While we’ve been spending time at our first volunteer job at Red Rock Lakes NWR, we’ve been collecting interesting stories and information that in and of themselves don’t make up a post. However we thought by lumping them together you might find it interesting.
While at the refuge we were asked to compile a list of the historical documents and photos on file here. That meant going back through the annual reports from 1935-present and several other files. We really enjoyed reading about the early years of the refuge.
Prior to the refuge the Centennial Valley was settled under the Homestead Act. When we get around to catching up on our time in Nebraska and our visit to Homestead National Monument, you’ll hear more about it. When Yellowstone became our first National Park it was very difficult to get there. Monida, MT (28 miles west of Lakeview where the refuge is located) had a railroad station. The Shambow Stage Stop for the M&Y stage line (Monida-Yellowstone Stage) was established across from present day Shambow Pond in the valley. Travelers would spent the night at the Shambow Pond Stage Stop and continue to Yellowstone (45 miles east) the next day. A long hard trip to be sure. In 1898 the business consisted of 12 Concord coaches that could carry 11 passengers, 4 smaller coaches carrying 3 passengers, 80 horses and 40 employees. By 1915 the business had expanded and carried 40% of the 20,000 people who visited Yellowstone NP. The M&Y Stage offered three different travel packages. While the stage stop is long gone, the Shambow homestead still exists. Plans are for the Centennial Valley Historical Society to restore the run down site and use it for their Visitor Center and library.
Visitors from all over the USA and several foreign countries have visited this summer. We’ve met people from France, Germany, Italy, England, Australia, New Zealand, Canada, China and Japan. Many were visiting Yellowstone while several others were mountain biking the Great Divide Trail. The trail runs along the Continental Divide for 2745 miles from Banff in Canada to Antelope Wells, New Mexico. Some bikers devote the entire summer to riding the whole trail. Others have only a week or two to ride a segment. Steve and the refuge manager responded to an emergency signal from a monitoring company one Saturday. Fortunately it turned out to be a false alarm. However the refuge did assist one unfortunate biker who arrived with a torn Achilles tendon and other ills by driving him to the nearest medical facility about an hour away. Each June there is a race along the entire trail. This year’s winner completed the race in a bit over 16 days and 2 hours to average 170 miles a day!
Another adventurous duo we met the first day we were here. Two young men arrived at the refuge pulling kayaks along. They had been on the trail for three days and expected their trip to take 5 months. They were doing the Source to Sea Route. This runs from Brower’s Spring (the most distant tributary of the Missouri River) on Sawtelle Mountain to the mouth of the Mississippi River at the Gulf of Mexico. They had to hike from the spring until they reached navigable water. Then they would paddle the rest of the way. One young man just graduated from film school and hopes to make an independent film about their trip.
Red Rock Lakes NWR is the setting for E. B. White’s Trumpet of the Swan, a well known children’s book. When a teacher from Arkansas called asking for any material we had that she could use as her class would be reading the book this year, we made a DVD from our photos showing where Louis, the swan with a trumpet, lived. It is short, only 7 minutes so we are including it here.
We have made new friends not only among the staff here but visitors as well. One couple from New Mexico shared our interest in photography. We sat and visited for over an hour one Saturday and have established e-mail contact. We certainly hope our paths will cross again. Another full time RV couple visited the refuge and shared a touching story. They began their RV life after losing their previous home about three years prior to a Texas wildfire. Having decided they could not rebuild and live happily in the charred land that was once so beautiful, they bought a RV and set out in search of a new home town. After six weeks of being on the road they decided they loved the lifestyle and were already “home”.
However, our most memorable visitors were a couple who came in and asked “what do you know about a flamingo that used to live here?” I thought to myself, sure, a flamingo in Montana! I asked the Office Manager who had been here for 25 years. Surprisingly she said “You mean Pink Floyd?” Yes, there really was a flamingo here! The story goes like this. A flamingo escaped from an aviary in Salt Lake City, Utah and set up a new home on an island in the Great Salt Lake. In the summer his mixed flock of gulls and snow geese would migrate to Lima Reservoir about 25 miles west of the refuge. Occasionally the flock would come over to the Red Rock Lakes. Pink Floyd summered in southwestern Montana from 1988-2005. The wife of this couple, Sheila Parr Taylor, has written a children’s book called Pink Floyd, the Flyaway Flamingo. It’s a beautifully illustrated book by J. Kenneth Allein. For more information write the author at P.O.Box 1455, East Lansing, MI 48826-1455 or email her at firstname.lastname@example.org.
As a farewell activity we participated in the initial week of Lesser Scaup (duck) banding on Lower Red Rock Lake. This lake is very shallow with numerous grassy islands making it prime habitat for water birds. While waiting for the roundup to begin Steve captured a trumpeter swan family out for a swim (see blog header). He also took a pic of me, as he says, waiting to head them off at the pass. A net trap is set up and several canoes/kayaks and a rowboat are used to gather small groups of ducklings into a large group and guide them into the mouth of the trap where they are scooped up and placed in boxes. The day we went we gathered two groups for a total of close to one hundred birds. They are transported to shore and we split into two groups. The ducklings were separated by sex and whether they had been previously marked. Data on all birds is recorded such as length of the tarsus, back of head to tip of beak and weight. The smallest birds are placed in a cone to weigh while larger birds are hooked by the leg band. Smaller ducklings were web tagged with a staple like numbered clip. Larger ducklings were given a leg band. The largest females also were nasal tagged with plastic markers making it easier to track them without having to recapture them. Of course the ducks had their own way of letting us know what they thought of all this! At the end of the day we set them free and watched them swim happily away.
The scenery and wildlife have been spectacular but the history and interesting people we’ve met have been an added bonus. This is our last post from the refuge It’s been a wonderful Summer at Red Rock Lakes NWR.