Willow Creek Reservoir

Last Friday marked what would’ve been one of my best friends’ 46th birthday. Jer spent most of his life outdoors, exploring Montana, so every time I go camping I wonder if he’d like the camping spot. He was a mountain guy, so I’m not sure Willow Creek would be his favorite. But the Rocky Mountain Front is right there, so it’s close to the mountains. Not sure if that counts. I like to think he’d be happy just being outside, regardless of whether or not it was in the mountains, or the prairie.

Rocky Mountain Front
Rocky Mountain Front

When I moved back, I started exploring–first with Google Maps, then with my truck. I had no idea there were so many reservoirs in Central Montana. Over the past few years, I think I’ve decided that Willow Creek is my favorite. The shoreline is all public, dotted with dispersed camping sites. It’s best to get there mid-week before holiday weekends, because the spots fill up and nobody’s fond of the folks who try to squeeze in between two dispersed sites. Gotta leave some room to stretch out. Our basic rule of thumb is that if we have to tie the dogs up, the neighbors are too close.

The dogs love Willow Creek

Water levels were drawn down earlier this year to allow for dam repairs, then stocked with big trout when the reservoir filled back up. We haven’t been able to catch a small trout this year–all of them have been in the 16 to 20 inch range. We’ve been fishing from a little raft with an electric trolling motor, using copper spoons, and haven’t been skunked yet.

Willow Creek West Shore
It’s a reservoir, so levels get low at the end of summer when the farmers need the water

It’s Central Montana, so wind is almost always a factor. Be strategic with your camper placement–the wind ususally comes from the SW, so park accordingly. The proximity to the mountain front also means potential grizzlies–though we’ve yet to see one while camping. Never hurts to keep the bear spray handy, just in case.

Camp site
Use your campers as wind blocks

The area is perfect for star gazing, and if you find the right spot, you can use the mountain front to frame the bottom of your shot. If you’re a wildlife photographer, you’ll find the usual assortment of birds, and the pelicans make great models. You’ll also find cows–they roam free around the reservoir.

Milky Way
Milky Way over the Rocky Mountain Front
Pelican at Willow Creek Reservoir

On the south side of the lake there’s a boat ramp with a few standard camping spots and outhouses. Wind blocks are build around the picnic tables.

If you forget anything, or run out of beer, Augusta is only a 10-15 minute drive from the lake. And if you’re working remotely right now, AT&T has a decent enough signal in certain spots to push through a few emails. I wouldn’t trust it for any video conferencing, though. Verizon coverage seems to be about the same as AT&T. I got a better AT&T signal from the west side of the lake, but it depended entirely on where I was standing.

I’m still not sure if Jer would be a huge fan of prairie camping, but it’s safe to say he wouldn’t have turned down the opportunity. He’d be right there by the camp fire, PBR in hand, happy to be out of town for a weekend.


Lake Alva

I have one of those dogs that is terrified of fireworks. Every year, I drug the poor guy and hope for the best.

This year, we decided to go somewhere without fireworks.

Lake Alva is just a bit north of Seeley Lake. There’s a great fireworks display in Seeley, but Alva is far enough away to escape the sound. I met a few friends there, and proceeded to relax.

Diego got carsick for the first 3 years of his life. He eventually learned to relax in the car and seems to actually enjoy going for rides now. I wasn’t sure how he’d do in a boat. He doesn’t swim. If I throw a stick too far into the lake, he’ll just stare at me and wait for me to fetch it myself.

But he did great in the boat. Didn’t even seem to phase him.

I’ve reached that age where it takes too long to recover from sleeping in a tent. I picked up a camper last winter, and am not ashamed to admit I enjoy having some of the comforts of home. It actually is like sleeping at home, but I get to wake up with a better view.

My step-brother has a little country store/gas station in Swan Lake, so I took a drive up there to see him on the 4th. If you’re ever up that way, swing by O’Connell’s Qwik Stop. Tell ‘em Daniel sent you. And get a pizza. Seriously—that shit was delicious. The crust and sauce is home made. It was better than Howard’s.

On the 5th, I decided to put the drone up to see what I could see. Of course, everything I saw was amazing. It really is surreal knowing I live in a state this incredible.

It was a great weekend with old friends, and some new ones. Diego did great on the boat, and with the kids.

The only glitch in the get-away-from-loud-noises-for-the-4th plan was that we got home just in time for a huge thunderstorm and a late celebration by the neighbors. So Diego ended up getting drugged anyway.

Eureka Reservoir

I’m sure I’ve mentioned this before, but I didn’t explore as much as I’d have liked when I was a kid living in Central Montana. Now that I’m back, I’m having a blast exploring all the little reservoirs along the Rocky Mountain Front. Dad and I fished Holter Lake for the most part, but never headed up north. I have a long list of lakes and reservoirs I need to photograph (and fish.)

One of my favorites is Eureka. The Front makes a great backdrop, and it’s close to Choteau, so it’s easy to grab lunch on the way up. I was there last summer, and went again a week ago to check out the ice. It was 50º and sunny, but the ice along the edge of the reservoir was still think enough to walk on. The Front didn’t have a lot of snow–hopefully that doesn’t lead to another major fire season–but it still made an amazing backdrop for the reservoir.

The most recent trip involved putting the drone up over the lake. The ice makes incredible patterns against the dark water beneath it.

As with other places I plan to get back to at some point, Eureka Reservoir has its own project page. All future photos will go there.