Lower Red Rock Lake

Some days are diamonds - at least that is what the song says. And, while I don't often agree with the popular song' lyrics, I must say, the afternoon we spent on Lower Red Rock Lake had all the elements of a 'diamond day'. Cerulean - on the deep end - skies. Golden fields. Majestic mountain backdrops. Clear water. A comfortable breeze. A few surprises. Ahhh - what a day!

Lower Red Rock Lake, like its eastern cousin Upper Red Rock Lake, dominate Montana's Centennial Valley. Set aside as a wildlife refuge in the early 1930's, this area is one of the few remaining completely undeveloped locations of any size in the lower 48. While the refuge protects about 65,000 acres, conservation easements limit further development on almost all the surrounding private landholdings.

Both lakes provide superb waterfowl habitat. Both are shallow (probably never more than 10 to 12 feet in depth). Both are inaccesible, except during a limited time frame by non-motorized watercraft, year-round. Thus both are home to wildlife who rarely see their two-legged co-inhabitants. Of course this makes the experience that much better for those of us who prefer the less-developed side of life.

Since the youngest member of our party is still learning to row - well, to row with the ability to get from point A to point B - most of the family climbed into the canoe while I prepared to embark in my trusty kayak. Our destination? Well, that was a little up in the air. However, we knew we wanted to explore the lake a bit, and perhaps travel up one of the source streams.

One challenge faced by Red Rock Lakes' explorers is the weather. Perhaps you've read my 2009 post about our explorations of Upper Red Rock Lake. If so, you might recall the LONG PULL back across the lake to our launching point. The wind, while no where near its typical blustery self, added an unwanted degree of challenge to our day. Thus, as I looked across the placid surface of Lower Red Rock Lake which perfectly reflected Sheep Mountain to the east, I couldn't help but hope it stayed this calm.

The views were magnificent. From the Centennial Range to our south, to Jefferson to our east, to the Madisons to our north - there wasn't a bad view to be seen!

Much of the water which passed under our crafts that day looked more like a jungle than a lake. They say there are fish in these lakes - big fish. I know there are waterfowl - including diving ducks. However, while there were places we could see the lake bottom a few feet below our boat's bellies, much of the lake looked too thick to penetrate.

Our journey started on Lower Red Rock Lake's western shore. Since Upper Red Rock Lake sat to the east, we figured we'd have to head in that direction to find the connecting waterway. As we approached the eastern shoreline, I realized we were being watched by a local resident.

Two local residents, it turned out. I know moose are big. They are taller than elk and their long legs make them appear even taller than they are. In addition to long legs, a full-grown moose also boasts an admirable upper body! And, while I've always known they were big animals, when one is sitting at their feet in a kayak, they appear gargantuan. Thankfully these big boys were merely curious!

We figured the willows from whence the moose appeared just might prefer flowing water. Thus we now began to search in earnest for an inlet stream.

We had heard the waterway between Upper and Lower Red Rock Lakes was difficult to find. Well, our experience certainly doesn't contradict that. In fact, we cannot comment at all because we did not find the waterway between the two. However, we did locate the inlet to Odell Creek - by pure luck. Like any other swamp, everything is wet. Tucks and folds abound along the shoreline - each suggesting perhaps here a stream flows in.

So, as we scouted the shoreline, not really knowing what to expect, we watched for something more. More than ?? We weren't sure, but surely an inflowing stream would create at least a small current. And, low and behold, we found it (and it didn't look like the photo above. That was taken after the creek turned into a creek.)

Like our trip up Red Rock Creek in 2009, the trip up Odell Creek offered limited vistas. We could see the mountains in the distance. Occasionally we caught glimpses of the immediate vicinity. However, much of the time we were down in a 'ditch' of sorts, surrounded by high grasses, paddling across clear waters which reflected the sky and revealed several large fish but offered no insight into the world above its banks.

However, I am never content to see 'nothing'. In fact, I really cannot understand the person who steps out of doors - to hike or bike or row or just sit - and sees nothing. How can you settle into Creation's embrace and not see? To prove the point, I captured a few images of what I could see.

Colorful butterflies on the blooming thistles (which were magnificent on their own but whose magnificence I could not capture adequately on film). A sad little injured duck whose fate I chose not to imagine.

Two little birds (okay, I admit, I'm being lazy - I am not taking the time to identify them) chattering on the shore.

Even spider webs - amazing spider webs. I've never seen such profuse spider webs. I'm not sure if it is because so little traffic passes through this area. Or, maybe it was my perspective - below them - which brought them to life. Whatever the cause, I spent several moments enraptured by spider webs! Who would believe it?

Yet, always, Sheep Mountain dominated the scene. In fact, it was easy to track our progress by its slowly approaching bulk.

After rowing for about an hour and a half (approximately 45 minutes across the lake and another 45 minutes up the creek), we were ready to stretch our legs. While the shoreline offered few spots which invited one to disembark (the creek banks were fairly abrupt in most places), we did manage to find a stopping point. Wow! What a beautiful spot to take a break.

Looking north-west we could now see the country through which we had floated. Grassy fields stretched to the distant horizon. What a beautiful sight - and not a person or habitation to be seen. Amazing!

That look to the west reminded us time was quickly passing. We had at least 1 1/2 hours of rowing to return to our starting point - that was if the wind didn't pick up. So, we decided it was time to return to our faithful floating fleet. However, the fence a hundred yards to the east provided a beautiful prop for just one more photo of Sheep Mountain.

And, that's where this trip took an unexpected turn! The lush grass growing in these fields provided the perfect hiding place for my camera lens - the one which fell out of my pocket as I walked over to take just one more picture! While we spent precious time searching, it was to no avail. My, how it twisted my gut to climb back into my kayak without my zoom lens! (Therefore, it is with MANY thanks I report my wonderful husband repeated our trip the next day with a borrowed metal detector - found the unharmed lens and brought it home. Thank you, Lord. Thank you, Honey!)

Back in the water, everyone pitched in to paddle west. The weather was perfect. The views extraordinary. The company enjoyable. At this point I was a bit blue - kicking myself for losing my lens - but even that couldn't dampen the day's beauty.

The trip back down Odell Creek went quickly, almost effortlessly, as the current was heading our way. However, we still had to find (this part of the trip was the most interesting because it was the most challenging) the narrow channel which ran from the lake to the wide stream - weird but true. Once found, we backtracked around all those twists and turns, an easy feat for the kayak. A bit more challenging for the canoe's passengers!

Back across the lake we rowed against an intermittent but mild breeze. Since the Lower Lake is interspersed with numerous 'reed islands', the final challenge lay in locating our launching point. Thus I was extremely pleased when I realized I'd chosen an almost direct route, one which required little adjustment to deposit me on the shore near our truck. Here I enjoyed the views, the quiet, and the peaceful setting while I waited for the rest of the family to complete their trip.

Ah, what a day. I'd recommend it to anyone - but pick a windless day if you can! It really does make the whole experienced that much more enjoyable. And so ends just another one of the 'perks' of being,

Lady of the Lake


Mia McPherson said...

I loved reading about your adventures on the Lower Lake. The entire area of Red Rock Lakes NWR, Centennial Valley and Mountains take my breath away. I can't wait to visit again next year. The little birds you didn't identify are American Pipits.

Lady of the Lake said...

Thank you, Mia, for the bird id. I do hope you make it back to the CV. It is a wonderful place - one which needs to be shared with those who will appreciate it!