One of the most exhilarating experiences that one can have is watching a Golden Eagle soar on open wings along a ridge line at roughly 40 miles per hour. It appears absolutely effortless. Strength, beauty, freedom… are all adjectives that come to mind watching these outstretched wings. GEMS!
During the fall migration seasons, 2015-2017, LCAS partnered with Montana Audubon, US Forest Service and MT Fish, Wildlife and Parks to survey migrating raptors from near the summit of Mt. Baldy in the Big Belt Mountains. The 8100 foot vantage point for counting produced results that were nothing short of unbelievable. During the 2017 season the observers counted over 2100 migrating Golden Eagles and a total of nearly 2900 migrating raptors!
While the site was remarkable for migrating raptors it was also remarkable for extreme conditions. The access road in and out often became impassable and the hired observers were at times placed in risky situations during the six week survey. Given these circumstances and the liability risks, the LCAS Board of Directors made the decision to withdraw from the project at the conclusion of the 2017 season. Since that time Montana Audubon has attempted to continue the count but has also been hampered by extreme conditions and access issues.
Directions to the GEMS site:
Printable directions can be found HERE
From Townsend MT turn on to HWY 12 (Broadway) heading east. Drive 2.4 miles to HWY 284 and turn left. Go 11.1 miles and turn Right onto Duck Creek Road. Go 13.1 miles to the top of Duck Creek Pass. This will take 35 to 45 minutes to drive, and the road deteriorates and is rutted and rocky the last three miles. It is usually passable in a 2WD vehicle. At the pass, turn right – note the sign for the “Hidden Lake” trailhead – drive through a few trees to where it opens up, and park.
***Please be aware that mountain road conditions can change dramatically – especially when precipitation has occurred or is eminent. Plan carefully for your trip.***
The road (trail) from here becomes steep and is only accessible in a high clearance 4WD. If you choose to drive (not recommended), please park at the radio tower. From the trail head it is a 45 minute hike with a 900ft elevation gain (approximately 1.5 mi.) to the observation point. The observation point is located 100m below the radio tower.
If you are coming from White Sulphur Springs on the east side, follow the dirt road past Gypsy Lake and then on to Duck Creek Pass. Turn left at the Hidden Lake Trailhead sign. In the past, this road has been accessible by 2WD car but serious deterioration has occurred in the last several seasons.
Please note that if there is low cloud/fog over the radio tower then viewing is better from the knoll just north of Duck Creek Pass (Lower Observation Point).