Hoot-n-Holler is a quiet neighborhood located 4 miles south of Winthrop. A dozen homes dot the hillside above State Highway 20 and beside the grand Moccasin Lake Ranch. Anecdotally, Hoot-n-Holler escaped the intense grazing of the 20th century, while Smoky the Bear skillfully kept fire at bay. The (mostly) native plant communities evolved to include shrub steppe habitat and ponderosa pine woodlands. A fantastic place to live, as Methow Explorations owner Steve Bondi and his family did from 2002 to 2010, but also an incendiary mess waiting to happen.
In July 2014 the Rising Eagle fire ripped through the hillsides that included the Hoot-n-Holler neighborhood. Multiple homes were lost, and the character of the area changed drastically. Native habitats were charred, and the ecological clock was reset. When the ash finally settled, one wondered if this was the same neighborhood from the days before?
Just last week, Methow Explorations revisited Hoot-n-Holler to witness natures grand scheme of recovery. And grand it surely was! After only 4 years, native grasses and flowering forbs have blanketed the ground, hiding the browns and grays and decay. Resprouted serviceberry and squaw currant shrubs have attained a lofty four foot average height (that's one foot a year!). Cavity nesting tree swallows, western bluebirds, and American kestrels have colonized. And morel mushrooms dot the woodland floor (don't tell anybody)! Yes, weedy mustards and sweet clover abound, and diffuse knapweed/barnaby is present along some of the roads. But all in all, Hoot-n-Holler is recovering nicely and will likely be all the better for this naturally effective, yet humanly cruel, form of habitat restoration- gone are the woody shrubs like bitterbrush, and the encroaching canopy of pine. Here in abundance are balsalmroot, lupine, larkspur, and owl clover!
Yesterday Methow Explorations visited the Twisp Terrace Lodge at Rockchuck Ranch (formerly the Tice Ranch) outside of Twisp along State Route 20. Lodge proprietor (and skilled furniture mover) Eric Blank gave me the scoop on the best trails, scenic overlooks, and Beaver Creek access, as well as details on their exciting plans as the Blank family opens the lodge for business this May.
The Rockchuck Ranch/Twisp Terrace Lodge is located on lower Beaver Creek drainage 1/2 mile from the confluence with the mighty Methow River. The combination of habitats throughout the 200+ acre property make this an ecologically rich site for exploration. Riparian and shrub steppe habitats mix with irrigated agricultural lands and open space around the lodge and ranch.
Spring wildflowers were emerging, including Methow Valley regulars like sagebrush buttercup, bluebells, arrowleaf balsalmroot, shooting star, larkspur, and prairie starflower. We noted early season migrant birds including western meadowlark, tree swallows, yellow-rumped warblers, ruby-crowned kinglets, bluebirds (western and mountain), vespers sparrows, and spotted towhees. Overhead a sharp-shinned hawk pestered a soaring pair of red-tailed hawks. Industrious beavers were working the banks of aptly named Beaver Creek, and we found a coyote den under the sagebrush.
Incredible opportunities abound for year round exploration at the Twisp Terrace Lodge at Rockchuck Ranch!