

The evening was beautiful even before the sunset. We drove south along Inside North Fork road, hoping for some critters. The one bit of excitement happened when the road passed Winona Lake. We thought for sure a moose had to be feeding there, but it wasn't our day apparently. The waterfowl there were interesting, though, and kept us occupied for a bit. With darkness approaching, we didn't really want to drive all the way back in the dark. After turning around at the Quartz Creek Campground, we were soon back to the bridge over the North Fork of the Flathead. Looking upstream and downstream, we saw one of the best sunsets we enjoyed on this trip. The camera didn't come close to capturing the beauty of the moment, but we and some others on the bridge tried anyway. Distant thunderstorms up over Canada were on the horizon to the north, while the moon was coming up over the river to the south.

Sunset on North Fork Flathead River at Polebridge looking north
North Fork Flathead River at Sunset ©2020 David Knapp

Looking south at moonrise over North Fork Flathead River at Polebridge
Moonrise and Sunset on North Fork Flathead River ©2020 David Knapp

After enjoying this beautiful scenery, we turned towards camp. We had one full day left and wanted to get well-rested so we could make the most of it. The next day would be tied for my favorite hike in Glacier National Park with the Sperry Glacier day we had already completed. 

Saturday, February 27, 2021

Time For a New Tennessee Fishing License

This is just a friendly reminder that it is license time again in Tennessee. Annual hunting and fishing licenses are good through February of each year, which means your old license is about to expire. You can purchase a new one online. Just don't forget before your next fishing trip!

Thursday, February 25, 2021

Glacier Day Seven: Hiking to Gunsight Lake and Florence Falls

Our trip to Glacier was definitely winding down, but we still had to great adventures. Thankfully, the best was saved for last although not intentionally. The next to last day was pretty good also. 

When we had first started planning this trip, my good friend Roger told me about an epic day hike he had done in Glacier National Park. The Gunsight Pass Trail is around 20 miles from end to end and connects the east and west side of the park. That sounded like a worthwhile goal to aim for while we were there, but then COVID hit. With the shuttle system shut down, we needed to stick to the same or at least close trailheads. Thus, we chose to do Sperry Glacier which followed part of that original route from the west end. Late in our trip, we decided to head up to Gunsight Lake to do part of the other end. Sometime, eventually, we want to do the rest of this hike. I have some fishing I want to do right about in the middle.

The early start routine got us to the trailhead at a good time, but then I needed to take a pitstop. We headed down the hill to find a convenient place for my much needed "break," then quickly drove back up. Thankfully, there were still a few parking spots even with the detour. We were in luck. The plan was to hike out to Gunsight Lake, take a quick detour to Florence Falls, and back. The trail elevation profile looked manageable, and if we did everything, would be over 14 miles for the day. In other words, we had a good solid day of hiking ahead of us. At 14 miles, I figured there might be some time to fish. My Tenkara rod was stashed in my pack along with camera and a couple of lenses. Lunches were packed as well as water and a filter.

Starting Our Hike to Gunsight Lake

Even with the extra events and longer drive, we were still hiking well before 8:00 am. Soon, our pace slowed down significantly. Wildflowers were blooming everywhere. I wanted to document as many as possible although I wasn't taking the time to try and identify them on the spot for the most part. Cellphone pictures sufficed since we were still trying to move along at least a little. 

Streambank Globemallow on the Gunsight Pass Trail
Streambank Globemallow ©2020 David Knapp

Cow Parsnip on Gunsight Pass Trail
Cow Parsnip ©2020 David Knapp

Thimbleberry flowers on Gunsight Pass Trail
Thimbleberry ©2020 David Knapp


Down at the lowest elevation of the trail, we had to cross Reynolds Creek. Shortly before the crossing, Deadwood Falls provided our first real stop. We hadn't made it very far, but the scene was beautiful. Both my wife and myself wanted to document things with our "good" cameras instead of just cellphone pictures. 

Deadwood Falls on Gunsight Pass Trail
Deadwood Falls ©2020 David Knapp

Selfie at Deadwood Falls
Yep, we were there! ©2020 David Knapp

Deadwood Falls Panorama on the Gunsight Pass Trail
Cellphone Panorama of Deadwood Falls ©2020 David Knapp

Closer look at Deadwood Falls
Closeup of the falls ©2020 David Knapp

Finally, after a little water to drink and more pictures than necessary, we hit the trail again. Shortly after the falls, we crossed Reynolds Creek itself. This was a really nice suspension style swinging bridge that was super stable. It was one of the nicest bridges like this I've been on in fact. 

Reynolds Creek Bridge on Gunsight Pass Trail
The Bridge ©2020 David Knapp

Crossing Reynolds Creek on the Gunsight Pass Trail
Crossing Over ©2020 David Knapp

In the early morning sunlight, we found some other interesting details. Often, the details are what makes things interesting. When light is added, you get magic. Unless you have arachnophobia that is...

Spider Web on the Gunsight Pass Trail
Spider web on Gunsight Pass Trail ©2020 David Knapp

Scenery on the Gunsight Pass Trail

After crossing the creek, the trail wound through the woods but started trending slowly uphill. The keyword here is slowly. This trail is a long slow climb for the first few miles. In fact, you barely even notice that you are climbing. It really isn't much work. Occasional meadow views give glimpses of the high country ahead. The trail parallels the Saint Mary River. One particularly stunning view is at Mirror Pond, but great views become more and more prevalent as you trek ever higher. 

Mountain views on the Gunsight Pass Trail
Mountain and Meadow Views ©2020 David Knapp

Gunsight Mountain and Mount Jackson
Reflection of Gunsight Mountain and Mount Jackson ©2020 David Knapp

By this point in the hike, a theme began to develop. We weren't spending very long on breaks because the mosquitoes and biting flies found us. Up until this point on our trip, the bugs had been present but generally manageable and bearable. This hike would seriously put us to the test, however.

Florence Falls Trail

Not too much farther up the valley, we came to a trail junction by a small bridge over a creek. The trail sign said Florence Falls. After a quick discussion, we agreed it made sense to run up there quickly. It really wasn't too far out of the way, but the thick growth almost made us turn back. This was an extremely lush area, and we were talking loudly and making plenty of noise. Thankfully, no bears surprised us nor we them, and we soon found ourselves enjoying a beautiful waterfall. 

Thick growth on the trail to Florence Falls
A brushy section of trail! ©2020 David Knapp


Florence Falls was larger than I expected and difficult to photograph completely from the rather close overlook. Finally, I resorted to taking a series of pictures that could later be stitched together in Photoshop. I think it turned out well!

Florence Falls Overlook
Florence Falls ©2020 David Knap


Back on the Gunsight Pass Trail to Gunsight Lake

We soon headed back down the trail and continued towards our main goal, Gunsight Lake. The trail began ascending through increasingly open terrain. Fire had burned much of the forest through this hike and the warm summer sun had us wishing for shade. We both had hats on by this point to protect our heads a little.  The views were getting better and better. This trip was just whetting our appetite for more Glacier National Park trips sometime in the future. Seriously, this was some of the best hiking I've ever enjoyed. The scenery and wildflowers were spectacular. I could have spent a lot more time on just the wildflowers, but at some point you have to keep walking. 

Red berries and Mount Jackson
Red Berries, Fireweed and Mount Jackson ©2020 David Knapp

Hiking the Gunsight Pass Trail
Hiking the Gunsight Pass Trail ©2020 David Knapp

Fireweed and Mount Jackson
Fireweed ©2020 David Knapp

Larkspur on Gunsight Pass Trail
Larkspur, but which one? ©2020 David Knapp

The trail really began to climb, finally. We were making good headway towards the lake but this last ascent up to Gunsight Lake was narrow. The terrain was steep and brush both above and below. In other words, this was yet another good area to keep up the noise and let the bears know you were around. Finally, things began to open up and level off and we figured the lake was just over the next rise. That was more or less accurate. 
Taking Pictures on the Gunsight Pass Trail
Enjoying the Views ©2020 David Knapp

Wildflowers were all around, but at this point I was beginning to have a problem that kept me from going too crazy with the camera. Bugs. You see, the bugs were about as bad as anything on our trip. Okay, they actually were the worst of our whole trip, easily. The original plan was to enjoy our lunch on the shores of Gunsight Lake before adventuring around a little more, taking some pictures, and otherwise enjoying our time in this beautiful place. Unfortunately, the biting flies in particular as well as mosquitoes had other plans for us. We decided to basically look at the lake and turn around. I only shot a handful of pictures of this gorgeous scene. This is definitely one we'll be back to. I might actually take a bug head net with me though. 

Gunsight Lake Outlet Stream
Gunsight Lake Outlet ©2020 David Knapp


Gunsight Lake
Cellphone Picture of Gunsight Lake Outlet ©2020 David Knapp

On the last short approach to the lake, there had been some flowers that I found interesting. Clintonia uniflora or bride's bonnet was a new one for me, but I recognized it as Clintonia. We have Clintonia borealis here in the Smokies and the similarities were strong. 

Clintonia uniflora or bride's bonnet near Gunsight Lake

Heading Back to the Trailhead

After a quick picture, we hit the downhill trail hard. I was getting really hungry, but neither of us wanted to sit down long enough to eat our sandwiches in this fly infested environment. On the way back down the steep section, we met a pair of backpackers. It appeared to be a boy and his grandmother. The boy innocently asked if the bugs were bad at the campsite. I honestly replied that I didn't know because we hadn't gone there. However, I hate to think of how miserable it was at that campsite because it was close enough to the lake that it almost had to be bad. I would have been spending the afternoon, evening, night, and early morning all in my tent or kept on hiking. Seriously, it was some of the worst bugs I've ever experienced. Ah the price we pay for outdoor adventures.

Finally, well back down the trail, we stopped just long enough for a quick lunch. Huckleberries were blooming alongside the small stream we stopped at. I ate more than I probably should have and washed it down with freshly filtered cold water. It was one of the most satisfying lunches I've ever enjoyed. 

We continued on down the trail, looking forward to finishing yet another great hike. However, there were still a couple of highlights to enjoy. The birds had been fairly quiet on our way in that morning. Now, in the warmth of the afternoon, we saw and heard quite a few. I even got a picture of one that I had been trying to photograph for several days of our trip. The western tanager was an extremely beautiful bird. Unfortunately, the closest I ever got wasn't close enough, even with my nice zoom lens. This is the best I got. 

Western Tanager on the Gunsight Pass Trail
Western Tanager ©2020 David Knapp

Gray Jay on the Gunsight Pass Trail
Canada Jay ©2020 David Knapp

After the tanager, I decided to just carry my big camera and zoom lens. The best opportunity on the tanager had been missed because I wasn't ready. While I was glad for my consolation prize of a picture, I intended to be ready when the next moment struck. That is how I happened to be ready when this Canada jay happened by in a family group. This was the best of the few pictures I snapped before they were moving on. We were almost back at the car at this point, and the sun was still high in the sky. I started to relax a little, knowing we wouldn't be pushing daylight to get back. Looking around, I noticed a western red cedar. Again, the details were what intrigued me...

Western Red Cedar along the Gunsight Pass Trail
Western Red Cedar ©2020 David Knapp

Other Stories from Glacier National Park You May Be Interested In



Wednesday, February 17, 2021

Glacier Day Six: Photography, Marias Pass, and Relaxation

Our trip in Glacier National Park was definitely getting into the home stretch. After our big hike, we wanted a breather before hitting it hard for a couple more days. We had discussed taking the day completely off from hiking but ultimately decided to not waste any of our vacation with sitting around. However, wanting to make sure we had the energy without too many aching muscles for the last couple of days, we decided to spend more time sight seeing than hiking. 

Our day started off with a relaxing morning of sleeping in, if you can call getting up at 7:00 am sleeping in. Compared to our recent 5:00 am mornings, this was definitely a luxury. Once we finally got ourselves up, both my wife and I were presently surprised to discover we weren't too sore. Our main reason for a slow day is we simply didn't know if we'd be able to move that morning. We were both feeling pretty good and started second guessing whether we should have just done another big hike after all. However, we had some other plans we wanted to see about. That included a big breakfast of huckleberry pancakes which you can read all about HERE.

Hiking the Continental Divide Trail at Marias Pass

After breakfast and doing the dishes, time was already starting to get away from us. We decided to take a drive and see some areas we hadn't visited yet. I wanted to follow the Middle Fork of the Flathead east and see the scenery in that area. After consulting our maps, a short hike was settled upon at Marias Pass. Once we finished all of that, we'd just see what time it was and go from there. 

As we drove up the beautiful canyon, it quickly became apparent that my poor wife was more tired than we originally thought. She was quickly asleep as we drove up towards Marias Pass. It was a long enough drive that she was able to enjoy some rest before our short hike. When we got up to the actual pass, there were a couple of other cars parked at the trailhead which was helpful. It was not obvious where to park for this trailhead. The actual trailhead was not immediately obvious either but a group of hikers coming out helped clear that up as well. 

We grabbed our packs and cameras and headed north across the railroad tracks and were soon enveloped in a beautiful forest full of wildflowers and tranquility. The trail was supposed to approach and pass Three Bears Lake. We were hoping for maybe a good view or some wildlife but otherwise just glad to be out stretching our legs a little. 

Continental Divide Trail at Marias Pass

Soon, the trail approached the lake. As the forest opened up, more wildflowers appeared. We would have spent quite a bit of time here enjoying the flowers blooming in the summer sun, but the lake also provided a perfect breeding ground for mosquitos. They weren't as bad as some spots, but just bad enough that we didn't linger beyond a quick picture or two. The fireweed in particular was eye catching. 

Fireweed along Three Bears Lake

After briefly skirting the lake, the trail returned to the forest. We had hoped to spot a moose or some other interesting critters on the lake, but all we noticed were some waterfowl well off in the distance. Not far beyond the lake, we reached a trail junction. We had already gone a little more than a mile with no real destination in mind beyond the lake. While we were happy to be out walking, we also wanted to see some more things, so we turned around and headed back. 

On the way back, I noticed another flower. This one was much more interesting and was a new one for me. Woodland pinedrops are apparently related to Indian-pipe and is a root parasite and produces minimal chlorophyl. I was intrigued by how tall these were, with several approaching three feet in height. After a few quick pictures, we moved on again.

Woodland Pinedrops near Marias Pass

By the time we got back to the car, the huckleberry pancakes were starting to wear off and we began to consider food. Not wanting to stop our adventures, we decided to see what was across the road. An interesting obelisk was there along with some other markers and statues. Here is what we found.

Theodore Roosevelt and John Stevens Memorial at Marias Pass


The obelisk was a memorial to Theodore Roosevelt for his work on conservation which has greatly benefited this particular area. The statue was of John F. Stevens who, along with a native guide, is responsible for the discovery of Marias Pass which allowed the Great Northern Railway to build a route through the Northern Rockies. Some other interesting signs told about the history of the area, both natural and modern. If you are passing through the area, it is well worth the stop.

Evening in Glacier National Park

We soon turned back towards West Glacier, planning to eat lunch back at camp. By the time all of that was completed, it was getting later than we expected. The evening hours were a prime time for wildlife and we were still looking for that grizzly bear. So, back into Glacier National Park we went. The long drive up the Going to the Sun Road never got old and we enjoyed the evening light as we went. It wasn't until we got all the way to Logan Pass that we found our first creatures of interest. A large group of male bighorn sheep were grazing near the visitor center parking area. We joined everyone else to take some pictures. This was one species we hadn't got any real good pictures of yet. 

Bighorn sheep ram at Logan Pass

Ram bighorn sheep at Logan Pass

Bighorn Sheep Rams at Logan Pass Parking Lot

The herd of rams moved all over the parking lot. They were looking for snacks and other goodies that tourists had dropped. They were mostly unconcerned about everyone standing around taking pictures and that is a good thing. They had some serious headwear that could probably do damage if you were on the wrong end of it. 

As the sun sank lower, the moon began rising in the east, providing still another excellent photo opportunity for us. 

Moonrise in Glacier National Park

Moon over Heavy Runner Mountain

On the other side of Logan Pass, the sun was quickly sinking to the horizon. The light got warmer and warmer, lighting up the Garden Wall as it sank out of sight. We enjoyed the last few moments of that rich evening light before making the long drive back down to camp. We had another longer hike planned for the next day and needed to get to bed. 

Garden Wall panorama at sunset

Clouds over the Garden Wall at Sunset