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.

Horsetail.

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.

 

Culver Pond in Red Rock Lakes Wildlife Refuge

Yesterday I took off early with Reggie and decided to explore a portion of the Red Rock Lakes National Wildlife Refuge known as Mac Donald Lakes and Culver Pond. This is a little visited area northeast in the Refuge. A dirt road circles around the lakes to the north side of Red Rock Creek.

Sandhill Cranes flying away from their grazing meadow.

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.

Sego Lilies and Lupine at Red Rock Pass.

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.

Mac Donald pond and cattle grazing at the Refuge with Centennial Mtns in the background.

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.)

This Red-tailed Hawk was along the dirt road to Culver Pond.

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.

He's off for lunch.

Driving along Picnic Creek (which feeds Mac Donald pond from Culver Pond), I stop at one end of Culver Pond and look around a bit for wildlife and wildflowers. The Trumpeter Swans (Cygnus buccinator) often hang out in Culver Pond and I was hoping to see some. The Red Rock Lakes National Wildlife Refuge was established to bring the Trumpeter Swans back from the brink of extinction due to human hunting (for their feathers).

Swans in Culver Pond with West Centennial Mtns in background.

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.



The same swans moving up Culver Pond to escape my threatening presence.

Culver Pond starts in these rocks as an underground spring.

Culver Pond is created from a spring that appears out of nowhere in the rocks up against a forested hill. It's really interesting to see the water coming from under a rock and to know that it feeds this large pond (the pond is over a mile and a half long).

Culver Pond starts as an underground spring near this spot.

I stopped to look at the spring and see if any different wildflowers were in the area. Growing seemingly out of the rocks around the spring is the lovely Yellow Monkeyflower (Mimulus guttatus). The entire area around the spring has been trampled by cows, taking away from the beauty of this otherwise pristine spot.

Yellow Monkeyflower grows around the Culver Pond Spring.

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.

Weidemeyer's Admiral butterfly at Culver Pond spring.

The road from here goes through sagebrush flatlands. Many badger and ground squirrel holes punctuate this area. Finally, the road ends at the northern bank of Red Rock Creek. An old bridge that would have taken us back to the start of the Refuge has been out for years. At the old bridge site is a dam where water pours loudly across many small branches built up there by the beavers. I walked around the area for a while to see if I could spot any beavers, but alas they are very shy, especially during daylight hours.

Beaver Dam built across Red Rock Creek.

I headed back along the same road. On the way back I spotted a Kestrel (a falcon) flying above us and then swoping down to get lunch in the high grass. Another one was sitting on a fence post nearby. Then I noticed a lone Pronghorn. He noticed us and took off into the hills above Culver Pond.

Young Pronghorn spots us and heads into the hills along Culver Pond road.

As I headed back, I had to negotiate cows crowding the road in the WILDLIFE REFUGE. The rest of my trip to nearby Elk Lake and Hidden Lake will continue in the next blog after I have a great lunch at Elk Lake Lodge.

Cows crowd the road along Culver Pond.


Thursday, July 16, 2009

 

July Wildflower Landscapes

Now is the time for the appearance of the vast fields of wildflowers around RedRock RV Park (Island Park, Idaho). We've already had the fields of solid yellow and solid white thanks to the Mule's Ear's but now it's the bouquets of mixed flowers. It is almost impossible to drive anywhere without seeing fields of yellow, magenta, purple, mauve, blue, white, orange and red wildflowers. The most attractive are the fields that are mixed with two or more colors. Unfortunately, the camera can't do justice to these fields. The human eye and mind can take in much more of the color and the sense of beauty than the flat, 2D, restricted view of the camera. But.. I'll try to give you a sampling of the beauty you'll see here in the middle of July.

Bouquet of wildflowers off Red Rock Road near US 20. (Click on photo for larger.)

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.

Looking North from Red Rock Road and US 20 intersection. (Click on photo for larger.)

Flower display along Continental Divide dirt trail with Upper Red Rock lakes in background.


Most of the flowers I've presented for the last month can be seen around here still. The most dominant in today's landscapes are the Sticky Geranium for shades of purple, the tall buttercup for bright yellow, the white textured Yarrow, the purple and white Lupines, the Showy Fleabane (for purple and yellow), the bright red Indian Paintbrush, the white and pink fluffy Sulfur buckwheat, the bright yellow Little Sunflower, and more.

Sulfur buckwheat along the Continental Divide between Idaho and Montana.

Today I drove along the Continental Divide Trail for a short distance and the wildflowers were covering all the hills. This dirt jeep trail is only about 7 miles from RedRock RV Park and roughly follows the Idaho/Montana border. There are still patches of snow at the top of the ridge (Reggie rolled in it), in the last half of July! In places the sagebrush tended to hide the mass of flowers, but the pale green color of the sagebrush just added to the subtlety of the colors. One hillside was covered with the lowly and bright colored Stonecrop succulent to paint it yellow-orange.

Stonecrop even covered one hill. The East Centennial Mtns behind.

Stonecrop succulents cover hillsides at higher elevations here.

Of course, these displays are for a purpose. Nature just didn't decide to make humans happier by providing flowered hillsides. The insects and butterflies are in large numbers, doing their thing by pollinating the flowers so we will have a similar outburst next year. They also provide a bountiful supply of food for the Sandhill Cranes who enjoy searching through the tall flowers for insects and roots. Yesterday I photographed this pair of cranes across from the RedRock RV park happily enjoying the large crop of flowers and grasses.

Sandhill Cranes find morsels to eat among the Little Sunflowers (click on image for larger).


Unidentified butterfly in the flowers near RedRock RV Park. (click image for larger)

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.

Looking down the throat of a Sego Lilly found this morning here.

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

 

Sunflowers

It's been a while since I discussed the flowers growing in the meadow across from our RedRock RV Park (Island Park, Idaho). The most ubiquitous and obvious flower now blooming is the Little Sunflower also known as Rocky Mountain dwarf sunflower (Helianthella uniflora). This has replaced the Mule's Ear's as the dominant flower in the meadow across the street. Each plant has a single flower with brilliant yellow/orange ray petals on a hairy stem containing opposite lance shaped leaves. Its bright yellow head faces the sun and tracks it across the sky each day (heliotropic), giving a different brightness of the meadow each time you view it during the day. I'll include a few photos here to give you a sense of the beauty and sense of summertime it creates for us at the park.

A single bloom from the Little Sunflower.

A bouquet of Little Sunflower facing the sun across from the RV Park.

Looking at the back of the Little Sunflowers as they track the sun.

A field of Little Sunflowers across from RedRock RV Park.

Occasionally you find mixed in with the Little Sunflowers the Silky Lupine and Sticky Geraniums. These combination of colors are extremely pleasant to me (at least in nature).

Lupine is often mixed in among the Little Sunflower.

The insects are loving the thick and lush growth. Butterflies are to be found all around. If you look closely you'll see the Circumpolar Bluet (a damselfly) landing on the leaves. Plenty of other insects flit about (including a few of those pesky mosquitos).

Circumpolar Bluet lands on the Little Sunflower leaves in the meadow.

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.

Callippe Fritillary Butterfly on Little Sunflower

The lovely Common Harbell (Campanula rotundifolia) has gained a second wind. All of them had disappeared in the last few weeks, but I noticed they are popping up all over again. I'm not sure if this is from seeds formed this season or if they are just a form of late bloomers? Whatever the reason, they are a welcome addition to the potpourri of flowers in the meadow.

Common Harebell are back again in the meadow.

Also found in the meadow is a single large specimen of the White Campion (Lychnis alba) plant. This grows to about 2 feet with multiple blooms on many stems. Behind the flower is a calyx that forms a long, striped tube with granular hairs. This is an introduced flower (from Europe) and is often found by the roadside in disturbed soils. The flowers open at night and have a pleasant fragrance for attracting flying insects. In the meadow across the street it stands out among the Little Sunflower as a very white abberation.

White Campion or Bachelor's Buttons growing in the meadow across from the RV Park.

White Campion (entire plant) in meadow grasses.

Well, this is just a few of the plants that you'll find wandering through the meadow across from our RV Park. Next time we will look further into the forest from the meadow to see what surprises are growing there. Come see us and enjoy this little bit of heaven for yourself at RedRock RV Park in Island Park Idaho. We are only about 25 miles from Yellowstone National Park too!

Sunday, July 12, 2009

 

Centennial Mountains Tour Part 2

This blog takes up where the last one left off, touring around the Centennial Mountains. The tour started at RedRock RV Park on July 1st, 2009, along Red Rock road and proceded West through the Red Rock Lakes National Wildlife Refuge. The goal is to reach the RV Park by going around the West end of the east-west range.

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.

Michael from Switzerland stayed overnight at the Upper Lakes Campground on his way to Mexico.

From here you pass Shambo Pond where there is usually a pair of breeding Trumpter Swans, but not today. Of course, it is far from the road and its possible they were just hiding in the grass or at one corner of the pond. From here the Refuge is quite open and on the south is bordered by some large private ranches. The grasses are high and quite green here with several small creeks running quickly along the road making for some scenic views.

A creek borders the Refuge from private lands 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.

Centennial mountains give way to rolling hills south of the road 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.

Vulture scavenging a dead calf.

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.

Red-tailed Hawk soaring over Red Rock Road.

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.

Reggie looking west on Red Rock road.

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.

An inviting side trip to West fork of Bean creek.

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.

Idaho Fleabane along Bean Creek road.

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).

Closeup of the fuzzytongue penstemon.

On that same "cliff" I spotted the large Gumbo Evening Primrose (Oenothera caespitosa) growing. Its also called the Desert Evening Primrose. It has a beautiful pink bud and a white flower with each petal being heart-shaped. The entire flower was almost 4" across, large by any flower standard. I read where the flower turns pink after the first nocturnal fertilization.

Gumbo Evening Primrose with bud inserted into image.

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?

Reggie checks out the other side of the road barrier.

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).

Red Rock Creek fills the Lima Reservoir seen here with Antone Peak in the background.

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.

Road sign noting the history of this place, Beaver Canyon.

This side of the mountains is less dramatic and further away from the peaks. In fact, you rarely see the peaks. It goes over a gravel and dirt road through a fairly wide valley filled with creeks, and forest. Occasionally, we saw deer and parts of this area certainly looked like good Moose feeding grounds. We stopped to photograph wildflowers, but nothing appeared to be different than we had seen before. There was one particularly scenic area that was filled with yellow Mule's Ear's.



Yellow Mule's Ear's cover the meadows here.

Traveling along the road we finally come to the farm community of Kilgore. Ranching is common here with a lot of sheep. Sheep are fun to watch, and especially the sheep dog that was watching over the flock here. Reggie and I stopped to photograph them and he was very cautious of our intrusion into his otherwise quiet day.

Young Lamb at Kilgore.

The road continues through forest and meadow and suddenly Reas Peak on the East Centennials pops into view. The road crosses the Henry's Fork of the Snake River, not far from the Island Park reservoir. Eagles and Osprey can be seen hanging out nearby the river and reservoir.

Reas Peak on South side of East Centennials along Yale-Kilgore Road.

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

Again, I decided to take a tour away from RedRock RV Park (Island Park, Idaho) last week (July 1st). It was a nice day with scattered clouds and warm temperatures ( at least 72F) expected. Reggie and I loaded the car (meaning Reggie loaded himself) with my camera equipment and we departed about 7:15AM. The Centennial mountains are the only East-West aligned mountains that are a part of the Rocky Mountains. They are split into the East and West parts. Driving around them is about 130 mile trip through very nice landscapes including the length of the Red Rock Lakes National Wildlife Refuge in Montana. The trip mainly skirts the foothills of the mountains, but at this time of year wildflowers abound.

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.

Swainson's Hawk eating breakfast along Red Rock Road.

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.

Duck Creek and Nemesis Mountain from the Idaho side of the Continental Divide.


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.





Mule's Ears are sure to catch your eye as you drive along Red Rock Road.


Staring back at me all along the road is the Unita Ground Squirrel (Spermophilus armatus). They perch high to be able to look for predators, often on top of sagebrush or fences posts. They are thought of pests by ranchers due to the holes they dig which can harm cattle or even people. They are part of the overall scheme of things out here. They eat small insects, and birds, wolves, coyotes and more eat them. They also contribute a lot to the top soil and good drainage here.

Interesting Spires near Mt. Jefferson in East Centennial Mtns from Red Rock Road.

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.

White-tailed Deer climbing THRU a wire fence at RedRock Lakes National Wildlife Refuge.

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.

Crazyweed.

Another surprise along the road was the Blanket flower (Gaillardia aristata). This beautiful sunflower like jewel has purple to purplish brown bull's-eye surround by bright yellow ray flowers. The flower tips have 3 lobes that give the plant a rough look around the edges.

Gaillardia or Indian Blanket Flower blooms in front of West Centennial Mtns.

Not far away I noticed a Red Tailed Hawk sitting in the grass, probably hunting for insects. A was able to get a filtered image (thru the high grasses). Of course eventually he flew away and I spotted his red tail in the sun.

Red-tailed Hawk in Grass at Red Rock Lakes Nat'l Wildlife Refuge

Another brightly colored flower that I encountered along my tour has just appeared in the last week and is called the Yellow Salsify (Tragopogon dubius). Its yellow ray flowers face toward the sun and have elongated sepals that almost look like spears to protect it.

Yellow Salsify Wildflower

As usual when I'm in the Refuge I pull into the Upper Red Rock Lakes campground. It is one of the only places you can actually walk down to the lake easily from your car. There are also often song birds flitting around here. Today I saw a familiar friend, the Western Tanager (Piranga ludoviciana). He was singing up a storm, probably trying to attract a mate.

Western Tanager at Upper Red Rock Lakes Campground (Montana)


Not too far away was this Tree Swallow (Tachycineta bicolor) stretching his wings on the barbed wire next to the road. These guys are all over the place hunting for mosquitoes and other flying bugs. They are our friends! Along with the Western Bluebird, they are the most numerous bird inhabiting the bird houses placed along the roads here by the Wildlife Refuge. One year I photographed a beautiful brown-breasted Barn Swallow along Red Rock road, but that was the only one I've seen in 8 years of coming here so they must be rare. I couldn't resist including an image I took of the Bluebird on this tour not far from the Swallow. Their colors are beyond belief, especially when viewed in just the right sunlight. Although they are fairly common out here, I never get tired of seeing them.

Tree Swallow.

I'll end part one of this trip here. But first, I'll share the wild Wood's Rose (Rosaceae Woodsiii) with you. (This could be the similar Prickly Rose.) There is a small part of Red Rock Road just past the Upper Red Rock campground that is shaded by Aspens and lined by these roses. I always look forward to seeing them each year.


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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