Thursday, September 3, 2009
Late Summer Trip
There's spottings of more than a normal number of animals across from the RV park due to the change in the availability of food at higher altitudes and the approaching fall weather. A fox was spotted running along the forest here this morning and a doe and two fawns munching grass along with 4 Sand Hill Cranes. Elk bugling is being heard from the RV Park each morning too. The occasional Moose sighting rounds out the start off fall here.
A couple of days ago (at the very end of August) we had an unusual but very welcome late summer storm with more than 1/2 inch of rain falling overnight. That morning, I noticed some very unusual clouds that had formed after the storm passed. The images below document the Mammatus, also known as mammatocumulus clouds, meaning "Mammary" or "Breast " cloud. It is a meteorological term applied to a cellular pattern of pouches hanging underneath the base of a cloud. I've seen these before here, but this was about the most dramatic instance of them I've ever seen. They were very dark and ominous looking. Most of all it was beautiful and added to the joy of being here.
I then decided to check out the birds at Island Park Reservoir after the storm had passed. Everything was so fresh and clean. There were quite a few birds at the reservoir and almost no humans. That's a good combination for bird watchers. The first interesting bird that caught my eye (and ear) was the Kingfisher. This grayish bird, a bit larger than a blue jay is known for it's fishing habits. They hang out around the dam here. I saw one flying around and occasionally diving for food in the lake. Eventually it landed near me on an antenna mast. I took several photos and finally noticed that it suddenly was opening it's mouth an excessive amount as if yawning. I wasn't aware that birds yawned. I took a few pictures of this behavior and noticed that it had spit something out of it's throat. Upon examining my photos I noticed a large pellet falling from its mouth in one frame. The kingfisher does NOT digest the fish bones but regurgitates them into a pellet. The images below show this behavior in sequence.
Across the lake, on a sandbar, double-crested Cormorants and Franklin Gulls were congregated, the cormorants airing their wings to dry them. Their raucous sounds punctuated the quiet of the lake. Occasionally, a cormorant would fly overhead, it's bright green eye contrasting with its bright orange beak. It would circle around for a while and then land on the sandbar to join the rest of the crowd.
Cormorant resting before the next dive.
Back at the RV Park, the ever present Swainson's Hawk's were circling overhead looking for small rodents. It's rare to go out and look up and not see one or more circling within a few minutes time. These guys are getting ready to head to Argentina for the winter, so they are filling up on food as quickly as possible.
There's still time to plan your September visit to RedRock RV Park to enjoy the fall colors, the bugling Elk, and the other wildlife getting ready for winter. (It comes early to this part of the country.)
Wednesday, August 19, 2009
September Song of the Wildflowers
Well, of course, the wildflower season is in decline. It's mid-summer or for this latitude and altitude it is really late summer and most wildflowers are singing their "September Song" (the days grow short when you reach September..when the autumn weather turn leaves to flame..etc). However, it is still interesting to go into the forest and look for nice wildflower specimens. There is still a lot of color to see.
Some of the color is now provided by the leaves and the berries and not the flowers. Today, my Golden Retriever Reggie and I went into the Targhee forest across from the RedRock RV Park and Henry's Lake (near Yellowstone National Park and Island Park, Idaho) to see what wildflowers were still looking relatively nice.
The first head-turner just within the forests edge was the Red baneberry (Actaea rubra). It has a beautiful cluster of red berries in a bottlebrush shape. Prior to fruiting these were beautiful little white flowers. The leaves are green, large and coarsely toothed with deeply lobed margins. It's a perennial herbaceous plant, living more than 2 years. Seeds germinate the following year and flower the third year. The plant and the berries are very poisonous to humans (not birds who distribute the seeds). It appears that most mammals avoid them to some extent and there is not much evidence for bears eating them.
Growing right beside the baneberry was the Canada Buffaloberry or Soopolallie
(Shepherdia canadensis). This is a shrub that also has red berries but not as bright red, numerous or as large as the baneberry. The berries are edible but extremely bitter and are usually eaten with other berries, whipped up into a froth produced by the chemicals in the berry.
Not far away I found the orange colored berries from the Fairybell flower (Disporum trachycarpum). The berries are edible but rather tasteless (according to my sources.) They do make for a nice bright spot in the forest this time of year.
The Indian Paintbrush is still lingering to make bright red spots throughout the darkened forest floor. They are especially nice looking when a ray of sunshine manages to get through the forest canapy and shine on them.
Many other plants are still providing color this late in the season under the forest canopy including the purple Rocky Mountain Asters, a few (rare) yellow Heart-leafed Arnica, the white headed Englemann Asters, the purple Common Harebell, the wild Blue Flax, the yellow western hawkweed, red clover and more.
Many of the plants are waning but still provide beauty in the colorful display of their leaves as Fall approaches. The Sticky Geraniums can still be found with blooms, but many of them have leaves that are starting to turn various shades of red and orange. It's fun to search for the most interesting and colorful leaves among the dying plants.
Some meadowrue leaves have started turning a nice reddish purple color. Contrasting with the still very green leaves, this makes for a beautiful display.
So, even if you are late with your summer vacation, if you come visit us at RedRock RV Park in the middle to the end of August, you'll get to see some of the beauty that the wildflowers give to our area. You might have to look a little closer and be a little less discriminating in your choices, but you'll still enjoy them, I promise.
Monday, August 17, 2009
A Mid-summers Drive Yellowstone/Beartooth
It was bit of a cloudy day to start and we were fearful that we'd have a bad weather day, but like most of the weather here, it changes pretty dramatically from hour to hour and place to place.
One of my favorite places to stop and "change gears" from the commercial to the wild "frame of mind" is a just a couple miles from the West Yellowstone park entrance at a turn-off next to the Madison River. Few people stop here and it is a refreshing view of the magnificent Madison river, with dark blue water, blue sky, white clouds, eagles, osprey, and often an elk or bison munching around you. Today, it was just the view of the water that we enjoyed. There is a boardwalk that has several informative markers about the effects of the 1988 fire. It's worth taking and gives you a chance to get a little exercise.
I like to take it slow along the Madison River. Most tourists are trying to zip along at 45 mph rushing to the geysers or slamming on their brakes if someone spots an animal.
There are always so many animals (elk, bison, deer, otters and muskrats), birds (eagles and ospreys) and beautiful scenic spots along this section of the river. There are several pull-outs that allow you to get out and look around. Many have explanatory signs that give you a bit of information about the wild life or geology around you. Take the time to read them and you'll enjoy the experience more.
At one of the many turn-offs is a small sign that points to a trail across the road. The trail is for Harlequin lake. This is a rarely visited lake snuggled up against the volcanic cliffs that often has beautiful lily ponds and sometimes a bear or elk grazing nearby. It's a quick 15 minute (1/2 mile walk) through the pines that is well worth the effort, especially if you like getting away from the crowds.
We continued on towards the northern part of the Park. We pass the Norris Geyser basin this trip. It's certainly worth a couple hours of exploring but our destination today was much further away and we'd never make it stopping at every interesting place. Norris Geyser Basin is the hottest and most malleable thermal area in Yellowstone. Rainbow Colors, hissing steam, and pungent odors combine to create an experience unique to Yellowstone.
One of my favorite areas going north is the section along Willow Creek. You might see moose here in the early morning or late evening. Alas, we weren't here at the right time, but still the landscape is beautiful. We stopped at nearby Sheepeater Cliff where interesting lava cliffs have formed columnar basalt rocks. These interesting rocks sit next to the Gardiner River which is rushing by in all its fury here. We spotted a yellow-bellied Marmot blending in with the lava rocks here. One lady told me it was a beaver, but my training told me that wasn't correct. Beavers don't normally bask on open rocks (and they have a large flat tail).
We drove through Mammoth Hot Springs in the northwest corner of the park, a natural wonder of calcite springs, the park headquarters and a commercial center for tourists. A short drive through the thermal area is worth taking. The main feature here are the thermal terraces. Thousands of years of dripping calcite water created a magnificent terraced display. The glistening terraces are definitely beautiful especially those with the colorful bacterial mats.
Along the northern road there are several interesting turn-offs. One provides a great view of Udine falls. This falls a distance of 110 feet along Lava Creek.
Along the northern road we encountered a traffic jam. This is often indicative of wildlife along the road. So many motorists ignore the park rule to pull off the road and instead stop dead in the road pointing their cameras for long periods. Today was a 10 minute delay while a curious tourist had his full of a full grown grizzly bear on the hillside. We finally found a place to pull off and was able to photograph this large bear ourselves as he foraged for plants.
Once I'd seen enough of the small black spot in the canyon, we decided to drive into the Lamar Valley, heading towards the northeast entrance of Yellowstone Park. This is another one of my favorite areas, mostly for the solitude and the wide open views with wildlife. The Lamar River meanders through this valley with herds of bison, a few pronghorn, and an occasional Grizzly Bear chewing on the abundant grasses and forbs. We encountered another bear spotting, but it had just disappeared behind a close hill and we missed seeing it. I suspect we are seeing more bears because they are fattening up for their long winter sleep. Since Fall is approaching fast they know they need to put on a lot of weight soon. We spotted a couple pronghorn as well.
Bison lounging along Lamar River.
We headed west following Soda Butte Creek towards the northeast entrance and encounter the next wildlife opportunity. Barronette Peak (10,404 ft) is a massive wall of stone along the road that is home to a few families of Mountain Goats (Oreamnos americanus). They aren't recently native to this area. They were brought into the Beartooths between 1940 and 1960 from western Montana. They aren't welcome to Yellowstone due to the "native" only policy of the park service. It's hard to believe they weren't originally native here and maybe chased away by man. They are hard to see because they are so far away and they are hanging on the steep cliffs. You look for little white specks that are moving then use your binoculars to zero in on them.
We stopped in Cooke City, Montana for a great lunch at the Beartooth Cafe and headed on to the beautiful Beartooth mountains in Wyoming. This portion of the trip along the Beartooth highway is delightfully wild and scenic by most standards. The road skirts a couple streams before it starts climbing into the alpine eco-system. The first really scenic sight is Beartooth Lake with its view of the gorgeously colored Beartooth Butte and Clay Butte. (There's a dirt road to the top of Clay Butte with a retired fire lookout station that is definitely worth the drive for the sweeping views and wildflowers.)
The road winds up in elevation until you reach the tree line and the alpine lakes. The views in every direction are indescribably beautiful. Be sure to stop at as many places as possible to soak in this beauty. Look down at the tiny wildflowers, the wind-swept trees, the glacier carved peaks and the alpine lakes. At roughly 3,000 square miles, the Beartooths are one of North America's largest land areas rising above 10,000 ft, reaching its highest point at Granite Peak (12,799 ft). This is a land of high alpine lakes, glacier carved cirques, windswept trees and fragile tundra. When you get to the top (10,000 ft) look for the famous Beartooth peak, the namesake of these mountains.
You'll also find Mountain Goats up here. Here they often graze close to the road on flatter ground. This trip we couldn't find them, but I'll include a photo from a previous trip that I took. Sometimes you'll also see domesticated sheep along with a sheep herder and sheep dogs.
We turned around at the Montana border (overlooking this awesome switchback from Red Lodge, MT). The opposite direction affords different views and you are tempted to stop frequently. One example is the view of Pilot peak. This is a very distinctive peak. We planned to be back before dark so we didn't stop much on the way back. This is a long trip but if you stay with us, please plan to take it if you have time. You won't regret it.
I hope you've enjoyed this beautiful trip. Obviously this is just a taster. Make sure you check the weather and road conditions before you set out and take plenty of warm clothes and water. Conditions at the top can often change dramatically in a short time.
Come see us at RedRock RV Park near Yellowstone National Park in Island Park, Idaho. You'll be glad you did!
Thursday, July 30, 2009
Elk Lake and Hidden Lake in Montana
This little resort features a few rustic cabins, access to fishing in Elk and Hidden lakes and great food. It's only 6 miles from the Red Rock Road turn off. It's the only commercial business within 25 miles on the East and 60 miles on the West. It's run by a nice family who keeps it open summer and winter (for snowmobilers). I recommend the Teryaki Chicken sandwich (with cheese) and some great fries. If you come for lunch, make sure you are here between noon and 1 PM, except Sundays. The prices are reasonable and the hospitality is great. They do a gourmet dinner by reservation only. Reggie joined 3 other Golden Retrievers and a few other dogs outside while I had lunch in their rustic dining room.
Leaving here (North) the dirt road becomes a little more challenging, depending upon when it was last graded. The week before I had been here and it was close to unpassable in the steep parts). Today, the Forest Service grader had just been by to fill in the large pot holes and it was much better. Still, I wouldn't recommend this part of the trip for low slung sedans. Elk Lake is a long lake in a canyon that was once an Earthquake fault. This fault encompasses Elk Lake, Hidden Lake, Cliff Lake and Wade Lake.
Walking in the Sagebrush to reach an overlook of Elk Lake you'll find many wildflowers and several large rocks covered with colorful lichen. Some of the lichen thrives on the urine from Ground squirrels, Pikas and Marmots that frequent the area. These rocks are favorite lookout points for these little rodents.
Wildflowers covered the hillsides interspersed with the gray-green sagebrush. Some areas had been trampled by cattle, but generally it was a nice trip up and down this road to Hidden Lake. At the northern end of Elk Lake there is an interesting estuary area with water lilies, willow shrubs and other wetlands loving plants. From the top of the hill, before you descend to lake level, it's a great view of the Madison Mountain range and the end of the lake.
By the side of the road there was a beautiful wild rose bush in full bloom. I couldn't resist stopping for a picture.
A Great Blue Heron flew into the estuary, presumably to do some fishing. He was competing with only one other set of fishermen in a boat not far away. This end of the lake often has a pair of Trumpeter Swans also, but they were not here today.
The road continues through this earthquake faulted valley for another 3 miles until you come to the end of the passable (for autos) road. If you could continue on, you'd eventually run into Cliff lake. There is a parking lot here and a 1/4 mile walk down to the Hidden Lake. Today, Reggie and I were the only visitors at this time. The walk is very nice because it follows a stream and there are many wildflowers. I accidentally found a beautiful tiny single flower on a stem, just about 4" tall called a Wood Nymph or one-flowered wintergreen (Moneses uniflora). Looking underneath there is very interesting detail.
Hidden Lake is a very secluded lake and every time I have visited it there have been either no people there or very few. There is a trail that goes around the lake, but I've not taken it very far. Sometimes the trail disappears on the bank and you have to find another way up the steep bank. Yesterday I walked until the trail gave out to water and found a small snake almost under my boot. He was about 15 inches long and only 1/2" in diameter. He fled to the water.
I did go into the forest around the east side of the lake and found some interesting mushrooms under the trees. There were several of the same type but each took on a different shape and size. All of them had the distinctive black toothed shapes. They are the Scaly Tooth aka Scaly Hedgehog mushrooms (Sarcodon imbricatus.) Though it is found across North America, Sarcodon imbricatus is especially common in the Rocky Mountains, where it grows under Engelmann spruce and subalpine fir during spring and can attain very large sizes (caps up to 9 to 10 inches across). Notice the other specimen of the Scaly Tooth mushroom along with the dog lichen (Peltigera leucophlebia) (green sheet with scalloped edges) growing next to it. The name comes from the shape of the fruiting bodies that resembles dogs teeth.
Another beautiful little flower that caught my eye under the forest canopy was the Twinflower (Linnaea borealis.) This is a woody vine that spreads over the forest floor. Short stems arise at nodes along the branches making each twin bloom look like it's coming from a single small plant. The flower stem is only 4 inches tall and it splits into two stalks supporting a bell-shaped pink flower that have hairy throats. This specimen reminds me of a peppermint candy in its coloring.
All around the lake was the Horsetail (Equistum arvense) which grows in saturated ground like this shoreline. The light caught this specimen just right to catch my eye for a photo. These plants reproduce by spores, like ferns.
The trip back was uneventful but pleasant. I recommend that if you come to RedRock RV Park (near Island Park Idaho and West Yellowstone, MT), that you take this trip to Hidden Lake. You won't be sorry. Just make sure you take it in good weather and use a high-clearance vehicle.
Culver Pond in Red Rock Lakes Wildlife Refuge
Of course, I took my time getting there as I drove and watched for other wildlife along Red Rock road. The first wildlife I spotted was a pair of the Sandhill Cranes (Grus canadensis) leaving their grazing meadows across from the RedRock RV Park (Island Park, Idaho). This mated pair spends a lot of their mornings grazing there (as Reggie and I know from our morning walks.) Of course, they took off with the loud raucous sounds that only a crane can make.
The fields and meadows are unusually green for this time of year thanks to the unusual amount of rain we've had this season. Although many of the wildflowers are starting to fade, there are still plenty around to make this area bright with color.
When I reached the Red Rock Pass, I noticed an unusually large field of the Sego Lily sometimes known as the Mariposa Lily also. Mixed with Lupine and other wildflowers, they made an impressive view. Of course, the Sego Lily (Calochortus nuttallii) really comes into its own when viewed closeup. Some of these are colored light to medium purple.
Across the street larger displays of the Sego Lily were mixed with the beautiful blanket flower, lending a bright red accent to the display.
There were several stands of the Blanketflower (Gaillardia aristata) along Red Rock road as I descended into the Centennial valley. They are starting to get ragged, but still present a dramatic view everywhere they grow. These grow in clumps on sunny and open meadows all over Montana. The species Gaillardia have many variations of the coloring including red petals. The variety found here are solid yellow petals with a bright red set of disk flowers.
As I entered Red Rock Lakes National Wildlife Refuge, I turned towards Elk Lake. The road we are taking today turns off of this road.
My first view of Mac Donald pond was greeted with a large herd of cattle next to the shore. It's too bad that the cattle have to be here in this beautiful region since they tend to flatten the wildflowers and mess up the pristine creeks and ponds. They are hardly "wildlife." (It's a little bit of irony that I saw them first at Mac Donald pond, given that's where so many of them will end up after fattening up here.)
As I progressed slowly along the dirt road paralleling this pond, I noticed a beautiful Red-tailed Hawk (Buteo jamaicensis) sitting atop a nearby post. We stared at each other for a while, I took a few photos and he flew off in search of lunch.
It's not long before I spot a family of five on the far bank of the pond. As I move my camera and tripod a bit closer they head for the relative safety of the water. Swans can live a long time. Trumpeter Swans have been known to live longer than 24 years in the wild, and one individual in captivity lived to be almost 32. This swan is the largest native North American bird when measured in terms of weight and length, and is on average the largest living waterfowl species.
Flying around the monkeyflowers at the spring was a Weidemeyer's Admiral (basilarchia weidemeyerii) butterfly. They tend to inhabit wet places like this. They are very boldly patterned and a large butterfly.
Thursday, July 16, 2009
July Wildflower Landscapes
Accentuating the beauty of these fields are the majestic mountain backdrops that present themselves at every turn. The streams, the lakes and the mountain meadows are full of color. It's hard to drive anywhere if you stop to photograph the color.
Flower display along Continental Divide dirt trail with Upper Red Rock lakes in background.
Stonecrop succulents cover hillsides at higher elevations here.
Another flower that has just recently bloomed and is in my top five favorites is the Sego Lily (Calochortus nuttallii.) These are the state flower of Utah due to the flavorful edible roots that saved Brigham Young's early settlement there from starvation during their famous famine. They are simply delicate and beautiful wildflowers. These can be often found along the side of the road like they are here at RedRock RV Park. Here's another nice specimen on my photo gallery page.
I have a complete gallery of wildflower landscapes you can view if you'd like more.
Of course, you'll have to come here to fully comprehend the beauty of these wildflower displays. Give us a call and see for yourself. (208-558-7442).
Monday, July 13, 2009
Looking at the back of the Little Sunflowers as they track the sun.
One of the most common butterflies here is the Callippe Fritillary. You'll find many of these flittering around the flowers almost anytime of the day.
White Campion (entire plant) in meadow grasses.
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