Most of the time we are running way behind in our posts and our trip from North Carolina to Montana is no different. So we take a break to post in real time. We arrived at Red Rock Lakes National Wildlife Refuge in Lakeview, Montana just two weeks ago. We will be work camping here until mid August. In exchange for volunteering 32 hours a week each, we receive a free RV site with full hookups and a small stipend. The general topic of work camping will be covered in an upcoming Nuts and Bolts post. Here is a quick overview from our first two weeks. Future posts will allow you to explore southwestern Montana, northeastern Idaho and northwestern Wyoming with us. There will be some bouncing back and forth to complete the many stops we made since the last entry from Arkansas.
Red Rock Lakes NWR is located 40 miles west of West Yellowstone, Montana and 28 miles east of I-15. It is considered part of the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem which along with Yellowstone NP, Gallatin National Forest, BLM land, the Frank Church Land of No Return and Beaverhead-Deerlodge National Forest is the largest temperate wilderness area in the world. The refuge covers approximately 60,000 acres in the 45 mile by 8 mile Centennial Valley. The Valley sits at an elevation of 6700 feet above sea level while the snow capped peaks of the Centennial mountains soar another 3,000-3,500 feet above the valley floor. They are the only mountains in the Rockies that run east to west. The Centennials and the Tetons are some of the “newest” (in geological terms) mountains. If you draw intersecting lines between the two ranges you will locate the current Yellowstone hotspot. The Centennial Valley was a fur trapping center and later homesteaded by cattle and sheep ranchers. Lakeview served the ranching community but like many towns in the area became a ghost town. Red Rock Lakes NWR was established in 1935 occupying some of the buildings. Later some of the Lakeview buildings were bought and restored then donated to the University of Utah as the Taft-Nicholson Center for Environmental Humanities Education.
It is June and wildflowers are popping out everywhere while pronghorn, elk and moose shelter newly born calves and trumpeter swans sit on nests. Here you can see the same wildlife except for bison, you would see at Yellowstone NP without the crowds. The refuge was created for the protection of trumpeter swans. At that time there were fewer than 100 swans in the GYE and these wetlands were their primary winter feeding ground and nesting area. Since then the local population has rebounded to 500 and increases to several thousand during migration. The refuge sits on major migratory bird flyways offering needed rest and feeding grounds to thousands of birds each Spring and Fall. Now the staff are involved in research for Sage Grouse and Arctic Grayling, both candidates for the Endangered Species Act. The bird list for the refuge lists 237 species that have been spotted here.
Weather has been cooler than we expected with night time temperatures between 30-38 degrees F warming to mostly sunny days between 45-65 degrees. It is windy much of the time and weather can change several times throughout the day. It doesn’t take long to learn you don’t go out without at least three layers of clothing to handle any weather condition. Since we’ve been here it has rained, hailed and snowed. Our propane furnace and electric fireplace have been well used. Today there was thick fog early but now the sun is shining and it is in the mid 60s.
We must travel over 45 miles to a reasonable grocery store, diesel station and propane fill-up. Before arriving we bought out Costco in Bozeman. The refuge is providing extra freezer space and whenever anyone leaves for town they take shopping lists for fresh items from several people. In the winter there are only 6 staff here. In the Spring seasonal employees, researchers and volunteers increase the number to approximately 50. Besides ourselves there are three other volunteers work camping. Beginning in mid July the University of Utah holds classes in Lakeview adding several more people.
We have been very warmly welcomed by the staff. Every Wednesday evening is Science Wednesday pot luck dinners followed by a report on a research project at the refuge or other scientific topic. Our work schedule is M/T/Sa/Sun. Chari is primarily hosting in the Visitor Center and assisting in the office while Steve’s time is split between maintenance and the Visitor Center. We both have had the opportunity to help out on projects, Steve with the Arctic Grayling fry count and Chari with monitoring Mountain Bluebird boxes.
If you are anywhere near Yellowstone National Park please take time to come see us at Red Rock Lakes NWR. Be sure to see their newly designed webpage at http://www.fws.gov/refuge/red_rock_lakes .