My Montana

My Montana
My Montana

Sunday, June 24, 2018

Exploring Price Peet Road

June 23, 2018

 During the four years I've lived and worked at Red Rock Lakes National Wildlife Refuge, I've passed Price Peet Road many times, but never got around to making it a destination until today.  My impetus was to go look for a rare primrose, gumbo evening primrose (Oenothera cespitosa). This dirt road gets very little grooming, so I wasn't sure how far I would get on it. Bill said the flowers were not far up the road and I could always just walk to them. 



The road starts about 15 miles from my trailer

I was happy to find a whole little community of the flowers, growing just in the sandy clay road, and just in front of the grasses growing along the edge. This plant was first collected by Merriwether Lewis, July 17 1806, near Great Falls, Montana.  I found it growing in the same type of soils he described - sandy clay, gumbo soil. But all the flowers looked tired, so I continued on up the climbing road, hoping newer flowers would be blooming higher up.

I finally found a single plant and worked to get decent pictures in the bright light and wind. Finally a cloud came by and helped me out, but the wind blew a leaf across one of the blooms. I didn't notice that until I got back home. The best thing about this primrose is that the blooms open white, then gradually change to darker and darker pink as the blooms age.


Gumbo evening primrose (Oenothera cespitosa

The primrose was growing where I could look way out across the landscape.  I spent the rest of the trip looking for landscape views and more wildflowers. A few butterflies also tempted me to capture their pictures. The road had only a few series of little washed out gullies and I made it all the way to the end.


Rocky Mountain Iris ( Iris missouriensis)

I think this is long-leaf phlox ( Phlox longiflolia)

Arrowleaf balsamroot (Balsamorhiza sagittata)

Need help with this one - it grew as a series of this tiny flowers
 up the stem - each flower was less than a half inch tall - please leave a comment if you know it-
growing in a meadow, near the red elderberry

Crimson columbine ( Aquilegia formosa)

Red elderberry (Sambucus racemosa)

I think this is one of the painted lady butterflies

I stopped here to wander the hill above the car, then walk on up the road. 

A lot of blue skippers were stocking up on minerals

One of the larkspurs - pre-flowering plants are poisonous to cows

A little road led off into Targhee National Forest

White mule's ears (Wyethia helianthoides)

Parry's Townsend Daisy (Townsendia parryi)

Silky phacelia (Phacelia sericea)

The end of the road

Sticky geranium (Geranium viscosissimum)


Familiar view but always different - this on South Valley Road

One of the ranches 

I meant to hike more but my hips and back are sore from helping Jim cut willows out from under the fence he is putting up. We spent about four hours on that job yesterday. It required squatting, sitting, kneeling, and crawling.



Sunday, June 17, 2018

The War on Invasives


I started this blog last year and never got it finished. Then two weeks ago,  two summer techs and I went to a two day workshop on identifying and managing invasives.  The main thrust was learning when and with what to spray invasive plants. I learned a lot, even though I've been working on managing invasive plants for many years in different parts of the country. The class was in the town of Whitehall, Montana which was a cute little town with a beautiful mountain backdrop


One of views on my walk to breakfast


Out classroom had about eighty students

I was excited to get a prize for answering a review question and even more excited to pass the two tests, even though I hadn't even looked at one of the study books.  I may now be able to take better selfies, with and extra forty-two inches of reach.


My selfie stick and test report

Why, you ask are invasives such a big deal?  Can't these aliens just live among the natives?  No, the local food chains require native plants for the native bugs for the native birds.  But the invasive plants replace native plants, sometimes forming huge monocultures that are like deserts to the native animals. They don't have insect pests that would help keep them in balance. Some of them are poisonous to birds or mammals, including livestock.

In Montana, invasive plants are assigned to one of four classes. Priority 1A weeds are not yet present in Montana, but people are watching for them to arrive.  Priority 1B weeds are only found in a few spots and are to be eradicated where they are found and people  educated to watch for them elsewhere.  Priority 2A weeds are common in parts of Montana and 2B weeds are abundant across Montana. It is the law that you may not allow any of these weeds to go to seed on your property.  Every  private or government entity has a weed management program in place and has spray crews. We have several entities in the valley that have spray crews. Several times during the summer, we will all come together to fight one particular weed at one location.


 Last year, one of our valley wide weed battles started at Red Rock Pass and came down into the refuge. Some of the crew sprayed but the people I was with pulled hoary alyssum by hand, filling a pickup truck full of black garbage bags.


Our target - hoary alyssum


The early arrivals catching up with each other

We wander through the grass in a semi organized fashion, looking for the distinctive plants


I, of course, was easily distracted and stopped for butterfly pictures


And flower picture

This guy looks like he is really enjoying his job

This is my boss, Bill West, and Jessica Zapata, the leader of the Fish and Wildlife Strike Team.  She visits all the national wildlife refuges in Montana with several workers.  They spray from ATV where there are extensive infestations. We see her here a couple of times during the summer. 

I love these group efforts, because I know many of the people, having met them in previous years. At some of the meetups, we get a catered lunch and take time to visit.


Kara, head of the Centennial Valley Association, sets out lunch. 

Great food and company


Bill took us down a short trail to a wolverine trap.  The trap sends a radio signal when it is tripped- a top built of logs closes .  The trappers have to rush to the trap because the wolverine can chew through the logs pretty quickly.  Sometimes, they chew out but hang around to chew a bigger hole to get up the deer leg used for bait. 

This week, I  spent my first full day of this year working on weed control.  Two techs, Kyle, and Micky. and I went to an old homestead site and cut down Russian Pea, a shrub that makes edible peas, planted by the settlers.  Then we painted the cuts with an herbicide to prevent resprouting.  The kids also dug up two bags of houndstongue.



A houndstongue plant (internet image) - toxic to livestock


Micky cutting back new sprouts of a Russian pea

The tiny stumps in the middle was the only living part. We painted them with herbicide

The victors admiring their spoils

The foe completely routed

The houndstongue on the way to the burn pile

I'm late with this blog because I didn't get a day off this week.  We have had mostly rainy days, except for weed day.  It was too cold and wet to open the bluebird boxes on Monday, so I spent a long day on Tuesday on that.  I only worked 5 hours on Monday, so planned to work a few hours on Friday to catch up.  But on Thursday, Bill told me he had paid for me to go to the Wilderness First Aid and CPR class.  He thought he was reminding me. The class ran from Friday noon until 5:15 today (Sunday).  So I'm trying to get my Sunday blog out before Monday gets here. I totally enjoyed the class and learned that a lot of standard stuff has changed. We don't even use backboards any more and transport people with suspected spinal injuries on their sides.

We are supposed to have a valley wide spray day Tuesday. But we are supposed to have rain continue through Tuesday, so I expect that will be canceled.  I will probably take most of the day off tomorrow but will have to take a load of water to the horses by Tuesday. I also have to work around the wet, as there are a couple of places where the truck may get stuck if the ground is too soft.


Happy Father's Day to all you fathers.




Sunday, June 10, 2018

Travels in Idaho

June 9, 2018

I have been really busy since I got here, starting the bluebird survey, repairing and replacing boxes, helping out in the office/visitor center, and getting trained for the upcoming spray season.

But I was determined to go out and enjoy somewhere this weekend. I was too tired to even make plans but knew I needed to spend part of the weekend getting a haircut and groceries. I also wanted to get in a visit to Idaho Falls.  Then I spotted a brochure in my trailer about the Pioneer Heritage Trail in Idaho and thought I had finally lined up everything for one long trip. I checked out Freecampsites.net and found lots to choose among.

I finally got all most stuff loaded, except my swimsuit - there was public hot pools on the route - and coffee, got started late morning Friday.  I found the grocery store I wanted to check out was next to a resale shop, so spent several minutes enjoying its wares and picking up a swimsuit. I also got my hair cut and ate a lovely sashimi lunch before setting out for my weekend adventure mid afternoon.

Almost immediately, as I left Idaho Falls, I was blown away by the really different landscape. I was climbing into soft hills, many covered in windmills. There were some evergreen trees, but mostly prairie covered the rolling hills.







I was aiming for a camp spot along the Blackfoot river, near the reservoir, or in the town of Soda Springs itself.  I moved across lots of ranch lands, some withe cows grazing on it and finally was able to look down on the Blackfoot River Reservoir.




As I circled around the east side of the reservoir, I came to the dam, then to a little piece of the river before the bridge. A single American white pelican was resting on the water.


Non-breeding American pelican


I decided I had plenty of daylight left and would head for the free camping area in Soda Springs.  The views continued to be beautiful and interesting as I approached the small town. My phone GPS took be to the free camping spot.  It looks like a city park beside a small lake, with a parking lot and several tables with grills spaced about fifty feet apart.  There were only two vehicles there and one man was fishing. I was the only person putting up a tent. I set up and enjoyed the evening until the evening got too chilly.


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I woke up early the next morning and was packed and gone before sunrise.  I decided to go south to check out Niter Ice Cave.  I had to stop several times along the way to check out places on the Oregon Trail and a dam on the Bear River.



View from near the Bear River Dam, which covers up a smaller, earlier one


The dam itself was still in shadow

Hayfields had already had their first cutting and were drying


And there were a few stacks of fresh hail bales

The ice cave is near Grace, Idaho.  It had the most active irrigation I've seen anywhere. Everything from tit tits in yards to lines of water sprayers in horse pastures, to huge wheeled sprayers in the fields were mostly going.  Backlit by the early sun, they were magical. At one field, I stopped to take a picture of Franklin gulls feeding in the flooded pasture.


This was the view everywhere - I wonder how much longer this lifestyle can persist as the area gets dryer

Part of a center pivot watering system


After knowing I was very close to the cave, but not being able to find it, I finally noticed a smallish sign and realized it was just a hole in the ground. It is actually a lava tube.  I followed the cold rail into the cave. I soon realized I needed a light and went back for it. Then I started seeing my breath and hearing tiny drips. I shone my light on the ceiling and saw magical sparkles, made by water and minerals that have evaporated out on the ceiling. The ground was getting muddy, so I didn't explore further.


Picture taken from behind the cave.  It is in the shadowed area.

Cave entrance



The ceiling as seen in my headlight

 Another feature along the Pioneer Trail I was interested in seeing was the Last Chance Canal.  It was built by the Mormon settlers to bring water to the Gem Valley. Since they had had had several failures when wooden flumes had been destroyed by the heavy snows, this was their last chance to maintain their water rights. They dug a tunnel through asphalt to deliver the water.


The original metal flume was build in 1913 and collapsed in 2005

The new flume bridge was built in 2005 and is expected to last 75 years

This water is diverted into five canals and irrigates 36,000 acres  

This basin receives the water from the flume in the above picture and diverts it into at least two canals
. Note the invasive Russian olive tree- in some places they are forming a monoculture forrest. 

The view as I came down from taking the flume pictures

And the ever present center pivot sprayers

The next thing I wanted to see was the captured  and tamed geyser at Soda Springs. I came back to town and found the geyser.  I had thought to get back by seven, then eight, ,but it was almost nine before I got back. The town drilled into an underground cavern while looking for water for their municipal swimming pool. Water mixed with carbon dioxide came out in a geyser. The town managed to cap the geyser but let the pressure off by letting it go off every hour for three minutes. So you have to be on time or wait another hour. This is a cold geyser and is formed by carbon dioxide mixing with the water. underground, building up pressure.


The site of the geyser- in older days, there was a wheel that the local police turned to release the geyser.  Note the cemetery in the background

I watched this with a local and his guests - he said the geyser can be bigger, but was held back today due to the high winds which would blow the heavily salted water on nearby gravestones, causing a buildup on them, it the water hit them. If  it can go off fully, it reaches about 150 feet and is wider.

One of the viewing platforms - be sure to check the winds or you can get wet and very salty


The gentleman I met at the geyser also advised me to go to a spring - there are at least a couple in town - and taste the water.  He said he gets his drinking water from  Octagon Spring. I visited, Octagon Spring Park, but just drove by Hooper Springs Park. 

The spring is under this little pavilion reached by a boardwalk from the parking lot


The actual spring - it is only the size of a large bowl and produces water that is both strongly carbonated and mineralized and has a slight orange color. It has a sharp, almost explosive taste. Each spring is supposed to have a unique taste. 

My next stop was at a nearby small town, of Lava Hot Springs. I had planned to try out the hot springs here but after feeling how hot it was getting - it reached 91 before I left - I decided I would wait until fall. Instead I visited the South Bannock County Museum which was a tiny, amazing gem.  There were stories of the Indians, medicine, farm life, and many other historical aspects of the area.  I also had my first Italian Soda.  It is carbonated water, flavoring, and a little cream.  I had salted carmel and it was delicious.


This is a closeup of a woman's hat, covered in bird feathers. This is why we almost lost many species of birds.


This is travertine - made by the mineralized waters impregnating rotting plant material. This is what is left, after the plant material completely disappears. 


There was lots more to see on the northern parts of the trail, but I decided I wanted to see a waterfall or two.  I also needed to find a campground. I ended up heading further west, driving past Craters of the Moon National Park to a state fish hatchery, near Carey,  with free camping. I planned to set up camp, then drive another hour to Shoshone Falls, supposedly the prettiest falls in Idaho.  But the weather didn't cooperate and the day got dark and windy.  I decided to camp and then go the the falls this morning, before buying groceries in Idaho Falls and coming home. I enjoyed walking around the hatchery and a little hammock time before going to bed.

But a HUGE windstorm came up and, while I was bracing my tent from inside, one of the Russian olives shading my site lost about a third of itself, the branches brushing my tent. Neighboring campers came over and suggested I get out before overhead branches suffered the same fate. It took four of them to hold my tent while I dressed and packed the inside, handing stuff to them to stuff in the car. After we fought the tent down, I decided to just drive for home. So for another four hours, I got to drive in the high winds.  I got home at 2:30A.M. to find I also had high winds that often shook my trailer But after a nineteen and a half hour day, I managed to sleep through it.  I awoke to find we were under a winter weather watch.  So far, we have only had a little rain and tiny hail. But I still have to drive another 180 miles for groceries.   I'll probably do that after work tomorrow, when it will be warmer and sunnier.

If you wish to check out this byway yourself, click for the brochure. This includes lots of different things, including a ghost town, historic districts, and even a wildlife refuge and kayaking sites.