Wednesday, July 31, 2013


When I was a boy, my Dad owned and operated the Playmill Theatre in West Yellowstone, Montana.  Because of the theatre season and the school year, it necessitated a week or two in the spring or a week or two in the fall, or sometimes both of driving back and forth between Rexburg, Idaho where we lived in the winter and West Yellowstone where we lived in the summer.

I remember as a small boy, thinking I was somehow magical because I often went to bed in West Yellowstone and woke up in bed in Rexburg.  The two towns are an hour and a half away.

My sister who is a couple of years older than me and I made a game of looking for landmarks along the way.  It made the hour and a half trip go a lot quicker in our minds.  Now that I'm older and living in the area again, I have taught the game to my kids.  Yesterday, on our way up to Yellowstone, we stopped and photographed each of the landmarks.  Enjoy.

The Eagle Tree

The Eagle Tree
We started the landmark game after we ascended the Ashton Hill, (which in reality is the Huckleberry Ridge Caldera, the largest vocano in the world).  At the side of the road, and at the top of the hill was a huge Douglas Fir tree that had at one time been struck by lightning.  The top limbs looked to us like an eagle coming to rest on its nest with it's wings outstretched.  The Eagle Tree is still there set aside from the rest of the forest.

Swan Lake

Swan Lake

Swans on Swan Lake.  You have to look real close.
When I was a boy, Swan Lake was all open water with a few lily pads and reeds at the edges.  Across the street was another body of water, which had at one time been part of Swan Lake, but the road went over it and kind of choked it off.  I watched that other lake become a meadow over the years and slowly, Swan Lake will end up that way too.  There is very little open water on the lake these days, but the swans still come.

When I was a boy, Dad would count the swans in the spring and say it was an omen on how many millions of dollars we would earn that year.  I was excited one year because there were six swans.  Unfortunately, the number of swans never correlated with any millions of dollars.  Maybe that was fortunate.

The Osborne Bridge

The Osborne Bridge

I'm not sure if this was a bridge for the railroad or if it was the old highway.  It is in Harriman State Park, which used to be called the Railroad Ranch.  Investors of the Union Pacific Railroad owned this land once and the Harriman Family donated it to the State of Idaho on the condition that they create a professionally managed state park out of it.  We haven't explored Harriman State Park yet, but it's on our list.

Last Chance

Last Chance
Last Chance is a little village or neighborhood in the greater community of Island Park, Idaho.  The community of Island Park boasts the longest main street in the world.  It's thirty-one miles long.  Not bad for a community of only 286 permanent residents.  In the summer months, that number rounds out to thousands when the people with vacation homes come back. 

Last Chance is the first of several little neighborhoods in Island Park.  It's not very pretty, and if I were making the landmark game now, I'd have chosen something a little more spectacular, but heck, we were kids.

Ponds Lodge

Pond's Lodge
Like Last Chance, Pond's Lodge is a little neighborhood in the greater Island Park community.  It is situated on the Buffalo River and vacation homes skirt back along it's banks for quite a long distance.  They are unobtrusive, however.  The residents of this part of the world have a profound respect for nature.

Elk Creek Station

Elk Creek Station
Probably the least spectacular of the landmarks.  For us it was only a landmark because there is a highway perpendicular to Highway 20 that leads to a scenic byway for the Nez Perce Trail.  On that road was a cabin site that my parents owned.  Sadly, we never built the cabin there.  Dad was always too busy with the Playmill for us to have a separate cabin.  So we'd go up every summer and spend a day or two at the site and imagine what it would be like when we actually built the cabin there.

The Steeple Tree

The Steeple Tree
Inbetween Elk Creek Station and Mack's Inn was this lone Cathedral Fir (that's what my brother called it) that looked like a church steeple.  Part of the unofficial landmark game was to be the first one to see it and call out, "I see the steeple tree!"

This was the hardest of the landmarks to photograph and we had to get it from the other side, going the other direction.

Mack's Inn

Mack's Inn
Mack's Inn is a shadow of it's former self, because the main building burned in the mid-eighties.  It was a great old log structure with lots of character and a beautiful, huge, stone fireplace.  It was like a mini-Old Faithful Inn.  It was never proven, but arson was suspected.  Now, the outbuildings still exist and people still hang out there, but the iconic Inn is only in memories.  I wish they'd rebuilt it.

When I was a kid, we used to go to Mack's Inn and rent paddleboats.  Lots of great memories doing that.


Mount Sawtelle is the mountain that dominates the Henry's Lake Flats.  In the old days (when I was a kid) the world's largest population of Sandhill Cranes used the flats as a nesting ground in the spring.  I don't think they do so any longer.  I haven't seen very many cranes there in many years.  Sad.  The flats also host a healthy population of pronghorns.  They are mis-named antelope by the locals here, but they aren't a true antelope and pronghorn is their real name.

According to legend, Chief Sawtelle was such a good man that when he died, the wind and rain carved his likeness in the mountain.  If you look closely, you can see his headdress on the left and his chin on the right.  The microwave tower on the summit is where the band of his headdress would be.

The Grave

The Grave
When I was young, I noticed a wrought iron fence in a stand of aspen at the north end of the Henry's Lake Flats.  We stopped once and there was a marble tombstone marking a grave.  The weather had worn all of the writing off of the tombstone so we had no idea who it belonged to.  Now, the tombstone is gone.  It has been for a number of years.

This is the hardest landmark to spot and is almost invisible in the summer when the trees are leafed out and the underbrush is lush.  Much easier to spot in the spring.

Howard Springs

Howard Springs

Garrett drinking at Howard Springs
General Howard allegedly stopped here during his pursuit of Chief Joseph of the Nez Perce tribe.  There is a natural spring here that has been tapped and plumbed into this really cool drinking fountain for weary travelers.  We stop here almost every time we drive by now.  My kids think it's the best water in the world.  I agree.

The Continental Divide

The Continental Divide and state line
When the men who were determining the boundaries of the western territories, they were supposed to make it into a grid.  The western states were all supposed to look like Wyoming and Colorado.  When they got to Idaho, they were doing that and suddenly they came to the continental divide and said, "Whoa, a natural boundary!"  They followed the continental divide and cut the rich gold and gem lands out of Idaho and gave them to Montana.  That all by itself made Montana the coolest state in the union.  If I didn't like Montana so much, I'd be upset.

In my younger days, there was a sign showing the continental divide.  Now it's just the state line.

The One Room Schoolhouse

The One Room Schoolhouse
This is the last of the landmarks on the way to West Yellowstone.  It is situated on the land belonging to the Diamond P ranch, which is a dude ranch.  When I was a kid, we rented horses and rode the trails.  Lots of fun.

After the schoolhouse, it was a couple of curves in the road and we'd try to be the first to spot West Yellowstone.  The trees made a V-shape and the town was visible through it.  The only time you couldn't see the town was if you happened to be behind an eighteen wheeler.

It was a game that we played to make the time go by faster and since I was the youngest, I didn't see the steeple tree first very often or the town of West Yellowstone, but I have many fond memories of playing this game.


We only had one landmark going the other way.  Just before the border into Idaho, from the Montana side, is this mountain called Lionhead.  If you use your imagination you can see the profile of a lion's head in this mountain.  Typically, we drove back to Idaho at night and often slept most of the way.  It's still fun for me to find pictures in mountains and clouds though.

Saturday, July 27, 2013

Wildflowers, Part Deux

Pretty purple wildflowers on a trip to Yellowstone, May 2013

If the Darby Canyon trip I posted about last week was the best wildflower excursion to date, then the trip we took to Yellowstone in May of this year is the first runner up.  While we didn't see nearly as many varieties of wildflowers on this trip as we did in Darby Canyon, in many ways the ones we saw were more exotic.  Yellowstone in May is a grand time to spot wildflowers!

About a dozen years ago, I became interested in heirloom tomatoes.  Because of the variety of shape, size and color and especially taste, heirlooms became the norm for me and hybrids from the store began to look, seem and feel artificial.  Last week, after our trip to St. Anthony's riverwalk, we drove back into town and I saw flower gardens with domesticated flowers and it struck me that they now looked artificial to me as well.

Yellow Avalanche Lily
Erythronium grandiflorum

Yellow Avalanche Lily
This picture was taken near Howard Springs on the Idaho side of the continental divide on Highway 20 on the road to Yellowstone.  I don't remember ever seeing one of these before, however it has only been a few years that I have had an interest in wildflowers.  The more I travel, the greater diversity of wildflowers I see.

Subalpine Larkspur
Delphinium barbeyi

Subalpine Larkspur
This was spotted along the sideroad to Petrified Tree in Yellowstone National Park.  We normally would have driven to the petrified tree but there was a sow black bear and her cub along the road and the rangers would not allow automobile traffic.  We walked up to see the bears and spotted many species of wildflowers along the way.  It was a win win win for me.  I saw bears, got some exercise and spotted some neat wildflowers.

Subalpine Phlox
Phlox condensata

Subalpine Phlox
This was also photographed near Petrified Tree.  This was early in the spring and I imagine a week or two later this would have been covered with blooms.

Hookedspur Violet
(Mountain Blue Violet)
Viola adunca

Hookedspur Violet
As with most of the wildflowers on this blogpost, this was found along the road to Petrified Tree.  Since becoming interested in wildflowers, a whole new world has opened up to me.  I am amazed at the diversity of different plants in the northern Rockies.

Bonneville Shooting Star
Dodecatheon conjugens

Bonneville Shooting Star

This flower was spotted along the road to Petrified Tree while we were walking toward the bear sighting area.  I don't remember ever noticing this type of wildflower before this day in May.

Hairy Clematis
(Sugar Bowl)
Clematis hirsutissma

Hairy Clematis

Hairy Clematis

Hairy Clematis

I had never seen one of these before.  This may be the most exotic wildflower I spotted on the entire trip.  I didn't know they even existed.  Delightful.  There were several of these along the road to Petrified Tree.

Alpine Forget-Me-Not
Myosotis alpestris

Alpine Forget-Me-Not

This was also spotted along the road to Petrified Tree.  These plants are quite common in the greater Yellowstone area. 

I have enjoyed discovering new wildflowers and photographing them.  At least new wildflowers to me.  I have endeavored to identify them correctly but recognize that I am not a botanist.  In some cases the identification was the best guess based on the book and images I've found on the web. 

Thursday, July 25, 2013

2013--St. Anthony, Idaho: River Walk

The Henry's Fork of the Snake River

St. Anthony, Idaho is just thirteen miles from our home.  For several years we have noticed a riverwalk as we have driven by.  We have said, "Someday we will go there."  Last Monday, for Family Night, was someday.

Our two oldest girls are grown and live away, our oldest son is on a mission for our church in Arizona and our next boy is working at a scout camp in the Tetons.  That left the Hot Chick and I and our two youngest sons to hike the mile and a half (or thereabouts) trail along the Henry's Fork of the Snake River.  With the four older kids out of the house, our home has gotten a lot quieter.  When the two younger boys are off playing with their friends, it almost seems like we are empty nesters.  I think this is the early training for that.  Good thing the Hot Chick and I like each other.

I wasn't sure what to expect when we took the riverwalk.  I knew it was a paved trail and I knew that a friend of mine from St. Anthony who is a mountain man aficionado, raised money for a bronze statue of the mountain man Major Andrew Henry that so many things around here are named after.  I knew it had a paved trail, and that at one time it had been a bird refuge for the Great Blue Heron, but really I knew nothing more than that.

At first I was a little disappointed with the lack of interpretive materials along the trail, but I soon overcame the disappointment and began interpreting the landscape for myself.

The trail goes over exposed bedrock which is a thick basalt flow which has at one time or another been scoured by the Henry's Fork of the Snake River.  The trail skirts across an ancient river bed along side the newer, deeper channel currently being cut. 

The trail is a collection of opposites.  On one side is a sagebrush steppe and on the other is the river and everything that goes along with it.  It was interesting to see wetland plants such as cattails, willows and cottonwoods juxtaposed with their desert cousins, juniper, sagebrush and rabbitbrush.

We were about a month too late for a lot of wildflowers, but there were a few scattered along the trail.  I found one that was really interesting.  It had small, very bright purple flowers with five spear shaped petals that turned back on themselves and a bright yellow cone shaped stamen in the middle of each bloom.  I thought they were pretty and took several pictures of them and when I returned home I researched them for identification.  Turns out for a guy who likes Hallowe'en as much as I do, I had stumbled upon Deadly Nightshade!  Awesome.

Enough talk.  Let's see the pictures!

River Shots

The Henry's Fork of the Snake River

Another view of the Henry's Fork

Idyllic little fork of the river

The boys at the river

The Hot Chick at the river

Not sure if this is a mini-waterfall or rapids.  Cool though.

I thought this was pretty

Every now and then the trail breaks out on a peaceful view of the river

Late afternoon

One of the last shots of the day

Steppe Shots

The sagebrush steppe which is typical terrain for the Snake River Plain in Idaho

Juxtaposition of river plants and steppe plants

The Hot Chick and the boys on one of the park benches along the trail

Basalt scoured by the river in an ancient river bed

Lichen on a boulder.  The building blocks of the great soil in the upper valley

More lichen

Lichen and moss

Along the trail are several wetland, marshy areas nestled in the steppe.  An oasis of sorts

Another oasis

And another oasis

Major Andrew Henry

Major Andrew Henry

Me and the Hot Chick at the base of the sculpture
Major Andrew Henry

The Flora

Common Arrowhead, Sagittaria latifolia

More Common Arrowhead.  I discovered this adjacent to the river.  Some were growing to the side of the river and some were growing in the water.

The Hot Chick and the boys next to cattails taller than they are

Gnarly cottonwood bark

I have no idea what this is, but it was cool.  I'll identify it later

Scottish Thistle was abundant

No idea what this is either.  I'll identify it at a later date

Idyllic scene on a side trail along the river

Deadly Nightshade!

Broken robin egg

Ruined nest next to the egg

Small cacti was everywhere.  I don't believe this was prickly pear, however because the shapes were wrong.  If we had come two or three weeks earlier, we would have seen all the cacti in bloom.  Mark that for next year.

Leaflets three,
Poisonous tree.
Berries white,
Poisonous sight


Pretty purple flowers.  Might be lavender

Stray wheat at the end of the trail

This was an enjoyable little walk.  The trail is intended as a walking path for people to exercise more than an interpretive trail.  It was beautiful in it's own right though.  Next year I'd like to visit at the end of June or beginning of July to see the wildflowers and particularly the cacti in bloom.

Time spent being a family, though is always worthwhile.