Author Archives: Kris Millgate

About Kris Millgate

Kris Millgate is an outdoors journalist for whom the quiet cast of a fly line cures writer’s block. Many production ideas for her Tight Line Media company come from the time she spends in her Idaho Falls base camp. Her two decades of journalism experience and several cross-country moves prove she’ll go anywhere for a good story. See more of her work at: tightlinemedia.com

Skiing up a Storm

The fresh, white blanket on the ground isn’t staying down for long. The wind is blowing fifteen miles per hour, yanking snowflakes sideways.

It reminds me of what you see when you blow dust off an old album, white particles exploding off a shiny black surface. That surface is Craters of the Moon National Monument. It’s a solitary place, but even on the worst-weather days, there are trucks in the parking lot. One of them belongs to me and my family. We’re looking out our truck’s ice-crusted windows waiting for the wind to die down. When it does, we’ll start skiing.

I think of the comment made by Doug Owen, Craters of the Moon National Monument park education specialist and geologist, when he was prepping me for the winter trail system. “This is my favorite time of year because of the stark contrast between white snow and black lava,” he said. “It’s just amazing.”

As I ski past the campground, I watch the black-and-white contrast slowly slide by. Coal-colored lava rock pokes out of the soft snow like peppercorns accidentally dropped in a salt shaker. I like the contrast, just as Doug does. I like the sparkle, too. Continue reading

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Bird Trackers

I’m shooting footage of a haystack, but not for a farm story. I’m after something wild.

Idaho Department of Fish and Game wildlife biologist Curtis Hendricks stands on top of the stack about twenty feet above me. I tip up my lens at an awkward angle, thankful the summer sun is at my back, and focus on Hendricks. He swiftly swings an antenna back and forth in his hand, looking like a guy desperate to tune into the big game on TV. He picks up a signal, but not for the big game. It’s for a bird. He’s looking for wild pheasants.

“I truly believe these birds will make it,” Hendricks says while turning the antenna to track the radio-collared pheasants. “Hopefully all of them. And for those that might not make it, we’ll have some answers as to what happened.”
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Sorting Spawners

On weekends, I hit the hills with my family to play and at the same time I scout for places to shoot video. On weekdays, I return to those places with my camera equipment to work.

Following this routine of scout, then shoot, I’m lying on wet boulders in Swan Valley’s Palisades Creek on a sunny June day. While hiking with my kids the previous Sunday, I saw fish jumping a four-foot waterfall. Now it’s Monday afternoon and I’ve returned in waders. It’s sweaty hot on the rocks. It’s painfully hard to hold still. I’m belly-growl hungry for the granola bar in my pack on the bank. I’m questioning my strategy when the first trout finally breaks the current in front of my lens.

“It is really amazing what fish can do when they’re trying to go spawn,” says Brett High, Idaho Department of Fish and Game regional fisheries biologist, as he sits by the rushing river on an overturned bucket. “We’ve seen fish hold their positions almost vertically for several seconds.” Continue reading

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Get Up for Grouse

I’m well aware of the many disasters delivered due to lack of sleep. I’m also aware of the rare potential that putters around in the darkness.

Such potential pulls me from my bed long before the rest of the world opens its sleep-crusted eyes. It is the possibility of witnessing the wild at its finest. It is the promise of seeing the dance in the desert before it disappears. That is why I get up for grouse.

I leave my house at four in the morning and drive an hour north to Dubois. I take a few dirt roads west of I-15 and start looking for a tent in the middle of the desert. I have to be in the tent before the sun comes up. That’s when the sage grouse strut. “It’s just like waking up to a dream every morning,” says Ron Laird, manager of The Nature Conservancy ranch where I’ve arrived, as he zips me inside the tent. “We get a lot of morning wake-up calls from the birds banging around here.”
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Grizzly 227

I’m dressed in my best camo, drinking a power smoothie, and out the door before the sun rises. A researcher’s hunch has it there’s a grizzly bear in a trap in Island Park and, after five years of asking, I finally get to go.

I walk more than I talk. I’d rather get something done than talk about getting something done. My action attitude is probably why I don’t have an official bucket list in writing, but if I did, touching a grizzly bear would be on the top of the list.
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With Bat Man and Snake Lady

Don’t look down now, but there’s a snake slithering between your feet.” That’s what I hear as I balance my body across two boulders while trying to shoot video.

The creepy factor is off the charts, but I don’t look down, even though I know the warning is not an idle threat. There really is a snake at my feet, plus a few hundred more on the rocks around me and several dozen bats over my head. It’s too much to take in all at once, so I focus on finishing the shot before the sun goes down, knowing it will only get worse in this desert cave on the Snake River Plain east of Arco.

Bill Doering is the bat expert. He’s married to Sara. She’s the snake expert. Despite their unusual wildlife preferences, they are the delightful couple I’m meeting in the desert between Idaho Falls and Arco. I throw in “delightful” for my own benefit. It keeps me from turning around halfway across the desert. I can’t even use lost as my excuse for not showing up, because that unmarked dirt road on the right is hard to miss when the Doerings and their big, burly truck are waiting for me at the turnoff. The only truck around is also the only truck with an abandoned cat in the cab. The Doerings found the hungry kitty on the side of the road. They have all night to care for it so they bring it along. Like I said, delightful. Continue reading

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