Home On The Range

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, Google Earth

Red Rock Lakes NWR From Google Earth

work camping, volunteer, RV living

Our Home On The Range

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.

Lakeview, Montana

Lakeview, Montana


Pronghorn Antelope Cow

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.

Red Rock Lakes NWR

Out For A Drive On The Refuge

Selfie In The Mirror

Selfie In The Mirror

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.

Centennial Valley, Montana, Rocky Mountains

The Centennial Valley In Early June

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.

Elk Lake And The Centennial Mountains

Elk Lake And The Centennial Mountains

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 .

rainbow, nature

Rainbow Over Lakeview

6 thoughts on “Home On The Range

    • We will leave 8/18 and head north to Glacier but will be swinging through western and southern Idaho after that. We’ll be stopping at Nez Pearce NHS and always think of your trek a few years ago. We’d love to meet again. Where will you be before or after Yellowstone?

      • Will fly to Flagstaff and spend a few days with the grandchildren. Then will drive up through Salt Lake City area and into southern Idaho, then Yellowstone NP for a few days. Then it is back to Flagstaff.

        The area above Ketchum, ID on the way to Stanley is beautiful. I love that valley, Keep me posted as to your location in Idaho. If you like wild country, think about taking the Lolo Pass from Lolo down into Idaho along #12. I went the opposite direction, from the Bear Paw Battlefield to Lolo.

        As for Glacier, I have hiked the Highline Trail out to Grinnell Glacier. Lot’s of photo opportunities there. Actually got above the mountain goats there.

      • I’ll e-mail you with dates for southern Idaho. From 11/3/14-1/31/15 we’ll be volunteering at Petrified Forest NP just about 80 miles southeast of Flagstaff so if we miss you this summer let us know if you come that way later.

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