Hiking To Blair Lake

WARNING: This post contains a LOT of pictures. Thus, unless you have a fast connection, you might want to brew yourself a nice cup of hot chocolate, pop yourself some popcorn, or grab a glass of milk and some cookies (whatever suits your mood). This will need some time to download :-)

Another hike I enjoyed this summer was to Blair Lake. While I had been to Blair Lake a few summers ago - via horseback - this was my first hike into this lake which sits on the backbone of the Continental Divide.

Some mountain ranges abound with lakes. It seems there is a lake in every valley. However, the Centennial Mountains are not heavy on lakes. There are many little streams but few bodies of water large enough to earn the title ‘lake’. Blair and Lillian Lakes are two of the nicest, and are located not far from the lodge or each other.

The journey to Blair Lake can begin at the hiker’s choice of two trailheads. Oddly enough both trails begin within a mile of each other and both are accessed from the same service road. Thus the traveler has the option of choosing either. Or, if they desire, this hike can easily turn into a loop which requires little doubling back over terrain already explored.

Last time I visited Blair Lake I traversed the trail to the east. On this hike we decided to make explore the trail to the west. And, since it was a lovely fall day, the drive to the trailhead was almost as pleasurable as the hike to the lake.

We chose the more westerly access because this trail is the shortest from trailhead to lake, and it provides a steady but comfortable climb from trailhead to lake. Were we to have chosen the more easterly access, we could have chosen to intersect this trail partway up the mountain (via the Continental Divide Trail) or take the trail to Lillian Lake (which sits in a swale) and then make a hefty climb up to Blair Lake.

Our chosen trail, the Corral Creek Trail, began along an old road passing through private property. After about a mile we went through a gate onto BLM land and our road became a ‘trail’ - a not-very-well maintained trail at that.

Immediately we began to climb. As this is an older trail which receives little use, it has not been reworked. Thus the trail does not have the new gradient changes which remove the stepper sections from reworked trails. However, we were glad for the added body heat as the morning was brisk.

As we climbed I could not help but notice the patches of brilliant color beside the trail. It seemed just days ago we were picking huckleberries off these bushes. Now the bushes had transformed into delightful splashes of color along our trail.

After about 40 minutes of fairly heavy timber, the countryside began to open up with lighter timber interspersed with small meadows.

After about 50 minutes we hit the junction of the Continental Divide Trail. While there are few to no trail maps for the area we traversed (the Corral Creek Trail didn’t even make the map), the trail signage was very good. At every junction we knew which knew exactly which way to go.

If we had taken the trail to our left (heading down the hill) we would have eventually ended up at Hell Roaring Creek (or at the more easterly trailhead). Of course the Corral Creek trail was the trail we had just traversed.

From here on out we followied the Continental Divide Trail (except for the final 1/4 mile or so to Blair Lake). Straight ahead was a clearly visible sign. We still had 2 3/4 miles to travel to reach Blair Lake.

Although bright yellow and red leaves announced fall had come to the Centennial, a few hardy flowers still braved the cool, crisp mornings and frosty nights. Perhaps the warm ‘Indian-summer’ fall days allowed them to survive.

The trail continued to meander - generally up - through stands of timber and open meadows. We crossed numerous small streams. Most had ‘bridges’ (which barely deserved the title) but were narrow enough to hop across this time of year.

As the countryside opened up, the views became breathtaking. I found it interesting to track our progress with our frequent glimpses of Red Rock Mountain. When we saw it for the first time, we were high enough to be about even with its top, and it seemed quite close.

As we were traversed the final ascent to Blair Lake, it was much further away and seemed quite small.

Along with numerous small creeks, we also passed a few small tarns. This one, the largest, might have qualified as a small pond. It certainly had ‘interesting’ residents.

Having traveled about 2 miles from our last junction, we came to the second of three junctions on this hike. We now had the option of going straight

- and dropping down to Lillian Lake

- or taking a right and switchbacking up the hill to Blair Lake

Here, again, the color splashes were brilliant and beautiful to behold.

Since our first junction, we had been following the Continental Divide Trail up the mountain. This trail is well-marked with distinctive trail signs which make it easy to follow.

Near the top of the divide we finally reached our final trail junction. Here the Continental Divide Trail now goes straight with a poorly marked (but visible) junction Blair Lake heading to the right.

The final leg of our trail took us through a small meadow

Then down through a light stand of timber to the lake. If you look closely at this photo you will see a wooden post ahead of the first hiker.

Attached to this post is an old piece of a Continental Divide Trail marker. While the CD Trail has obviously been re-routed (which adds privacy for those picnicing or camping at Blair Lake), the map has not been updated. Thus, if you make this hike, be aware - the last section is slightly different than the map shows (see note on the map photo above). You will need to watch for the junction marker pictured above.

Of course the views of Mt. Jefferson which begin when the trail gets above the heavier timber, are terrific. By the time you begin the final approach to Blair Lake, you have traveled far enough south to see the mountain from a different perspective.

Blair Lake peek-a-booed us through the trees as we approached from the east.

The trail crosses the lake’s outlet and passes along the lake’s open shoulder. Blair Lake is a pretty lake about 3 or 4 acres in size and mostly round in shape. It sits in about an 8 acre meadow surrounded by timbered and open ridges.

The water is beautifully clear and has a green tint. We had met no one on the trail. Thus it came as no surprise to find we had the lake to ourselves as well. We enjoyed a leisurely lunch in relative peace and quiet (relative is an completely understandable term to those of you who travel - or have traveled - with an 8-year-old :-)

I found another sign from the ‘old’ Continental Divide Trail on a tree near Blair Lake. This further proved my theory the trail had undergone extensive re-routing in the last few years.

The trip up took about 2 hours each way. This crew kept a pretty brisk clip going up. And, because of the steady grade, we found ourselves taking the downhill a bit easy.

By the time we reached our car, we were ready to give our legs a break. However, the memories of this very enjoyable hike will live with us for months to come.

I close this post with a panoramic shot taken from near our final trail junction on the way to Blair Lake. While I have much to learn about panoramic shots (sorry for the color variations), I include this photo because it gives you an idea of the amazing beauty and vast open expanses one experiences on this hike.

Lady of the Lake


A Hike NE Of Elk Lake

The summer of 2010 will definitely go down as the 'Summer Of The Hike'! I have enjoyed some fabulous hikes both around the lodge, in the Centennial Mountains, and even into the Madison Range and the Lion's Head Mountains. All of these hikes were easy to do from my home base at the lodge. Furthermore, each one (as is normal with a good hike) offered its own unique aspects to treasure and return to as the snowy weather begins to shut down my hiking for the year.

Over the course of the next few months without doubt I will be sharing my experiences in photo and word. Thus, as I enjoy a different kind of outdoor recreation - one which requires different modes of recreation (snowshoes, skies, or a snowmobile) - I will also share the summer treasures I enjoyed using a simpler form of transportation - my feet!

Some of the nicest hikes I enjoyed this year were around Elk Lake. However, because I have hiked so much of this country (and because I am easily bored :-), I enjoy exploring new areas or at least semi-new areas. The hike I chose for this mid-September afternoon was into country I had traversed on a snowmobile - and minimally coverd on foot a few years back. In spite of those prior excursions, I had never really explored the area.

Typically I hike in the mornings (as either morning or evening are the best times to see wildlife - at least on a normal day - and the best lighting for photos). However, on this particular sunny fall day, the morning had passed without a hike so I jumped at the opportunity to venture out during the afternoon.

Parking my car at the north end of Elk Lake, I headed across the meadow / marshy area at the lake's mouth. This time of year the ground is dry and thus the walk was easy - as well as beautiful.

From here I headed up the old jeep trail. For those of you who are not aware, there is an old jeep trail at the north east end of Elk Lake. It heads up the mountain and into Antelope Basin and dates back to the resort's early years. When Faye and Edna Selby started the resort back in 1933, there was no road into our valley. The Selbys built the road to the resort using a team of horses. Rumor has it they lost one team into the lake's cold waters as they worked to scrape a way around the lake's south-west shore.

Once completed, the road allowed the Selbys and their guests to access the resort grounds via vehicle, but the land beyond that point was accessible only by foot, horseback or boat. To overcome this obstacle and provide access to the already famous waters of Hidden Lake, the Selby's drove an old car across Elk Lake's frozen surface to the north end. They installed a wooden dock on the lake's north-west shore, and come summer, they began offering what became a large part of their income - a motorized trip to Hidden Lake via boat and car! For the privilege of accessing and fishing Hidden Lake, I have heard guests paid up to $20 per person! Considering we are talking about the 1940's and 1950's, that is a major testimony to the quality of Hidden Lake's fishing (then and now).

Some folks, however, were not willing to pad the Selby's pockets quite so heavily. On the other hand, they weren't interested in walking in (an option from either Elk Lake or Cliff Lake). Thus the old jeep road came into existence.

I have no idea who discovered and developed the route, but from the depth of the ruts which remain today, it obviously received plenty of use. Granted, it was not for the faint of heart, but it was definitely a thorn in the Selby's side!

The old jeep road meanders mostly east and a little south into Antelope Basin. However, my goal was the ridge to the north (and a little east) of Elk Lake so partway up the hill I turned in a more northerly direction. I soon reached the open meadows above the trees and began enjoying some spectacular views of Elk Lake and the Centennial Mountains. This ridge certainly offered a nice look at the lake's north end.

Climbing the hill, I was amazed to hear wolves howling in the distance. They appeared to be somewhere to the west of Hidden Lake. I have heard them howl in the past, but I had never heard them in the middle of the day before.

As I topped the ridge, a several birds riding the updrafts soared above. While they surely were well above me, they seemed mere feet overhead. At first I thought I they were hawks, but on closer inspection I found they were buzzards.

In some parts of the world buzzards are a regular visitor. However, in the Greater Yellowstone Eco-System they are rarely seen. Thus seeing several soaring on the wind made me wonder what dead animal I was about to stumble across.

Topping the ridge I was rewarded with some beautiful views of Horn Mountain and Antelope Basin to my east.

To my west the road to Hidden Lake looked quite a bit further down than I expected. In fact, the height of the ridge and the steep drop off came as something of a surprise. From the valley floor it does not look nearly this impressive!

Fall is an interesting time of year in the Centennial. Sometimes it comes and goes so quickly it seems the leaves are barely gold before the wind strips the branches bare. Other years the leaves shimmer gold and red for days on end. Other years fall comes in waves - a pocket of gold here and there while in other spots green rules. This was one of those years. Thus while in some areas the leaves showed no sign of succumbing to fall's frosty nights, others were gloriously red and gold.

Along this ridge I found spots of gold and spots of green as well as flashes of red and purple and yellow and orange among the other foliage.

Yet, in spite of winter's warning call, some flowers still persisted in showing forth their own glorious colors!

Perhaps the best part of this hike was the Elk Lake landscape as seen from the top. The steep drop off allowed me to enjoy panoramic views of the lake and surrounding countryside. And, while my hike was truncated due to the passing time, I know I will be back - for there is much to explore along this ridge. And, if I can find a large enough chunk of time, I have little doubt further up the ridge the views will only get better and better!

Lady of the Lake


Birds In Paradise

Please note: All of the photos in this post are the property of David Slaughter, one of our favorite guests. He has kindly shared them for your enjoyment. Please understand, however, they are his property and cannot be copied.

Earlier this summer I posted a blog about birds - specifically birds which call Elk Lake home, at least part of the time. Part of the photos used in that blog were from generous guests who are well-equipped and quite experienced in bird photography. At the end of that post, I promised to revisit the subject in a later blog. I am finally keeping that promise.

Black-Headed Grosbeak - The last couple of years a Black-Headed Grosbeak has visited our feeder in the early summer. This year he brought a mate. While I am not sure whether they nested in area, I did spot the pair up Narrows Creek a few weeks after they had ceased hanging around the resort.

Reading up on Grosbeaks I learned an interesting tidbit about the female. While in many bird species the male helps little (perhaps not at all) in raising the brood, the Grosbeak pair share in this responsibility. However, the female Grosbeak has a unique way of encouraging her mate to contribute more freely to nest duty - she mimics the male’s song thus making it appear an intruder has entered his territory. The male’s instinctive response is to return to the nest which the female leaves in his tender-loving-care while she takes a siesta or pursues a tasty morsel at her leisure. Pretty sly bird!

Chipping Sparrow - A common little bird seen and heard regularly around Elk Lake, unlike so many of the ‘little brown birds’ which frequent the area, the male Chipping Sparrow has a very identifying mark - his bright red cap.

While to modern eyes, even bird lover’s eyes, these little fellows appear ‘common’, those from years past were not as unwilling to laude their beauty. I love the almost poetic words written in 1929 by Edward Forbush. He described the Chipping Sparrow as “the little brown-capped pensioner of the dooryard and lawn, that comes about farmhouse doors to glean crumbs shaken from the tablecloth by thrifty housewives.”

Cliff Swallow - While I must admit I do everything in my power to keep these pretty birds from nesting on the cabins and lodge, it is not because I do not appreciate them. While their voice is obnoxious to my ear, their voracious appetite for insects makes them a welcome addition to Centennial Valley summers.

The primary reason I do not want these useful birds making their homes on our buildings is they nest in colonies - sometimes big colonies! In fact, I’ve read they have been known to have up to 3,700 nests in one spot! Can you image that mess!

One interesting tidbit I learned about Cliff Swallows is their uncanny ability to help each other find food - intentionally or otherwise. When food sources are poor, birds will often watch one another then follow a successful feeder to the food source. When one bird finds an exceptionally well-stocked table, he will often ‘call’ the other birds to join in his meal.

Dusky Flycatcher - Since I am not 100% certain this is the right name for this little fellow, I am willing to stand corrected. However, I believe Dave’s photo is of a Dusky Flycatcher. These flycatchers are busy little fellows in the spring and summer around Elk Lake. While I suspect many people take them for just another sparrow, these handy little birds are another welcome summer addition as their diet is made up strictly of insects.

Green-Winged Teal - This is one of the prettiest birds to grace our lake. While not as vocal as another colorful favorite, the Red-Necked Grebe, I have seen these pretty fellows numerous times over the years - and have enjoyed taking a closer look at their brilliantly feathered heads.

However, I have never really taken the time to obvserve them closely. Perhaps the reason is they are just that ‘little’. They are the smallest of our North American ducks. However, they are very adaptable - capable of wintering in the far north. Thus their range encompasses a large area and their numbers are strong.

House Wren - I must be one who prefers the ‘common’ guy. I thoroughly enjoy Tree Swallows which many who consider themselves ‘true birders’ dislike because they often confiscation bluebird houses. While I enjoy the Tree Swallow for their voracious bug appetite and their graceful flight, no bird provides me with more listening pleasure than the common House Wren.

These little birds are quick to vocalize and their singing rivals the finest soprano in the world (at least in my opinion). In addition, they are bold birds which seem to have an attitude similar to the smallest domestic dog. While I prefer big dogs, I am often forced to admire the sheer determination of the smallest who, if you watch, are only small on the outside!

The same holds true with the House Wren. They are not afraid to try and steal a Tree Swallow nest (and Tree Swallows can be quite territorial) or move in on a Sapsucker. Both birds make the little House Wren look like a midget.

I often enjoy these little birds’ songs as I walk between the cold room or the clothes line and the lodge. There are at least three which nest in that area, and since their songs have to do with their territory, it is no surprise they sing. However, I like to think they are singing to remind me to rejoice as well.

Junco - This little bird is perhaps the most hardy I’ve seen. Not only is it visible in the summer and fall, it is not uncommon to see several of them feeding in areas in front of the lodge where the snow succumbs to the sun’s warmth revealing small patches of soil.

Considering their small size and the fact that they nest on or near the ground, it is amazing they have thrived in what most birds obviously consider inhospitable climate. Not remarkable for their songs or their striking plumage, these birds are still a delight - especially in the dead of winter when it seems every other feathered friend has deserted us.

Spotted Sandpiper - A bird common to Canada and North America, Spotted Sandpipers are regularly seen on the shores of Elk Lake. During breeding season the adults are extremely persistent in seeking to catch our attention and divert us from their ground nest which, obviously, is not far away.

These shore dwellers are a bit unique. While the male Yellow-headed Blackbird, another bird who makes its summer home at Elk Lake, may mate with more than one female and rarely helps raise any of his young, the Spotted Sandpipers are just the opposite. The female of this species will often mate and lay the eggs in the nest, then leave the incubation, feeding and raising to the male while she runs off with another man and repeats her performance.

White Crowned Sparrow - These birds are another common visitor to Elk Lake. While they seem to appear later than many of our other birds, they always stay long after most of our small birds have headed for a warmer climate.

These birds are less flighty than many who frequent the willows and aspens around the lodge. Perhaps those which spend time in our neighborhood winter in a more populated area thus acclimatizing them to the presence of humans. Whatever the reason, their more relaxed behavior has allowed me to capture several nice pictures of them around the lodge.

One interesting piece of trivia: These birds are known for their natural alertness mechanism which allows them to stay awake for up to two weeks during migration. In fact, scientists have been studying these birds for clues which might help humans - particularly those who work the night shift.

Yellow Warbler - Sometimes I catch a flash of yellow flitting across the yard from one shrubby willow to another. Most often, if I can get close enough for further inspection (a feat I rarely accomplish), I find myself looking at a bright yellow bird.

Cowbirds are a natural ‘enemy’ to many of our song birds. In fact, while I enjoy a large variety of feathered neighbors, I have no use for cowbirds. Not only are they unwilling to share my feeders, they are disgustingly lazy - refusing to even rear their own young. Instead they find a song bird nest, kick out the eggs, then lay their own eggs in the nest.

Thus I was pleased to learn Yellow Warblers appear to be wise to their tactics. In appears these clever little song birds recognize a cowbird egg, and when found, abandon the nest and start a new clutch. Smart little birds!

Wilson’s Warbler - On occasion that flash of yellow turns out to be a Wilson’s Warbler. This pretty little bird, while not as brilliantly yellow as the Yellow Warbler is still a pretty, flashily colored bird. It takes its name from Alexander Wilson who first described it in 1811.

Yellow-Rumped Warbler (aka Audubon’s Warbler) - This is one of my favorite birds. In fact, one of my favorite Elk Lake memories (and one I've shared in an earlier blog) was a hiking trip to Goose Lake which found us literally surrounded at times by these colorful and curious birds.

Audubon's Warbler's color patterns and occasionally inquisitive nature make it a fun bird to watch. Furthermore, around our area it seems to be more comfortable in the open than the other two warblers - thus it is easier to observe and photograph. Perhaps another reason it seems more visible is, it is one of the first warblers to arrive and one of the last to leave.

Kingfisher - I am always amazed at Dave’s tenacity and patience - which, of course, is one of the reasons he has captured so many beautiful bird pictures. However, I have managed to at least get a somewhat blurry image of nearly all the birds whose images he has shared with us for this post. That does NOT hold true for the Kingfisher. If I had a camera in my eyeball - maybe. Otherwise, I have found these birds are extremely alert and quick to exit when I enter their ‘space’.

There are over 90 species of Kingfishers. They vary greatly in size from the smallest (4 inches) to the largest (18 inches). All have large heads and sharp beaks. Most are brightly colored with little difference seen between the males and females. Many species are seen only in tropical climates. However, I have identified what I believe to be at least two pairs like this one which typically spend their summers at Elk Lake.

While most of my feathered friends have headed for parts much warmer and more hospitable, looking at Dave’s photos and re-visiting memories of these birds brightening my day and adding brilliant color and beautiful sound to my life at Elk Lake has made me anxious to see them return next spring. Until then I’ll enjoy the photos and memories as we move into another glorious winter here at Elk Lake.

Lady of the Lake