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Heart Lake

I took a few days off and went into the park.  My plan was to hike into Heart Lake, possibly around the lake if the ford was passable.

Heart Lake view

Heart Lake view

I wouldn’t exactly call going backpacking in the park ‘wild’.  It’s wild in terms of the animals that you have to watch out for–grizzlies, moose, bison.  But the back country is very regulated.  That’s a good thing; and a bad thing.

The good part is that registering and being assigned designated campsites each night assures your safety and especially preserves the park.  There are bear poles at each site; there are only a certain number of sites in order to preserve the wilderness and your solitude; and a ranger who is stationed at Heart Lake checks on your paperwork and informs you of bear activity.

The bad thing is that its hardly a wilderness experience.  I actually had trouble getting a campsite for 2 nights because the Park Service now lets people reserve sites in advance for $20.  Or without a reservation its free.   This was the second time I’ve tried to get in and was lucky to find a space.

Enough of the gripping.   I can say that Heart Lake is well worth the 8 miles to get in.  Its a unique and beautiful spot with natural thermals right at the Lake.  Mt. Sheridan presides over the lake, while moose, elk, and grizzlies hang out there.  I would too if I were a grizzly.  Lots of wildflowers to see, plenty of bird activity.

Dusk

Dusk

Thermals

Thermals

The mosquitos were bad as we’ve been having lots of late rains.  With a little wind, they are quite tolerable.  I was having some foot problems so I didn’t do much hiking except the 16 there and back with an overnight.

Mt. Sheridan at dawn

Mt. Sheridan at dawn

Dawn

Dawn

Highly recommended and an easy fairly flat hike.

Camassia quamash-most prized food of the first Americans

Camassia quamash-most prized food of the first Americans

A surprise walk

Its starting to feel like the Canadian Rockies here, raining every day, even if just a little bit.  Last fall I had driven up an old fire road that’s usually closed.  I wasn’t sure if they only opened it in the fall for hunters, so I took a drive over there, and sure enough, the road was closed and the gate locked.  I parked and walked up the dirt fire road that leads to high meadows.  This area was home to the ’88 fires and the lush undergrowth shows it.

There’s been so much rain that the forest is lush.Lush forest

More and new wildflowers appear every day.Paintbrushes

Calypso bulbosa - Fairy Slipper Orchid-endangered

Saxifraga odontoloma

A loud almost bell-like sound announced the presence of a marmot hanging in the rock pile below us.  Koda went crazy.  He knew he couldn’t get to the marmot, and that fat marmot just kept teasing him.Fat Marmot

As we ascended higher, the reef cliffs came into view.  A Golden Eagle sat in a tree near the old road cut.  Our presence caused him to take to flight.Looking up at the limestone reef

There was a lot of fairly fresh grizzly scat along the road, but the only recent prints were elk.  Occasionally there were faint bear tracks, and it seemed like there might be two bears, indicating a sow and cub.

Pretty fresh bear scat.  Can you see the penny at the right for size?

Pretty fresh bear scat. Can you see the penny at the right for size?

Along the road, there were lots of berry bushes–thimbleberries and raspberries.  A perfect place for bears in the fall as well.

Thimbleberry

Thimbleberry

Way up near the top of the ridge, I suddenly heard a loud high-pitched consistent chirp or call.  I thought it was coming from a large bird and looked towards where I heard the sound, down the hillside.  Meanwhile, the smart animal with me, Koda, was looking up the hillside into the wooded bank.  I turned around and there was an elk in the timber.  Confused about the sound, it seemed to have been coming from the elk, although not at all like the bugling I’ve heard in the fall.   It was a contact call I found out later, between that elk and her calf.

As we headed towards the top of the ridge, an old fire cut from the ’88 fires, now overgrown, was covered with Geraniums.  Apparently these plants like disturbed areas.

Geraniums in disturbed area-old road cut

Geraniums in disturbed area-old road cut

The ridgeline meadows were magnificent.  Plenty of water and waterfalls along the way.  So much water so high up.  The old fires had provided great forage areas.High meadow and old burn

Koda catches a whiff

Koda smells out the grizzlies

On the way down, Koda stopped at the cliff edge.  I thought he was looking at the view.  My old dog used to relish the views from high ridges.  But Koda is different.  He’s still young and not prone to being pensive nor reflective yet.

I stepped to the edge and noticed two grizzlies below in the tarns.  I don’t know if Koda saw them, but he certainly smelled them.  I bet they smelled us too.  At first I just saw a smallish black bear, and, from afar, tried to make out whether he was a grizzly or not.  It was hard to see the hump or his face clearly enough.  But then, following about 20′ behind, I saw a large brown grizzly.  I assumed the black bear was her two year old cub.  Unfortunately, I didn’t have my new camera with me so the shot is far away.  But, that’s about the distance I like to see bears from.

Look close there's the grizzly

Look close there's the mama grizzly. Black cub is in the upper left corner.

I glassed the bears for as long as the mosquitos would let me.  They moved down the mountain, through the scree and downed timber, foraging as they went.  What a privilege to see these magnificent animals.  As always, I carry bear spray, but what I use the most is my mosquito spray!

Wildflowers, Geology, and the Chugwater formation

More wildflowers.  Its so green here, everywhere.  Won’t last long, this is the West you know.  I took a hike in the Clark’s Fork basin area where the beautiful Chugwater formation of red sandstone juts angled out from the surrounding ground.  This is the remnants of an ancient sea.  Fossils can be found embedded in the stone.  At  the Lake where the hike begins, an entry in the log states “Went hiking in the best geological area in the U.S.”.  He noted that he was there for 12 hours!

A few flowers and highlights:

Chugwater sandstone

Chugwater sandstone

Calochortus nuttallii - edible bulb, but do not eat as that kills the plant

Calochortus nuttallii - edible bulb, but do not eat as that kills the plant

Gaillardia aristata - cultivated perennial.  I am pretty sure the I.D. is correct.  Sunflower family is large.

Gaillardia aristata - cultivated perennial. I am pretty sure the I.D. is correct. Sunflower family is large.

Prickly Pear cactus flower

Prickly Pear cactus flower

Potentilla fruticosa.  The new name is Pentaphylloides floribunda.  This is a landscape plant and I prefer the old name!

Potentilla fruticosa. The new name is Pentaphylloides floribunda. I prefer the old name.

Nature landscapes the best!

Nature landscapes the best!

Sphaeralcea coccinea; Malvaceae family.  I have still not been able to pronounce this name

Sphaeralcea coccinea; Malvaceae family. I have still not been able to pronounce this name

Springtime bloom after the Gunbarrel fire

The burn from last summer

The burn from last summer

It was interesting to see the burn area from last summer.  I wanted to see the new growth and what wildflowers I might find.  Burns are important to the west.  Many species of trees, shrubs and flowers will only sprout after a burn.  Some plant’s seeds can lie dormant for years waiting for the heat of a burn to open them up.

The Gunbarrel fire from last summer was hot and widespread.  It burned for months.  Here are some wildflowers that I saw yesterday growing out of the scree areas on the hillsides.  Native grasses were abundant.  Evidence of elk and deer was everywhere.  A grizz had recently walked through the unburnt area next to the river.

Many of the wildflowers, some not shown here, were in the pea family.  All members of the Pea family (Fabaceae) fix nitrogen in the soil.  These kinds of plants and shrubs, like Ceanothus which also fixes nitrogen and comes up after a burn, pave the way and amend the burned soil for successive plants.

I’m still learning my local wildflowers, but lucky for me I’ve found that I can recognize many plants by at least family or Genus based on experience with similar flowers.  I haven’t identified all species so feel free to chime in with correct I.D.

Phacelia sericea

Phacelia sericea

Pea family.  An astragalus

Pea family. An astragalus

Pea family-Lupine

Pea family-Lupinus argenteus

Penstemon eriantherus

Penstemon eriantherus with catepillar

Cryptantha  Borage family

Cryptantha Borage family

Unidentified

Unidentified

Mimulus guttatus

Mimulus guttatus

Fire and water.  The West IS fire.

Fire and water. The West IS fire.