Powell County, Montana: Holy Waters Ranch

The deal was closed on June 7, 2017. Holy Waters Ranch in Powell County, Montana, was officially mine.

Sort of. It’s not terribly realistic to call it “mine” until the mortgage is paid off, and with prime land not going for cheap around Ovando, clearing the debt is going to take a while. But close enough for government work…and there is a bit of government work involved. The 212 acre parcel has a conservation easement that protects it from ever being subdivided–not that Powell County would ever let that happen. Ovando valley residents, along with Powell County zoning decisions, require any new land sale to be at least 160 acres, at least if the buyer wishes to place a home on it at some point.

Which I do. There’s a designated homesite, listed right there in the conservation easement, that suits me just fine except for the huge power line that runs through the property, something like 80 yards west of where the house will eventually stand.

If not for a dream that made it clear this specific property was where I belonged (eventually), that ugly but essential-to-society power line would have made me hesitate to make an offer. But the dream removed all doubt, and at least there’s a little bit of distance between the planned house and all those overexcited electrons.

The home (which will not be built until the land is debt free) will have its living room window overlooking the confluence of two awesome creeks. I’ll be able to kick back in a recliner and stare northward over live water and plenty of bottom land considered prime if you like heavy cover suitable for all sorts of native wildlife. With abundant opportunities for photography in the future, that suits me better than open pasture or hay meadow country. On this most recent trip to the property (July 16, 2018), a friend accompanied me. Her smart phone camera put my Canon PowerShot to shame, which was kind of humiliating and exhilarating all at the same time.

Or so it seemed in the field. Once uploaded to the computer, the Canon’s production seemed to hold its own. Whew! What a relief for my little camera’s oversized ego!

There are many different flowering plants on the property, some of them undoubtedly decried by U.S. Fish and Wildlife and the state of Montana as intruders. (Almost no acreage is totally free of such in 2018.) As a result, between native and non-native species (many of which I’m not yet able to identify on sight), this piece of land has blossoms aplenty throughout the summer season. Did not see that one coming.

Here are a couple of examples: A thistle blossom plus an as yet unidentified yellow/pink combo that is both striking and confusing. If y’all readers recognize it before I do, let me know.

Thistle blossom.

Strikingly colorful but as yet unidentified. This plant grows less than a foot tall.

One good thing about the weeds: No one species seems to be monopolizing the territory. Sagebrush on the bench, yes, but that’s about as native as it gets around here.

Rea did get one snapshot (through my truck’s dirty windshield) of a prairie dog. Whenever she gets around to emailing me that photo, it will be included here. We also accidentally snuck up on a fisherman who undoubtedly knew he was on private land without permission. Had on a light shirt, hip waders, with a fly rod in his hand. We spotted each other at roughly the same time, I think. At any rate, I’d only noticed him for two or three seconds before he took a couple of steps and disappeared into the thick brush along the smaller creek that runs through the property. He hadn’t driven in; most likely, he’d parked on the ranch road that borders the eastern edge of the property, then fished downstream. No big deal; I’ve long since learned the truth of the saying that nature (including human nature) abhors a vacuum. Until I’m living there to defend the place 24/7, there are going to be trespassers from time to time.

He sure did scamper out of sight in a hurry, though. That was cool.

Which brings us to the main “curb appeal” feature of Holy Waters Ranch: The waters. Strangely, the local U.S. Fish and Wildlife agent has informed me that ranchers and homeowners generally have to drill pretty deep to find well water despite the abundant surface water right there in the two creeks. Go figure.

But wow, what a hillbilly heaven nonetheless.

Photo taken on July 16, 2018. In June, after months of near-daily rain, there was no beach.

Across the creek.

The remains of the old railroad trestle.

Up the creek.

Photos never seem to do justice to the view from the intended homesite on the bench. Rea’s camera did maybe capture more depth of field; let’s home she emails me that photo eventually. In the meantime, here’s a Canon PowerShot version.

View from the (intended) living room window. From the sagebrush bench (extreme foreground), the land drops off maybe 20 feet to the creek bottom, which is about as lush as it gets.

Regular readers are of course familiar with my photos and posts from the desert in Cochise County, Arizona, a land that remains mostly dry throughout the year except for summer monsoons, with little if any live surface water for many long months at a time. Pretty stark contrast with western Montana, eh? But this is where I’m most at home. Yeah, I can survive and to some extent thrive almost anywhere, but my comfort zone is here. The ranch where I grew up is not that far down the road…okay, three roads if we’re counting, but still.

Front porch area of the log house on the TV Bar Ranch where I grew up., two steps from the woodshed. (Looks like the woodshed roof needs some TLC.) July 16, 2018, photo by Rea Baker.

South of the Clark Fork River on the former TV Bar Ranch. Hmm… maybe Holy Waters Ranch isn’t all that different after all. Photo by Rea Baker.

That gap between house and woodshed is where at age 10 I shot my first rattlesnake, using my Dad’s .45 Long Colt revolver (1917 Smith & Wesson with half-penny braised on for a front sight). Dad wasn’t home and I had no authorization to “borrow” the pistol, but I considered myself the man of the house and ignored Mom’s command to stay safely inside. I must have stressed my mother terrifically from the day I was born.

That’ll do for now. There is incredible beauty in both the southern desert and the northern mountains, but I’m biased in favor of the latter. The sun doesn’t burn brown spots onto my face here, nor are there any chiggers to worry about. At the old ranch, situated at the foot of Rattler Hill, there were rattlesnakes, but they tell me the Ovando valley doesn’t have those, either. I’m home.

Unidentified plant (about 3 feet tall) at Holy Waters Ranch.

Peace and serenity…and a few mosquitoes.

That one rock resembles a shark’s fin, does it not? Have we discovered a new species, the Rocky Mountain Creek Shark?

Update: Rea emailed me the prairie dog photo (below). For having been taken through a dirty windshield, it’s not bad. Neither of us dared try to shift a camera out through a side window to get a clearer shot as the little critter would have spotted the motion instantly. That’s what they do.

Prairie dog. We were about to start the truck to leave Holy Waters Ranch when this little guy scampered over and popped up to survey its kingdom. The dirty windshield gave us cover and degraded the image quality a bit, but it’s the first prairie dog photo we’ve gotten. Photo by Rea Baker