Tuesday, June 30, 2009


Antelope Basin

I often wander away from RedRock RV Park to see what variety I might encounter in the nearby forests, meadows, and mountains. The flowers and animals are similar throughout this little corner of Idaho, Montana and Wyoming, but there are some differences. I enjoy getting away from the other people and enjoy the scenery and wildlife by myself. That's easy to do using the RedRock RV Park as a base. Today I decided to drive a short distance to Antelope Basin in Montana. It's only about a 15 mile drive to the basin and the trip is beautiful, traveling around the west end of Henry's Lake.

Antelope Basin is reached via a dirt road off of highway 87, about 1/2 mile from the Montana/Idaho border. It climbs into a basin managed by the US Forest Service. This basin is a critical wildlife habitat and corridor for elk, mule deer, pronghorn, bighorn sheep, bison, sage grouse, bear, wolves and other wildlife. The headwaters of creeks that feed both the Madison River and the Red Rock Lakes are here. The distinguishing feature of the land here is the foothills sagebrush surrounded by coniferous and deciduous forests. Parts of this basin are still leased rangelands for cattle grazing. Of course, cattle contribute to the "non-native" aspects and degrading of this beautiful wild land but one can look past most of their damage to see the beauty of the wildflowers, the creeks and the wildlife.

Once over the hill we found a lone Yellow-bellied Marmot (Marmota flaviventris) scrambling among the sagebrush and the lichen covered volcanic rocks. Marmots are basically large ground squirrels. They typically live in burrows, and hibernate there through the winter. Most marmots are highly social, and use loud whistles to communicate with one another, especially when alarmed. They eat many types of grasses, berries, lichens, mosses, roots and flowers. There is a good supply of all of those in this basin.

Not far away, down the hill we spotted the namesake for this basin, the Antelope or more accurately (antelopes are in Africa only) the Pronghorn (Antilocapra americana) grazing on the basin grasses. From the fact that it didn't run from us tells me that it probably had a young fawn hiding in the high grass nearby. They won't desert their young unless provoked by some direct means.

The dirt road encounters a wire gate (for the cattle) that you must open and close. Once through the gate you are following Antelope Creek for a while. We got out there and looked at the wildflowers growing along this riparian environment. Of course there were the mosquitoes, but they weren't too bad.

Indian Paintbrush along Antelope Creek.

The most obvious wildflower here is now the Indian Paintbrush (Castilleja miniata). It's bright red color contrasts with the dark green of the vegetation along the creek and make for nice picture spots along this rambling creek. Paintbrushes draw water and some nutrients from nearby plants, usually sagebrush or grasses by using short side branches from their roots. But mainly, they are just usually one of the most attractive wildflowers where ever they grow.

Common Indian Paintbrush (Castilleja miniata)

Another interesting plant growing in the grasses along the creek is this small Geyer's Onion (Allium geyeri). It belongs to the Lily family. In addition to numerous attractive white flowers it contains small egg shaped red bulbs that sprout after falling to the ground, providing an asexual form of reproduction. They make the plant quite attractive.

Geyer's Onion

We drove away from the creek and up to a more elevated plateau above the basin proper. There you have a view of the Centennials (at least the top half) and the Madison Range. We drove over very rough terrain and through a shallow creek to get to Lone Tree Pass. Again, from here you can see the Continental Divide, look back at Deer Mountain, and over to the East Centennials.

West Centennials from Lone Tree Pass.

A couple years ago, not far from here, on the slopes of Deer Mountain, I found a very attractive male deer chomping on the grass. He looked up and then we stared at each other for almost 5 minutes giving me plenty of time to snap a photo. He then wandered off slowly to find some more private grazing I suspect.

Young Deer near Antelope Basin a the base of Deer Mountain.

Up here there are large fields of Mule's Ear's in bloom currently. They are starting to fade near us. The altitude here is about 1000 feet higher than RedRock RV Park, so they have bloomed later here. They were humming with bumblebees. Water was still running downhill at every little crease in the terrain. In fact we were thwarted from continuing up to the Continental Divide trail because I didn't want to get stuck in the mud.

Madison Range and Mule's Ear's from Antelope Basin Road (rutted 4 wheel drive road)

We turned around due to the precarious road and headed back the same way. The road was rough put we took it slowly and were able to get out without any damage to the car. If you decide to take this trip, make sure you have a high clearance vehicle and probably 4-wheel drive.

Indian Paintbrush along Antelope Creek.

We saw a pair of Western Tanagers on the way out but weren't quick enough with the camera to picture them. It was a fitting setting for such beautiful yellow and red birds.

I checked with the Forest Service today and found out that the Gravelly Ridge Road will open on July 2nd this year. I'm looking forward to that trip again. It's one of the best wildflower displays around in such isolated and beautiful surroundings.

Come see us at RedRock RV Park in Island Park, Idaho (near West Yellowstone, MT) this summer.

Saturday, June 27, 2009


They Keep Blooming in Meadow #1

Reggie along RedRock Road in Island Park, Idaho Saturday morning.

What a beautiful morning! Reggie and I headed out on foot from RedRock RV Park in Island Park, Idaho for meadow #1 again hoping to find a few new species of wildflowers. Meadow is a bit of a misnomer since it is a combination of meadow and shaded forest. Well, we weren't disappointed in our search for newly blooming plants since our last visit.

A small stand of Spotted Coralroot on the forest floor.

The first to catch our eye was the Spotted coralroot. Yesterday I had found the Striped Coralroot up the forest road (about 1/4 mile from this spot). They are very similar plants, being non-photosynthetic and red, but this new one is spotted on the "flower" rather than having stripes. One has to please you, either you like spots or stripes, or maybe both ? It's a little hard to see the shape of the "flower" but you can see the spots easily enough. The flower seems to have brown sepals with a spotted white "tongue" hanging out. Some have a spot of yellow which is most likely the reproductive parts.

Spots on the coralroot give the non-photosynthezing plant it's name.

The next newly blooming plant I found was the Cliff drymocallis (Drymocallis pseudorupestris). This is from the Rose family and used to be classified as the "sticky cinquefoil", but was found to belong to another group. This white flowered little plant is easy to recognize with its hairy buds and white to cream flower. This plant can also be found in the sagebrush behind the RV Park later. I noticed that I found this 2 days earlier than I did last year.

Cliff drymocallis

Cliff drymocallis leaves

Another lovely little plant just starting to bloom here is the Wooly sunflower (Eriophyllum lanatum). It's also known as "eriophyllum". It has a lovely yellow/orange flower, like a sunflower. It's part of the aster family. The leaves are covered with fine hairs that give them a wooly look or sliver color. This is another Lewis and Clark first discovery plant!

Wooly sunflower or "eriophyllum"

The common Yarrow (Achillea millefolium) is starting to bloom, but not quite yet. It looks very attractive prior to blooming however. Soon it will be all over the place with it's bright white cap of tiny flowers. Yarrow has a lot of medicinal uses due to the chemical alkaloid achilleine present in it.


Another flower that is starting to pop up here is the distinctive Slender Cinquefoil (Potentilla gracilis), or at least, one that looks very similar to it. The 5 petaled yellow flower is a tall plant that grows in single stalks.

Slender Cinquefoil

There's always a couple flowers I can't identify yet. I've searched a while for this identification without luck. Eventually I find them out. This is a small plant with a florescence of tiny flowers at the top of the plant. It was sprinkled with dew here.

Unknown plant in meadow #1

I'll leave you with a picture of the Oregon Grape (Berberis repens). We've seen this before, but this red leafed version is particularly beautiful to me. Please come to RedRock RV Park in Island Park, Idaho and see these beautiful flowers for yourself. You might sneak over to Yellowstone National Park while you are here where most of these flowers find a home also.

Friday, June 26, 2009


Up the Forest Road..

Yesterday, Reggie and I decided to go up the forest road across from the RV Park. (Actually it was Reggie who started up the road and I agreed to go after having decided to go to meadow #1 originally.) We hadn't been up there for quite a while and I thought it would be good to see what was growing there. The road goes about a mile into the Caribou-Targhee National Forest and leaves Red Rock road about 1/4 mile west of RedRock RV Park (Island Park, Idaho).

The forest road is a good place to find wildflowers (if you look).

The first delight was seeing the beautiful Wild Blue Flax growing in the same place as last year along the road. They obviously like it there, on the edge of the road in front of the high grass. They obviously like a lot of sunshine. Last year they created a large array of blue there. Now there are only a few blooming.

Wild Blue Flax along the forest road off Red Rock Road in Island Park, Idaho.

As I got close to the forest's edge I heard the familiar call of the Swainson's Hawk. I looked up and there he was watching us climb up the road. It was nice to know he was nearby. The meadow in front of the forest is a good hunting ground for him. Unfortunately, I didn't have a long lens with me for a sharp closeup. (As it was I had two heavy cameras and a flash. Three is beyond me while hiking.)

Swainson's Hawk watching Reggie and I climb into the forest.

As I reported earlier, the Yellow (Aquilegia flavescens) and Red Columbines are starting to bloom in the forest directly across from the RedRock RV Park. I found a group of them here as well. One such group was intertwined with the many-flowered stickseed (Hackelia floribunda) which made a nice accent for the yellow.

Yellow Columbine

The Heartleaf Arnica (Arnica cordifolia) is doing very well here. They seem to like the open shade afforded by the road and forest here. There are many bunches of them along the road. With the deep green of the forest vegetation they stand out well.

The Heartleaf Arnica along the forest road (inset of bloom).

Another similar flower that I encountered is most likely the Twin arnica (Arnica sororia). Its flower is similar to the Heartleaf arnica, but the leaves are lance shaped and opposite.

Twin Arnica in forest with inset of leaves.

I noticed the Sticky Currant
(Ribes viscosissimum) starting to bloom. These are small shrubs that have sticky leaves and bear edible fruits. Meriweather Lewis collected this then unknown flower on his way home. He found it in Idaho also at the Lolo Pass.

The Sticky Currant flower along the forest road.

Western Blue Elder and bloom closeup.

A shrub, the Western Blue Elder (Sambucus cerulea) is in full bloom now. They are a beautiful shrub with large flat-topped clusters of small white flowers. They produce elderberries in the fall which are used for making wine and jellies. They are a favorite food for birds and animals, so they don't last very long in the forest.

Bunch of Fairyslippers.

Again, I was on the lookout for my favorite plant, the Fairyslipper Orchid. I remembered it growing in a bunch near the road last year. I finally found it as a bunch of several specimens. Normally I find these growing as single plants, but here they grow bunched together. Click on the photo for an enlarged view. Notice the basal leaves flat to the ground.

I'll end here, but there are more flowers that I'll be reporting on up the forest road. Here's a closeup of the one of the Fairyslippers (I can't get enough of these!)

Please come and visit us at RedRock RV Park and see for yourself.

Wednesday, June 24, 2009


Red Columbine and Chocolate Lily

The last couple days has brought more flowers blooming to RedRock RV Park (Island Park, Idaho). In the forest across the street from our RV Park I found several new species of flowers blooming for the first time. It's fun to look for the new flowers. You have to be very careful to look under plants and to look at the small ones. Today I found a very tiny plant that's even hard to see with the naked eye (you can, but it's not easy to spot). We finally got a respite from the clouds and the rain and it's made it comfortable to photograph again.

Red Columbine aka Sitka or red or crimson Columbine)

The first flower we celebrate is my second favorite around here, the Red (Aquilegia formosa) and Yellow Columbines. We don't have the beautiful Blue Columbine like you'll find in Colorado, but ours are just as beautiful. They just started blooming here and only a few small specimens are out. We have both the Red and the Yellow variety. They are most likely hybrids of each other since you find them growing close together. The sepals vary from bright red to almost yellow. For a perspective, the flowers are about 2" long and hang like a bell from a long stalk. They like shadier spots and you find them on the forests edge here. Soon there will be numerous flowered specimens lining the edge of the forest. They last for several weeks.

Two days ago I found a rare plant for this area. I was quite excited to find it. I only found two specimens in the area (and I looked around for others.) I had seen it in the books but never found it in the 8 years I've been here. It was in meadow #1, under some bushes along the forest's edge. The bulbous Chocolate Lily (Fritillaria atropurpurea) grows about 2 to 3 feet tall and has brown/yellow/green sepals with large yellow anthers to accent it. It grows like a bell. I've include a few views so you can get a good idea of what it looks like. The flower is about 1.25" wide and tall. Notice the full flower on the right. See the two flowers on above the other? There is another variety discovered by the Lewis and Clarke expedition called the Checker Lily that looks similar but it's range differs and it grows in the northern parts of Idaho. (We are in the south.)

Chocolate Lily is a rare plant in these parts. Underneath.

Back of the flower the green and chocolate colored sepals of the Chocolate Lily.

Getting back to the forest across the street from RedRock RV Park today, I found the tiny Side-flowered mitrewort (Mitella stauropetala) plant growing in among the other plants. It prefers moist shaded areas and our forest qualifies. It's an interesting plant because its blooms are so tiny and they are evenly situated along a narrow stalk. It has only large basal leaves that I can discern that lie flat against the ground. The flower image is greatly magnified. I suspect the flower is less than .05 inch across. The stalk is probably about 8" high at the most. Several of them were growing together along the path in the forest. You have to be looking closely down to see them.

Side-flowered mitrewort flowers are extremely tiny.

Several of the flowers I've seen the the past few weeks are fading fast, including the Heart-leaved Arnica, the Vase flower, the western virgin bower, and more. I saw only one specimen of the beautiful Fairyslipper orchid. But... there are more to replace them.

The striped coralroot has no green and thus doesn't photosynthesize.

On my way out of the forest, I encountered another member of the orchid family that has newly bloomed since my last visit, the totally red Striped coralroot (Corallorhiza trifida.) The "flower" is striped with a yellow throat. It is an erect stalk that holds from seven to 25 flowers in a pikelike raceme. This plant is a sprophyte in that it gets it nutrients from soil fungi and do not do photosynthesis. This means that have no leaves and no chlorophyll.

So, please plan to come visit us at RedRock RV Park in Island Park, Idaho soon before this miracle of nature begins to fade. (Of course, there are flowers blooming until September, so you'll just miss the major part, but not all of the wildflowers if you are late coming.)

I'm looking forward to my annual drive through the Gravelly Ridge mountains after July 4th. There's a great spectacle of wildflowers there that I'll report.

Sunday, June 21, 2009


Flowers continue..

Although the rain continues to chase me from the forest (thanks to my concern over my equipment), I did find a few new species that were blooming in meadow #1 on Saturday. Rain has been with us every day. Luckily, it's not the 40 days and 40 nights variety, but comes in thunderstorms with an hour or two or three break between storms. I was able to get out into meadow #1 for a few minutes before the next storm started and I decided to head back.

Tall and statuesque Lupine is finally here.

One of the most ubiquitous flowers of the region is finally blooming. The Silver Lupine (Lupinus argenteus) is most probably the species found here, but it could be the Silky lupine (Lupinus sericeus). I'll continue to try to identify the exact one. In any case they add a beautiful purple to any landscape. Down below, along US20, they are mixing with the white Mule's Ear's to form a white and purple mat in large fields.

Yellow Mule's Ear's

I also saw a couple Yellow Mule's Ear's blooming next to the hybrid yellow Mule's Ear's. On one of the yellow flowers was an interesting moth. On closer examination (at the computer), it appears that a Goldenrod Spider has caught two moths. The top moth seems upside down with another moth below it. The spider is apprantly holding the bottom one and most probably eating it. Nature's food chain in full swing here!

Goldenrod Spider's lair

This is maybe balsam groundsel.

Another beautiful little plant is this groundsel, but I'm not sure which one it is. I suspect it's the balsam groundsel (Packera paupercula). It has long leaves at the base, with small teeth along the edge, but the ends are somewhat rounded, unlike the arrowleaf groundsel which has very sharp points on the leaves. It makes a lovely head of yellow flowers, each with 8 spaced petals.

Annual Hawksbeard(?)

I found this yellow flower that looks to me like Annual Hawksbeard (Crepis tectorum). Again, not sure. It's not fully developed yet, so I'll check back and see what it turns out to be later.

Rosy Pussytoes

As the rain started, I turned around, short of my normal path through meadow #1 and as I was leaving noticed the Rosy Pussytoes (Antennaria microphylla) blooming. These look like a head of rose colored flowers that never unfold. This is a great little accent flower throughout parts of the forest.

Well, as usual, I beseech you to come and see for yourself at RedRock RV Park in Island Park, Idaho. We are next door to Yellowstone National Park and Red Rock Lakes National Wildlife Refuge, not to mention Henry's Lake for you fishermen.

Saturday, June 20, 2009


Red Rock Lakes National Wildlife Refuge

Yesterday seemed like a good day to visit Red Rock Lakes National Wildlife Refuge again. It's only 20 miles or so from RedRock RV Park (Island Park, Idaho) where I'm staying and it was forecast to be a sunny day. It was also a Friday, which means the "traffic" will be light. While most of the RV Park residents were going fishing or to Yellowstone National Park, I decided to see what new flowers, birds and other wildlife might present themselves to me.

I like the trip mainly because of the solitude out there and the lack of "traffic". The trip is all gravel/dirt road and this prevents many people from attempting it, plus it's overshadowed by nearby Yellowstone National Park. You might not see as many animals, rivers and canyons, but the solitude makes up for it for me.

At 6:05 AM, I was walking Reggie getting ready to go and assessing the weather. It was very foggy, but I could see that once that burned off, we should have a good morning. Sunrise starts around 4:15 AM this time of year, so the sun had a good start on me already.

Sun rising over Yellowstone Plateau (looking East) through morning fog.

As I traveled Red Rock road, the East Centennial mountains were shining in that perfect early morning light with the fog lifting in mysterious and scenic ways. I rounded a turn and noticed my old familiar friend, the fogbow. This is caused by the refraction of the sun off the tiny water droplets in the fog. This one was too close to photograph the entire "bow", but you can see the one I found at Red Rock Lakes National Wildlife Refuge a couple years ago here.

Right half of a fogbow, or white rainbow caused by the sun's angle to the fog.

Of course, the fence birds were out in force. I'm sure they were as happy as I was to be out in full sunshine and NO RAIN for a change. (The jet stream has been south of it's normal position of a couple weeks and we've been getting the notorious weather from Washington state. It's predicted to change Monday!) The mountain bluebird, the Robin, the many sparrows were making as much noise as they dare for such an early time in the morning. It was breakfast time and they were scurring all over the side of the road and in the meadows finding the little catepillers, worms, and grasshoppers to satisfy their appetite.

Mountain Bluebird with early morning snack along Red Rock Road in Idaho.

Reggie and I stopped at our normal place where we have a fantastic view of the West Centennial Mountains, right next to Red Rock Creek and a large field or meadow to look for wildflowers. The Western blue flag (Iris missouriensis) usually grows here and I was anxious to see it. Unfortunately, I was a bit late for them, but managed to find a few scraggly souls to photograph. Meriwether Lewis collected a few specimens in Montana as well (in 1806.)

I looked around for other flowers and found a few to photograph next to the road. I found the Blue Mustard (Chorispora tenella), a four-petaled purple to rose-colored "weed" with flowers that attract your eyes immediately. Sometimes these plants can light up an entire field with purple. I'm afraid that the "weed" designator has been defined by the livestock and agricultural industries, and not the botanists or photographers!

A few other small but common wildflowers were in the field here, including a taller variety of Phlox that were a beautiful purple color as well.

Reggie enjoys sniffing out the flowers, animals and who knows what else at my favorite stop along Red Rock Road and Red Rock Creek. West Centennials in the background.

I was anxious to find this years' specimens of Crocus or Passion Flower ( ). I recognized the part of the road that had a large concentration of them coming up ahead. This is a beautiful purple and white flower early blooming flower but alas, I was too late (thanks to the incessant rains that kept me from the Refuge) and all I could find was a quickly dwindling specimen and a large number of the seed heads for this plant. The seed heads are beautiful in their own right if not a bit like an unruly hair-do. For those of you interested in what this flower looks like in all its glory, look at these specimens I took last year in Red Rock Lakes National Wildlife Refuge. I notice that I took that photo on June 9th, which affirms my lateness this year.

Soon I discovered several other flowers that were "new" for me this year, including the indescribably beautiful Wild Blue Flax (Linum perenne) (see right photo, click for larger.) I only saw a few specimens along Red Rock Road but they will soon be in much greater numbers. Some of them live along the forest road next to the RedRock RV Park here. I also noticed a few blooming plants of the Green Gentian or the Monument Plant (Frasera speciosa.) This almost all green plant starts its life in a state that continually (each season) grows leaves until after 20 to 60 years it grows a large stalk filled with greenish flowers. It then dries and dies never to spring forth again.

The Green Gentian blooms only once in 20 to 60 years and dies.

In a field in front of the majestic West Centennials (with Mount Taylor), there was a large number of Grandfathers Beard (Geum Trifolum). I couldn't resist a photo:

Grandfather's Beard field in front of West Centennial Mountain Range, MT.

In this meadow, below the forest at the bottom of the West Centennial Mountains you'll often see Pronghorn. They didn't fail to disappoint me this time either. Last year, near here, I almost ran over a young Pronghorn hidden in the bushes. (see here). These two guys were grazing and when they saw us, they took off running. Of course they can run faster than any land animal in North America, so they were soon gone from our view.

Pronghorn Antelope at Red Rock Lakes National Wildlife Refuge.

I can see that I have rambled on too long. I didn't get to see any Moose this trip, or bears, but the quiet and relaxation made the trip worthwhile. I did manage to see a Western Tanager (Piranga ludoviciana) that I'll share with you. Unfortunately, the sun angle was wrong, but hey, you can see it can't you? I also encountered a lovely yellow Western Kingbird (Tyrannus verticalis) along the Red Rock road.

Western Tanager on barbed wire near south end of Elk Lake, Montana.

Western Kingbird poses along Red Rock Road in Montana.

A trip to the Centennial Valley wouldn't be complete without seeing several raptors. They are hard to photograph because they are mostly flying very high and certainly on the other side of a fence that you can't cross. But yesterday I did have the good fortune to see one on a post next to the road. It was a red-tailed Hawk and was a very large and nice looking bird. Again, the sun angle wasn't right but generally, he is well-lit.

Red-tailed Hawk along Red Rock Road in Red Rock Lakes National Wildlife Refuge

I'll finish off with one shot of the Red Rock Upper Lake and Shambo Pond with Montana mountains beyond. Shambo often has a couple swans with their young in residence, but I didn't see them there today. The wind was blowing strong and you'll see a distinct difference in color between the pond and the lake beyond.

Shambo Pond and Upper Red Rock Lake behind.

Well, I'll end it here. I did photograph more views of the landscape, more wildflowers, bright orange and yellow lichens, squirrels, white pelicans, more birds and much more. This is a fantastic place and I'll be out there again soon. There's always something new to share, so stick with me this summer and I'll prove it to you. Come see us and you can see for yourself.

Thursday, June 18, 2009


Under the Rainbow

Sorry for being delinquent in sharing with you this week. Personal matters and the persistent cloud cover and rain have conspired to keep me from my nature explorations and sharing. I intend to begin my explorations again in the next days as the weather warms up and the clouds disappear. Next week promises to be sunny and warm (72F).

This afternoon we had a torrential rain/hail storm for about 30 minutes. We had hail the size of peas and lots of rain in a short time. That was about the 4th storm today that passed through. At the end of the last storm we had a treat of a beautiful GROUND hugging rainbow. This rainbow (at about 5 PM local time) stayed just above the ground for at least 15 minutes. When I first saw it, there was a second one much further above it for a double rainbow. I'll include a few images I took.

There's not much else I want to say now, but I will be back soon with more flowers and animals at RedRock RV Park near Island Park, Idaho.

Click on this panoramic image of the double rainbow for a larger version.

Notice the two rainbows, one above and one just above the ground. That's Yellowstone Plateau behind them. This is really how they looked!

When I zoomed in to the lower rainbow (with the camera) this is the result. Have you ever seen such a bright rainbow?

Maybe 15 minutes later it had faded quite a bit, but see the blue sky above?

Here's a couple hours before the storm, as it was gathering, looking down Red Rock Road in front of RedRock RV Park in Island Park, Idaho.

Sunday, June 14, 2009


The Unknown

When I go exploring I look for the minute and the detail, but not really. That would require me to be on my hands and knees and most probably using a magnifying glass. I'll probably do that some day, but not yet. There's still too much to see without that aid or inconvenience. Don't get me wrong. I'm on my knees or belly a lot for photography, but usually after I've identified an interesting plant, insect or rock while standing.

Yesterday I spent some time in the fields at the ranch next to us and although there were plenty of beautiful flowers to talk about (and I did on a previous blog), there were still some things that got left unmentioned. Several were not immediately identifiable. Some plants just don't reveal themselves to me until they've developed further. Identification books usually only a plant in one stage of it's growth. Believe me, plants and insects often go through several stages that are totally different. In the case of a plant, often the leaves will be a constant, but few books picture the leaves well.

Here's an interesting plant that I found in two wet areas at the ranch. It's most distinctive feature is the reddish, blub-like pod growing on a stiff green stem. It has grass or sedge-like long slender leaves. I've joined 3 of it's stages together in this one photo. I'm not positive that the last stage belongs to the same plant, but since it was found next to the others and shared the same grassy leaves, it's a good bet. Anyone know this? The pod is quite attractive and distinctive growing among the other flowers and plants.

3 stages of the same grass or sedge of this unknown plant.

Look at the fine filaments that come out of the blooming head stage. They are lacy in appearance. I'll try to find this plant at an even later stage and see if it reveals its identity to me.

Closeup of final stage of unknown Grass or Sedge.

Another plant that escapes notice until you really stare at your feet is this little Blue-eyed Mary (Collinsia parviflora) wildflower. It's one of the smallest wildflowers in the area. It's flowers are fashioned a bit like the snap dragon. The flower is probably 1/8" or less, so this image is much bigger than life size. I found this in the RV park grass, and here in the field at the ranch. This photo was taken while the grass was wet, so it doesn't so the detail as well as a dry specimen would. You can get a clue of the size by the size of the water droplets hanging to the flower. They are all over the place, you just have to look closely.

Blue-eyed Mary in the wet grassy field.

Another totally unknown plant could be something familiar and common, but in an early stage or it could be something rare. There were not many specimens and these are in the path of the cows, so once they get here, I might lose track of this guy. I'd sure be interested in knowing what it is. I've joined a closeup of the top of the plant with a more wide view. They are about 12" tall.

To continue my confession of ignorance, I present you with this next guy. It's familiar because I've seen it in the past, but I just can't yet identify it. The stems are red and the bracts are bright red as well. It hides in the Sagebrush and is fairly wide spread throughout the fields of the ranch. With the narrow leaves that are opposite, it should be easy to identify. I'll let you know if I can find it. (You let me know too.)

Unknown hiding in the sagebrush.

Of course, poking around in the grasses wouldn't be complete without noticing a fly or wasp or bee. Here's an American Hover Fly taking a drink on a plant. These guys are considered good since their larvae attach insects that destroy commercial crops. They get their name from the way they hover above a flower so silently.

American Hover Fly

Well, there are more things I found, but I'll spare you the details for now. Hope you find this interesting and will consider coming to RedRock RV Park in Island Park, Idaho to find out for your self (and help me to identify a few of these things!).

Saturday, June 13, 2009


Continental Divide Flowers

I decided to take a short trip up to the Red Rock Pass at the Continental divide (between Idaho/Montana) today from RedRock RV Park (Island Park, Idaho) to see what was happening. It's only 7 miles and 800 feet up from the RV Park. I was hoping to see some raptors flying about or at least a couple new song birds, or some different wildflowers blooming. We are in a cloudy/rainy period and this morning looked like a nice sunny break, with the afternoon promising more rain and clouds, so it was a good time to go.

As we depart, we get a grand view of the Dandelions in bloom at the Meadow Vue Ranch. Actually they are the accent color along all the roads, trails and fences in this entire part of Idaho, Wyoming and Montana at the moment. Those mountains in the background are part of the Madison Range in Montana.

As usual, I take my time getting there, hoping to see a raptor on a fence or a tree without scaring it away. I let the others wanting to race past me go without pause, rolling up my windows until their dust settles. Unfortunately, the raptors must take Saturday off, because I saw none. I did see an Eastern Kingbird. His black head and bright white chest being an immediate tip-off to his identity. He was sitting on a barbed wire fence along the dirt portion of Red Rock road in Idaho. The Eastern Kingbird eats insects from the air and plucks them off vegetation. This is a good place and time for that. The bugs are out and I appreciate anything this bird can do to reduce their population.

Eastern Kingbird waiting for his next insect meal to fly by.

Of course you can't drive along these fenced roads without seeing many of the beautiful Tree Swallows (Tachycineta bicolor) resting on a post or wire or swooping to pick up some lunch. They are also great insect and mosquito scavengers, so long live the Tree Swallow! They have a beautiful and changing irredescent blue color on their backs that makes each viewing a new experience.

This Tree Swallow was launching from his pad to catch an insect.

Notice the irredescent blue on the back of the Tree Swallow along Red Rock Road, Idaho.

While photographing the Swallow, I turned and saw 4 horses coming over the hill to see what I was doing. They were very curious, probably of Reggie who was being good and not barking in the back seat. Other than the bugs, the horses have a great place here with hundreds of acres to roam. These guys looked healthy and happy to me.

Four Horses along Red Rock Road in eastern Idaho.

We turned onto the Continental Divide Trail and parked near Red Rock Road. Reggie got out and sniffed around for bears, etc and I took my trusty wildflower camera and looked for newly blooming flowers. The altitude here is about 7100 feet, almost 800 feet higher than the RV Park so I'd expect some different action here.

Spring Beauty can be found all around us at the Red Rock Pass (Continental Divide).

Under the trees I found the Glacier Lilies still blooming sprinkled with the lovely and small Spring Beauty flowers. Snuggled in a creavse of one of the lichen-covered rocks was this stunted narrow-leaf Stonecrop (Sedum stenopetalum).

A dwarf or stunted version of narrow-leaf Stonecrop at Idaho/Montana continental divide.

A particularly beautiful example of the False Dandelion (Agoseris glauca) was found here. It was much more pale than others I've seen. By the way, the False or Mountain Dandelion is not closely related to the one we know as a weed. (I don't like the word weed. It's a judgement call and depends on the view of the speaker.)

Mountain Dandelion or False Dandelion.

The purple Wyoming Kittentails (Besseya wyomingensis) are still in bloom at this elevation along with the Glacier Lilies and Spring Beauties. At the RedRock RV Park elevation they are pretty much exhausted.

Another small plant I found here is the beautiful Diamond-leafed Saxifrage (Saxifraga rhomboidea.) It grows in alpine meadows and is also known as the snowball Saxifrage due to the arrangement of it's small white flowers into a snowball shape and color. Like the Kittentail it's also a small plant, about 3" in height. These small herbs are easy to overlook so take your time as you scour the landscape for new flowers.

The rocks around here are havens for lichen of all kinds. You could spend hours just exploring the lichen if you were so inclined. This area is not high as mountain passes go, but the winds and cold that blow through here in winter make this a very inhospitable place for plants. They are happy to be out this time of year.

Snowball Saxifrage is a small plant.

This is a beautiful area to look for wildflowers. You are only a couple miles from the East Centennial Mountains that loom above you in this meadow. Here's a view through the Sheep Sorrell of Red Rock Mountain behind.

Red Rock Mountain from the meadow we are exploring today.

One final little treat, and I'll let you go for the day. This little worker Red Ant (Formica) was busy crawling over the lichen-encrusted rocks in the meadow. They like the high-altitude and build nests near trees and shrubs. The entrance is littered with pine needles and other plant materials. They often stay near aphids so they can harvest the honey-dew from them.

Worker Red Ant.

Come see for yourself at RedRock RV Park, near Island Park, Idaho and Yellowstone National Park.

Friday, June 12, 2009


Meadow Vue Ranch Explosion of Flowers

Meadow Vue Ranch with East Centennial Mountains as backdrop and wildflowers.

I had neglected the Meadow Vue Ranch next door for a few days. It has been cloudy and rainy and just plain sunless. But today, the sun showed promise of coming forth this morning, so Reggie and I headed out from RedRock RV Park (Island Park, Idaho) next door to the ranch. The cows are still not here so it makes the trek a lot easier. Crawling under the barbed wire fence on the wet ground with 2 cameras was tricky but certainly doable. It was easy for Reggie at least.

The first thing I noticed new was the wholesale blooming of the beautiful and purple Common Camas Lily wildflower (Camassia quamash). These plants bloom in large numbers and from a distance often resemble lakes due to their deep blue color. The are a blubous plant and the Indians collected them as one of their prime food sources. They are common around this area and all throughout Idaho.

About 3 years ago at this very spot I photographed a rare (for this area) white version of the Camas Lily. I've looked the last couple years for the same plant without luck. Maybe someone pulled it up by the roots? Here's a view at a popular Camas blooming area near Fairfield, Idaho in May (Photo by: Kim Pierson.)

White version of Camas Lily I photographed here in 2006. It was only one among the purple.

The next new plant popping up among the Camas is the American Bistort (Bistorta bistortoides.) This is a slender plant which contains a head of small white flowers on a spindly single stalk. The leaves are narrow and sparse. They are edible and are favorites of bears who dig up the roots to chomp on. They are attractive at every stage of the unfolding process.

American Bistort photographed this morning in 3 stages of blooming.

Many of the flowers I saw this morning were blooming in patches of multiple flowers. The Dandelion was probably the most obvious, followed by the Camas Lily, and even the Bistort. Here's a little patch of Bistort:

Field of American Bistort
The next newly blooming flower I encountered was in a large patch of similar flowers and I believe it is the Tall Buttercup (Ranunculus acris). It's a very beautiful yellow flower about 12 to 15" tall at the moment.

Tall Buttercup blooming in Meadow Vue Ranch

It was especially attractive blooming with the purple Many-flowered Shooting stars surrounding it. The Shooting stars are concentrated in a specific area of the field here and are still quite attractive.

Shooting Stars and Tall Buttercup together

I encountered a plant I've never seen before, at least at this stage in it's development. I can't identify it yet, but when I do, I'll update this blog. It was not wide-spread. It may be classified as a weed.

Unknown Plant in the ranch meadow.

Finally (and I am aware this has gone on too long, but it was a productive morning), I encountered the Yellow owl-clover. These tend to grow in open Sagebrush areas, so no surprise. These are similar to the Cusick's paintbrush, but from the descriptions I've read I think this is the owl-clover.

Yellow owl-clover is out in large numbers.

The Mule's Ears were also found in this field, both the White and the cream colored varieties. I'll look around some more and continue this discovery process. There were a few more smaller, and harder to identify flowers that I'll research and report on later.

Mule's Ears (White and Pale Yellow varities, and Common Camas)

Finally, on our way out of the Meadow Vue ranch field, this beautiful Lustrous Copper (Lycaena cupreus) butterfly caught my eye to put a great end to a very exciting and enjoyable morning exploring nature. Spring is certainly in full force here at RedRock RV Park in Island Park, Idaho. Come see for yourself.

Lustrous Copper Butterfly

Thursday, June 11, 2009


Sticky Geraniums FINALLY

The path along Meadow #1 in Island Park, Idaho, near RedRock RV Park.

Spring is definitely here, but with all the cloudy days and rain we've had here, it's hard to feel good about it. I think the wildflowers feel the same way. There just hasn't been enough sunlight recently. We went to Meadow #1 down Red Rock Road (in Island Park, Idaho) today to see what nature has sprung upon us since our visit last Friday (6 days ago).

As we walked the 1/2 mile west on Red Rock road, I scoured the meadows to see if I recognized any new flowers blooming. There are plenty of Sticky Geranium plants, but no blooms yet. The Mule Ear's are still trying to get up enough momentum to cover the area, but not yet. Of course, the dandelions are starting to cover the ranch next door but you couldn't tell this time of morning (they close up at night.)

Pale Yellow version of the Mule's Ears.

The first newly blooming flower that I recognized as we approached our favorite wildflower spot at Meadow #1 was the pale-yellow Mule's Ears (Wyethia cusickii). They were growing here at the same spot last year. Just a small stand on the hillside was blooming. I suspect this is a hybrid of the white and yellow variety. Nevertheless, they are a beautiful sunflower-like bloom. Several were just beginning to bloom and were also attractive in that state. Notice the shiny almost varnished sheen to it's leaves. This contrasts with the look alike Arrowleaf Balsamroot with its hairy leaves.

Just a little way up the path I noticed this Sticky Geranium (Geranium viscosissimum) just about to bloom. I'd been looking for these the last few days since they have been growing all over the area (without blooms) for the last couple weeks. They are a very bright pink color and will grace the meadows with their colors throughout most of the season (through August.) This bud reminds me of a rose before it blooms. And the stems and leaves live up to their common name. Even further up the path I noticed another specimen that had fully bloomed. Notice the dark purple veins on the delicate lavender petals. This is a beautiful plant that we are lucky to have in this area. Last year, the first blooming specimen I found was on June 15, only 4 days from now.

First Geranium of the season... in Meadow #1 in full bloom.

Along the same path I discovered the first specimen of the Silky Crazyweed (Oxytropis sericea). It is a very small flower, about 1/2" in length, a member of the pea family. I'm not sure about this identification, as several plants are similar in the locoweed and crazyweed families.

Another new bloomer along the path is the lovely Meadow Death Camas ( Zigadenus venenosus). (It is also known as Toxicoscordion venenosus, meaning poisonous garlic.) It is an extremely poisonous plant, toxic to both humans and livestock. All parts of this plant contain the poisonous alkaloid zygadenine, which some claim to be more potent than strychnine. One bulb, raw or cooked, can be fatal. It's leaves are grass like, very long and slender. The head of this plant shown at the right is probably about 4" in height. Notice the very immature buds in the image on the left.

Next to catch my eye was the immature Sulfur Buckwheat (Eriogonum umbellatum) . Eventually this will bloom into a lovely sulfur colored bouquet of flowers, but now it has a distinctive look of red buds. It's leaves are spatula shaped. Last year I discovered these starting up about June 21st in the Meadow Vue pasture. I haven't looked for them there yet.

Sulfur Buckwheat (immature)

Of all the flowers we've found in Meadow #1, the shooting stars, the vase flower, and the Glacier Lilies are fading now. There are still specimens, but many have died or are on the way out. But they are being replaced by many other species of flowers. Of course, go up about 500 feet or more in elevation and you'll still find them fresh.

I'll leave you with this view of the Arrowleaf Balsamroot along the trail. Notice the Low Larkspur in the front. I often look for what I call "bouquets" or closely group combinations of wildflowers that make a beautiful setting. It's one of the joys of looking for wildflowers and exploring the country around RedRock RV Park in Island Park, Idaho. Come see for yourself.

Monday, June 8, 2009


Hemlock and Orchids and Flies

I took the time to go into the Targhee Forest next to the RV Park this afternoon. I found a couple new items to report. It's quite a bit wet up there and I encountered the dreaded mosquito, one of which managed to take a sip of me before she ended up a mangled mess on my hand!

At the edge of the forest, I found a bushy plant about 16 inches high, 14 inches wide that intrigued me. It resembled a parsley plant that was still in the process of developing it's little white umbrella of flowers. I later determined that it was a very poisonous plant called the Western water hemlock (Cicuta douglasii). This is the plant that allegedly poisoned Socrates ( a few years back admittedly.) I had broken off a stem for identification back at the motorhome. I found that it was a hollow stem and there was a little liquid dripping out of the stem. Later when I identified it as hemlock I quickly washed my hands. My fingers that had brought it home tingled a little afterwards. No wonder, it's a toxic nerve agent! So, this is a plant NOT to confuse with parsley. Only a few leaves need to be eaten to DIE! The leaves are three-parted and serrated. It's actually an attractive little plant. If it just wasn't so dangerous. I read where the hollow stems have tempted children to use them as whistles and soon find themselves DEAD! From my childhood, I remember kids in the Boy Scouts of America finding hollow stems in the forest and trying to smoke them! This plant would have been a quick smoke!

As usual, the Western Virgin Bower's vine continues to grow and enhance the beauty of any spot it grows. There were several vines throughout the short walk I took up into the forest. Each day seems to bring more of these. What a delightful lavender addition to the profusion of greens in the forest.

I was still trying to find the elusive little Fairyslipper Orchid (Calypso bulbosa). I roughly knew where it would pop up thanks to my work in the same area last year. Well, after several minutes of searching my eyes focused in on two specimens some ways off the trail. Again, these extremely attractive plants are only about 3" off the forest floor with a flower only about 1.5" tall. Meriwether Lewis first discovered this plant for the European Americans, as a plant new to science while hiking along the Lolo trail in Idaho. I can imagine his delight in finding such a beauty.

The Fairyslipper has one leaf that lies on the ground at the base of the single stem. I've included a photo of the leaf this time. I'm sure there will be a few more specimens blooming in the next couple weeks. I am continually trying to find the perfect specimen for photography.

Fairyslipper orchid sports one oval leaf laying close to the ground at the base of the stem.

Fairy Slipper (Calypso bulbosa) is very delicate and can be destroyed forever if you pull it.

On the way back to the motorhome, my eye caught a fly landing on a plant. Having my macro lens at hand I photographed it. I can't identify it (no surprise given there are a thousand or more species of flies.) This one is unusual in that it has a very hairy set of antennae projecting out forward like an appendage. Another photo I took looking straight down verifies that these are where the antennae should be and are situated between the large compound eyes. Let me know if you know what this is. It was about 3/4 inch long in my estimation.

Tomorrow I'll be traveling to Idaho Falls, but who knows, maybe I'll encounter some wildlife. I always take my camera(s) with me.

Come see us at RedRock RV Park near Island Park, Idaho. You won't be sorry.


Snow and Rain

I apologize to those few of you that have become accustomed to this blog. The recent rain and snow and dismal weather has accounted for my absence. It's just not any fun to go out in the cold and rain anymore. Flowers hide or look disheveled and the birds and animals prefer not to present themselves and finally, the sun's wonderful lighting is absent. So much for excuses.

Snow coming down on the trail into the forest across from RedRock RV Park.

We had an unexpected snow yesterday morning. Only about an inch or so, but enough to turn everything white for a few hours. I did go up into the forest after the snow to photograph some flowers against the snow, but embarrassingly I must admit I foolishly lost the digital images through what only could be described as haste. But, the Glacier Lilies were beautiful, a bright yellow against the bright glistening white of the snow, a perfect springtime testament to an old adage around here: "we have two seasons, winter and Fourth of July". (Even that wouldn't work in the Colorado mountains where I used to live in Nederland. I remember a Fourth of July where we had 9" of snow!) Unfortunately, most of the flowers and the soon to be flowers were looking pretty shabby after having to support the wet snow. They should spring back to life soon.

Reggie is wearing his blue sweater to keep warm (June 7, 2009)

Even my Golden Retriever, Reggie was bundled up against the 30.5F weather. With the wind chill, it felt considerably colder. But it cleared up later in the day and even the sun came out a bit.

The day before the snow, the dandelions were showing their colors at the RV Park.

Just the day before, I was admiring the mat of dandelions at the RedRock RV Park. This time of year they become solid in some areas of the park and the ranch lands next door. Look at the same place Sunday morning:

In the afternoon, the dandelions opened up and some of the areas next door were looking quite yellow. The horses have returned to the Meadow Vue Ranch and were finding plenty to graze on as evidenced by this image:

Horses grazing on Meadow Vue Ranch and dandelions.

Finally, the bright spot of the afternoon was the spotting of a Western Tanager (Piranga ludoviciana) foraging for worms behind RedRock RV Park. He found one about 10 feet from me. By the time I could get my camera, he was on the fence post much further away. I have seen this bird at the Red Rock Lakes National Wildlife Refuge before, but not here. It was a delightful suprise.

Western Tanager basking in the afternoon sun and chewing on a worm!

I spotted this Mountain Bluebird (Sialia currucoides) sitting on a post at the top of the hill overlooking Henry's Lake. The birds were glad the snow had melted and were out finding the worms which had surfaced to escape the saturated ground. The Robins were having a field day.

One last look at the retreating storm as it flies over Yellowstone National Park. From the south shore of Henry's Lake, the large cumulus clouds were evidence of the final vestiges of this spring snow storm.

The clouds of our springtime snow storm retreat over Yellowstone National Park.

Come see us at RedRock RV park to experience all this weather and beauty yourself! We are located 22 miles southwest of the west entrance to Yellowstone National Park and only 1 mile from the south shore of beautiful Henry's Lake in Idaho.

Friday, June 5, 2009


A Delightful surprise

Today I decided to visit the meadow #1, about 1/2 mile west of RedRock RV Park (near Island Park, Idaho). There had been a reasonable amount of rain since I last visited and I was hoping there might be some new flowers blooming.

Although a storm is on it's way to us according to the National Weather Service radar image, this morning was bright with sunshine and relatively warm (45F at 7 AM). It was quiet as Reggie (my Golden Retriever) and I walked down Red Rock road. I figured that I had plenty of time before the sun was obscured by clouds and the rain would threaten my cameras.

The meadows along Red Rock road continue to green and grow. Although no new flowers (other than the recently reported White Mule Ear's are evident, it won't be long before these fields are full of color and flowers.

I looked around intently as I climbed the slight hill to the meadow #1 for new flowers. The False Soloman's seal has almost fully bloomed with the tiny white flowers, esp. in the really sunny areas. I also found evidence that the purple Silky Lupine (Lupinus sericeus) would soon be in bloom. The lupines will be all over the place before long and stay most of the summer. I can't imagine a summer without lupines. This specimen had a very small nascent bloom.

I found another small white flower now in full bloom within meadow #1 called the Field Chickweed (Cerastium arvense). It's found all over North America from valleys to alpine meadows. It's leaves are narrow and pointed, with one opposite the other.

Field Chickweed is now in bloom in meadow #1.

Small white flowers are common here and gives challenge to identification and notice. One white flower may look like another without careful examination. One such new flower I found this morning is the Pennycress (Thlaspi arvense) . It is considered a common weed and gives milk a bitter taste when diary cows consume it. Some medicinal uses have been found including antibiotic uses. It was named for the penny-looking seed pods that appear later. It's leaves are alternating on a main stalk and are hooked or saw-tooth in appearance.

Pennycress blooming in meadow #1 today.

There are several shrubs or tree-like bushes that grow in meadow #1. One has bloomed today called the Western Serviceberry (Amelanchier alnifolia). It's deep blue berries are edible though it is said that they have little taste to them. This is one of the plants collected by Lewis and Clark in north central Idaho in 1806. The men ate the berries as well. The leaves have small teeth edging them only on the top.

Serviceberry blooming in meadow #1.

The most delightful surprise today was in finding my favorite flower of this region, the beautiful little Calypso orchid also known as the Fairyslipper or Venus' Slipper (Calypso bulbosa). In the upper meadow I was attracted to some fungi growing on a rock and suddenly spotted a small splotch of purple color low on the forest floor. I immediately recognized this beauty. It was a single specimen growing on a single stem out of the ground. The plant is extremely small, probably only 3" tall. One of the images here compares it to a AA battery I had in my pocket. I've never found it in this location and I was favorably surprised. I had been looking for it in all the normal places and it is not blooming in any of those places yet.

They require special conditions of shade, soil and moisture that cannot be duplicated outside of an old-growth forest. The single leaf has a very limited ability to photosynthesize and so cannot provide all the nutrients the plant needs. This orchid grows in an alliance with a fungus in the soil that shares nutrients taken from the roots of trees. The orchid is using the needles of the Douglas fir trees in the forest to provide the nourishment it needs through a fungus. They simply won't grow if dug up and taken home. There are so few in this area, I'd hate to see people try to transplant them.

Calypso Orchid or Fairyslipper (flower is about 1" tall)

Calypso Orchid compared for size to a AA battery.

Here's a closeup of the beautiful feathered throat of this orchid. This isn't the last of these you'll see. I photograph them whenever I can, hoping to get better views of this little beauty.

Throat of the Fairyslipper orchid.

Again, come see for yourself. The flowers are still not a their peak, but soon will. Come visit us and Yellowstone National Park.

I'll leave you with this photo I took this morning of the Arrowleaf Balsamroot flower. May your day be as bright!

Arrowroot Balsamroot flower near RedRock RV park, Idaho.

Wednesday, June 3, 2009


Mule Ears

Well, I take it back (just a little). There was something new blossoming today. I found it this afternoon after the rain had ceased and I had a little more time to explore. All of the meadows that line the forest along Red Rock Road here are blooming with the Mule Ears (Wyethia helianthoides) wildflowers. These have large hairy leaves (up to 20" long) and grow in clumps. The flowers look like sunflowers and are mainly bright white, but occasionally you'll see cream colored ones.

They tend to cover an area for a few weeks, esp. the moist areas. They will make a sea of white soon and tend to be very photogenic in the landscape. Right now they are very sporadically blooming and are hard to see because the other vegetation is higher than their nascent plants.

Native Americans used them for food, roasting, grinding and easting the seeds as a mush. They will be all along Red Rock road and US20 between RedRock road and Hungry Bear restaurant (in the meadows there) and the other meadows throughout Island Park (Idaho) along US20 and the Mesa Falls Scenic Highway.

This species is found in Idaho, Montana, Wyoming, Oregon and Nevada. White Mule’s-ears was discovered in Idaho 1833 by the noted explorer, Nathaniel Wyeth.

There is a yellow version of this flower and a hybridized version that is a beautiful cream color. The yellow version isn't found around here in much quantity to my knowledge. Another flower often confused with this is the Arrowleaf Balsamroot, another Yellow sunflower like flower in bloom now.

Soon the Mule Ear's will cover this meadow just west of the RedRock RV Park.

Mule Ear's ready to bloom in Island Park, Idaho.


Spring pauses....

June 1st, storm is on it's way. Mountains visible.

Well, maybe Spring is just in a holding pattern here, but it seems that the rains has certainly slowed down the emergence of new wildflowers. Here at RedRock RV Park in Island Park Idaho we have had cloudy days and about .5 inch of rain since 5/30. Don't get me wrong, I'm glad for the rain, because that means that the wildflowers should soon have a grand resurgence thanks to the additional moisture. It's hard to photograph in the rain and the efforts usually aren't too great.
Same view for the last 2 days, no mountains visible, and rain, rain, rain....

This morning I went up the forest trail across from the RV Park to see if anything did happen to bloom. Nope, same as 2 days ago. The leaves were bright, shiny and clean from having so much moisture on them, and the rain and dew drops made for some nice images, but no new blooms. I think the wildflowers are hoping for the sunshine as much as I am. (It does make sense that blooming is halted until enough sunshine is available to continue photosynthesis so necessary for rapid growth.)

View from forest near RV Park of Henry's Lake and Black Mountain through rain.

Usually, rain comes here by the thunderstorms that move at quite a clipthrough the Centennial Valley almost each afternoon. We might get a tenth or more of an inch from such a storm in a hour or so, but this system has come into the area and sat down to rest for a while. The forecast calls for more of the same for the next days. Sigh!

In the forest, without new wildflowers to see, my focus diverts to other less showy forms of forest life. The forest is full of them. Several forms of lichen grow. This one grows on the Douglas Fir trees here. It appears to be a form of Usnea, commonly called Old-Man's Beard, or Beard Lichen or just Tree Moss. Usnea grows all over the world. Like other lichens it is a symbiosis of a fungus and an alga. It seems to have antibiotic and anti-fungal capabilities as it was used by the Indians as a compress to treat battle wounds directly and ingested internally as an antibiotic. It is apparently edible and high in vitamin C.

I found a rock on the edge of the forest that was a veritable "village" of life forms. You notice first the bright green moss. Moss drys out quickly and hydrates quickly after a rain. It goes dormant during the winter, expelling all moisture from the inside to avoid cells being ruptured by the ice that would form in the cold. Here, during a rain, it is full of life. It reproduces in a complicated manner with spores.

Rock full of life, including moss and various fungi and lichens, about 3" segment of rock here.

It also contains several fungi including disc and cup shaped fungi, and lichen. In fact, it's hard to see any of the rock surface itself due to all the different life forms on it. I'd like to be able to identify them all for you, but I've not the ability or the reference material yet. On the right of the above image is the Green Rock Posy (Rizoplaca meanophthalma). With normal eyesight this merely appears as a rough green color material. See some intricate detail here:

Green Rock Posy Lichen (about 1/2" shown)

Another bright spot that catches your eye if the Wolf Lichen (Letharia) that hangs on the Douglas Fir here. The bright color was used as a dye by Indians for their feathers, moccasins, quills, and even on their faces.

Wolf Lichen on Douglas Fir bark in forest here.

Dead trees (nurse trees) provide a wonderful platform for growth of many forest inhabitants. Here is a small (hard to see without getting on your knees) Cladonia pyxidata lichen "forest". The primary growth at the base of these goblets is like a mat of flakes in which the goblets rise. The cup shape probably evolved as a method of spore dissemination to allow rain to splash further away as the water washes tiny spores away from the plant.

Pixie goblet lichen blooming on "nurse log"

As I continued to look at things that I normally overlook along this path, an entire new set of interesting life started to appear. For this blog, we have probably exhausted your patience, but I'll consider studying these in more detail later and reporting on the variety of life in our little part of the Targhee Forest here. One last shot, a spreading lichen on a log?

Unknown lichen or slime mold or?

The flowers and leaves are full of picturesque little water droplets if you take the time to squat and view them. Here's a couple for your pleasure:

Glacier Lily after rain in forest.

Water droplets on leaves in forest today.

Come see us at RedRock RV Park soon. The rain will stop and then the fruits of all that moisture will show itself around us.

Monday, June 1, 2009


Under the Forest Canopy..

Today we walked up into the forest on the trail across from the RedRock RV Park. The walk is not far (literally a couple hundred yards to the forest's edge.) There is first a meadow of grasses and soon to be wildflowers of about 100 yards, then an edge of aspens (quakers), and then the forest is made of mainly Douglas Fir conifers. In addition to a nice view shed for the RV Park, the forest is home to many wildflowers and shy animals. It's known that white-tailed deer, Elk, Moose, bear, fox, marmot and others live there, not to mention many birds, though they all live rather quietly. We don't see too many (other than the birds), especially at once. But ever so often one or more of these species is spotted from within the confines of the RV Park and excitement reigns.

Well, today I merely was looking for new wildflowers. Reggie (my Golden Retriever) keeps an eye (and nose) on the lookout for the other species. Yesterday afternoon we had a pretty good rain (.2 inches in 30 minutes) so the flowers have had a good drink.

Storm approaching us yesterday, dropped .2 inches on the wildflowers

The first newly blooming species of wildflower that we encountered was at the forest's edge, but it is also found further back. It is the beautiful forest climbing vine called Western virgin's bower (Clematis occidentalis). The leaves are three-parted with toothed, heart-shaped leaflets. The beautiful purple sepals shaped like a bell stand out in the normally green colored forest foliage. According to my records, this vine is blooming 18 days earlier than last year. Since it is the first flower you encounter as you walk up the trail from the RedRock RV Park, it is unlikely that I made a mistake. Last year the snow lasted about 10 days later and this area was probably still under snow which may account for the difference in time.

closeup Western virgin's bower under Forest canopy

The heart-leaf Arnica that we found in meadow #1 a couple days ago is now blooming here in small numbers, but soon will have many specimens blooming. It is the brightest flower here. The Glacier Lily continues to be the dominant wildflower under the trees but many of those specimens are starting to wilt. The false Soloman's Seal (Smilacina racemosa) is in fairly large numbers up here, and some of the plants have started to develop the final form of their small flowers. (See image on right).

Another new flower for this season starting to bloom in this part of the forest is the lovely blue Many-flowered Stickseed (Hackelia floribunda). So far only an isolated specimen in this area, but soon they will be all over. This plant stands from 1 to 3 feet tall. They are often called the forget-me-nots, thanks to the similar blue flower, but those are from a totally different genus. This plant produces little barbed nutlets in the mature stage which Reggie will be sure to collect in his fur.

Another plant blooming under the forest canopy is what appears to be a valerian, maybe the Sharp leaf Valerian (Valeriana capitata). It has a florescence of tiny white flowers on the top of a large plant. The leaves are very long, narrow and sharp pointed without teeth.

Sharp leaf Valerian

The meadow rue are throughout the forest floor, and are just beginning to "bloom". Other flowers under the forest canopy include the Utah Honeysuckle (aka Red Twinberry) and the Fairy-bells that we saw further down the road last week. They are similar in appearance but the Honeysuckle is on a woody stem (shrub) and the Fairy-bells are like a common perennial flower.

Fairy Bell (Disporum) with twin white flowers

Utah Honeysuckle (Lonicera utahensis) with twin white flowers.

In the meadow there are a few specimens of the Vase Flower blooming, the yellow Goosefoot Violet and the beautiful Shooting Star. The forbs are still less than a foot in height. Soon this area will be knee deep and then waist deep with colorful flowers and grasses. Come see for yourself at RedRock RV Park, near West Yellowstone (22 miles south) and nearby Island Park, Idaho.

Reggie leading the way through the meadow to the Forest across from RedRock RV Park today.

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