Early spring in the Rocky Mountains is a roller coaster ride–nights below freezing then days in the 70’s followed by days in the 40’s. We start with a beautiful sunrise followed by rain, sleet, hail, then snow before we again watch the sun as it sets. A time when winter will not give up its grip but summer will not be denied. Snow is receding and green is winning the day, so let’s head to Trout Lake in the Northern Range of Yellowstone and search for signs that summer is on the way.
The trail up is a bit gnarly with winter fall, lots of rocks, and tree roots above ground. This 200 ft. incline over about 1/4 mile also has some beautiful views to the east.
A 200 ft. incline may not sound very steep over this short distance, but 200 feet is like climbing a 20 story building and spreading it over the length of the track around your high school football field. I’m taking this picture on the trail going up the grade we are looking at from the side. Huffing and puffing, but looking forward to the lake.
We have to look close because all the flowers out this early are tiny and tucked in the warmth of dead grasses. These Early Blue Violets really bring a smile.
The trail flattens briefly where this huge Ponderosa Pine sits. It is dead and has been a while, but could stand for many more decades unless fire takes its toll. Ponderosa Pine can live to 500 years old, so this old fella has seen many a site since he would have begun life in the 1500’s. The day this tree falls I’m sure the earth will shake.
It is a little early for the Oregon Grape, but with its south-facing location we are lucky to see them. These yellow balls will open a bit more becoming globe-shaped flowers. They are also commonly known as Barberry and various Native American tribes use it extensively for medicinal and ceremonial purposes. Modern day herbalists consider it a valuable herb known for its medicinal properties. It is used as a stimulant and mild laxative as well as a remedy for anemia and general malnutrition. The blue-purple berries, developing later in the season, are made into jam, jelly, and wine.
We round the corner and get a northern view of Trout Lake with Mount Hornaday rising behind the lake. An excellent fishing spot, the 12-acre lake, with a surface elevation of 6,962 feet, was once called Fish Lake. In early years of the park, the lake was used by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service as a fishery for the production of trout. Later in the season trout spawn here and River Otters can often be seen feasting on the fish.
We’ll take the loop east to west, and there’s the bridge crossing the outlet.
Turning back after crossing, the bridge is narrow but very sturdy. Water leaves the south side of the lake, but there is so much clutter trying to wash down the steep hill to Soda Butte Creek, it is unlikely much will budge.
As we head around the west end of the lake, we zoom in on a pair of Barrow’s Goldeneye heading the same way we are going.
As we get to the far side of the lake–SURPRISE! A group of White-faced Ibis are foraging along the shore. Seeing them is a rare sighting in Yellowstone and they are only ever seen in the spring. These shore birds stand about two feet tall and in the bright sunshine they look iridescent maroon.
As a pair of hikers rounded the corner near them, the Ibis took off. Their wings are such an unusual and beautiful color.
As I panned the camera, suddenly there was another bird in the sky. An Osprey soaring over the lake, perhaps hoping to catch a fish for his spouse nesting along one of the many rivers and creeks in the area.
Rounding the corner near where the Ibis just were, we’ll cross the creek where later in the season we can stand and watch the spawning trout in the shallow water. We also have a choice. Continue straight to the beginning of the loop trail or left into the hills to search for Buck Lake. Let’s try for the lake. This is a new adventure for me too.
We follow the creek for a short distance. As the days are beginning to warm, the plants and flowers that grow in marshy areas are starting to sprout.
We will head up the trail into the hills to find Buck Lake. The views of the mountains along the way are wonderful. Then again, I am a mountain girl at heart and never, ever get tired of the magic of the mountains.
A very different view of Thunderer Peak from this mountain meadow.
There it is, Buck Lake. It is about half the size of Trout Lake and very few people visit here. There is a trail that goes around the lake, but the south side (right) trail tends to disappear and be marsh mushy so we will simple return the way we came. Wait a minute. See that white something in the foreground? Let’s explore.
That wasn’t exactly what I was expecting, but that’s nature. Looks like a young bison. The bones are not very long exposed to the elements unless frozen all winter under snow keeping them looking “fresh”. I’m not much of a forensic person, but I do know that after the predators are done with the meat (bears, wolves, coyotes, various raptors, small meat eaters), many other mammals will take the bones to gnaw and digest the good minerals, especially calcium. Nature is harsh and death is always near, but everyone has to eat and the death of one can benefit all sizes and shapes of creatures. It is the way in the wild. I don’t like pondering the whats and hows too long though, so let’s head back.
Back down by the creek leading to Trout Lake, we found a whole patch of Wild Strawberries. Good eating in another few weeks.
Back on the loop trail, we see lots of Mountain Forget-Me-Nots, huddled against steep banks with western sun keeping them warm and healthy so early in the season. Forget-Me-Nots are often considered a sign of faithfulness and enduring love. Legend has it that in medieval time, a knight and his lady were walking along a river. Stooping to pick flowers for his love, the weight of his armor tumbled him into the river. As the knight was dragged under, he threw the bouquet to his loved one and shouted “Forget me not”. As a result, these flowers have been connected to romance and tragic fate. However, this day they offer promise of warmer days to come.
Here we are at the end of the loop. As you can see it is now raining on us, just a gentle shower, and the sun is peeking through the clouds behind us but not a rainbow in sight today.
So here’s the trail back to the car, but one more look at Trout Lake.
We will have to return in a month or so to enjoy all the flowers and perhaps walk all around Buck Lake. Until our next walk . . .