Thursday, July 30, 2009


Elk Lake and Hidden Lake in Montana

Make sure you read the previous blog before you read this one. In these blogs, the latest written always appear first. This is part two of a report of a trip I made yesterday out to Red Rock Lakes National Wildlife Refuge and Elk Lake in southern Montana. I started out from RedRock RV Park (Island Park, Idaho) and drove about 15 miles to the Elk Lake turnoff and followed a dirt road around Culver Pond. After Culver Pond, I headed for Elk Lake Resort for Lunch.

Elk Lake Resort with part of Elk Lake in the foreground and the Centennial Mtns in the back.

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.

Panorama of Elk Lake (the original pic is really 25,000 pixels wide)

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.

Lichen covered rock above Elk 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 on the hills above Elk Lake.

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.

Northern end of Elk Lake and Estuary. Madison Mtns in the background.

By the side of the road there was a beautiful wild rose bush in full bloom. I couldn't resist stopping for a picture.

Wild Roses along the side of the road.

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.

Tiny Wood Nymph or single-flowered wintergreen.

Wood Nymph from above. This flower is about 1/2" wide.

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.

Scaly Tooth mushroom growing in the forest at Hidden Lake.

Another specimen of the Scaly Tooth mushroom next to a dog lichen.

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.

Lovely little twinflower on the forest floor at Hidden Lake (Montana).

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.


Trail to Hidden Lake.
Hidden Lake looking Northwest.

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.

Hello there! I came across your site while searching "yellow Idaho wildflowers", and am so glad I found your gorgeous photos.

We live in Shelley, so we have lots of flowers in common.

Thanks for the beautiful inspiration.


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