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.
Sunday, July 12, 2009
Centennial Mountains Tour Part 2
We left off at the Upper Red Rock Lake campground where several songbirds are frequently seen. There is a natural spring that you can drink from or fill your canteens if you like. Often, the long distance bicycle riders traversing the Continental Divide from Banff, Canada to the Mexican border stop here and spend the night. On this trip I encountered Michael from Basel, Switzerland filling up his water bottles after a nights stay here.
Soon you come upon Lakeview, Montana. This is the headquarters of the Red Rock Lakes National Wildlife Refuge. A few buildings and a small visitor center are here. In the summer several graduate students perform mostly biological experiments or research here. There is NOTHING more here except for some private housing for the permanent employees of the Refuge and a few cabins for rent. There are no commercial stores here. Gasoline is still about 40 miles west of here.
Once past Lakeview, the mountains give way to rolling hills and a very flat valley and Lower Red Rock Lake. The lower lake is filled with small little islands and is full of water fowl. The road to the lower lake is closed so far this season due to the second year of road construction. After all this construction it will still just be a dirt and gravel road. Once the road opens, I'll travel there and try some bird photography.
Driving along here I spotted a vulture close to the road. He was having a meal on what appeared to be a small calf. I didn't get out of the car to identify it further for fear of scaring him away. I suspect the calf died by a bear or maybe an injury or poisoning. I suspect he will have friends join him soon to finish it off.
Not far down the road I encountered a Red-tailed Hawk soaring above. These hawks inhabit this area and hunt for small rodents that inhabit the tall grasses.
Once past the lower lakes you encounter an old abandoned farm with picturesque antique buildings testifying to a long gone era of successful ranching here.
I'm watching for any unique wildflowers as I drive slowly along Red Rock road and my eye catches an odd shaped purple group of flowers, so I stop. It turns out that these are Chives (Allium schoenoprasum) and are completely edible. They are also extremely attractive flowers. I had seen these earlier at a different location in the Refuge before they had bloomed and they were similarly attractive but with a dark purple sheath around the flowers, appearing like a turban perhaps. The stems are hollow and if you took the effort to pull one up there would be a blub. (I didn't do that in respect for the next observer coming across these.)
From here, the road dips into a valley and continues as far as the eye can see westerly. There are few other travelers and it is very pleasant to just stop and take in the quiet and wide expansive views.
Soon I came upon a sign that pointed to a side destination along Bean Creek. I was totally unfamiliar with this road but it appeared to head off into some lovely forest and I was up to the challenge. I was hoping this was the shortcut I had observed earlier that crossed the Centennial Mountain range to the other side.
I immediately observed some nice wildflowers growing along the side of the road and stopped for the photo opportunity. Below me was Bean Creek, flowing through heavy forest. I did keep one eye out for bears as did Reggie (my retriever) as he poked around the area. The first flower that caught my eye was a beautiful light purple aster looking flower. I later classified it as an Idaho Fleabane (Erigeron asperugineus) due to the rough and narrow leaves that it possessed. There were just a few specimens growing out of the disturbed roadside.
Not too far away was another purple and hairy flower growing out of the side of the disturbed cliff along the road. This is an interesting form of the Penstemon called the Fuzzytongue Penstemon (Penstemon eriantherus).
The road continued to wind through deep forest and had been obviously groomed recently by the forest service. I was encouraged by this work on such a lonely road, thinking it might indicate it was an important road that went across the "divide". Unfortunately it ended about 4 miles in at a road berm that clearly discouraged further travel. I later saw on a map that the road was intended to be a loop back to Red Rock road. Maybe some day?
So, we turned around and headed back, looking for bears and deer, each which most probably inhabited this forested canyon. We stopped a couple times for more flower shots, but nothing new was found. We resumed our exploration of Red Rock Road. The road climbed another hill and at the top we were afforded the view of the Lima Reservoir , which is filled by the Red Rock Creek. It exits the reservoir and soon joins the Jefferson River on it's way to the Missouri and the Gulf of Mexico (several thousand miles from here).
From here, the road finds its way to Interstate 90 about 8 miles from this spot. The magic is temporarily broken by civilization but we soon (about 8 miles) exit (now in Idaho again) to a dirt road at a place called Beaver Canyon. Beaver Canyon was once a busy place where miners came in search of the Montana gold, but now nothing but a sign remains to remind us of this long ago search of fortune.
Yellow Mule's Ear's cover the meadows here.
We drove onto highway 20 and left through Island Park and Mack's Inn on to Red Rock RV Park after a long day's drive. It was a fun trip but also tiring.
Thursday, July 2, 2009
Centennial Mountains Tour Part 1
I'm breaking this up into 2 parts since the trip was so long and there's a lot to say and see. I'll publish the second part soon.
Almost immediately as I left RedRock RV Park, I saw this Swainson's hawk sitting on a fence, chewing on what appears to be a small bird. They will attack small birds, ground squirrels and of course, insects of all varieties. There are a couple of Swainson's hawks that make this area home. I suspect it was one of those.
The Centennial mountains are feeding several small creeks as I drive along Red Rock Road. The creeks are very full. Those creeks that are on the EAST side of the continental divide (in Idaho), drain into the WESTERN rivers, mainly the Snake. Those on the WEST side (Montana) drain into the EASTERN rivers, mainly the Missouri and then the Mississippi.
The wildflowers are out in force making it difficult for me to make much progress without stopping to photograph them. They are not as much large fields of single flowers, but they are dotted here and there with a variety of flowers. The large Yellow Mule's Ears catch your eye first. Newly blooming is the Indian Paintbrush and they are certainly sure to catch your eye wherever they appear. They are not at their peak yet but soon will be in large patches along the road and creeks.
It's important to remember the geology that surrounds us. It actually defines what natural features grow here. The steep mountains to the south of Red Rock road (the centennials) create a special climate on the north, and act as buffers for winter snows to feed life throughout the Spring and Summer. Here's an image to allow you to appreciate the ruggedness of these mountains.
Soon, a white-tailed deer rain across the road, stopped and stared at me. I stopped the Jeep and took my long lens to her at which point she took off. She climbed THRU the wire fence at the side of the road. I had expected her to jump over it.
Along the road in the Red Rock Lakes National Wildlife Refuge, I stopped to explore the flowers and enjoy the solitude of the mountains, lake and meadows. There were few visitors today and I seemingly had the entire valley to myself. I spotted a bright purple flower peaking from beneath the blue-green sagebrush. It seems to be a crazyweed, kind of a pea like flower. There aren't many specimens but they brighten up the entire area.
Yellow Salsify Wildflower
There's still more than halfway to go on this tour, so come back later for the rest. It takes time to put together these blogs and I'll be out photographing tomorrow, so be patient with me. Please come to RedRock RV Park in Island Park, Idaho and take this tour yourself.
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