Yesterday (July 19), I returned to the Calapooyas to explore an interesting spot I discovered last fall. It’s an unnamed high point along the ridge just south of Loletta Lakes, so I’m going to dub it Loletta Peak. Much of it is steep, open gravel, and I had wondered for years what might be up there. Only last October, after the first dusting of snow had landed, did I finally manage to climb up there. I was thrilled to discover Castilleja rupicola on the north-facing cliffs (see More Castilleja rupicola in Douglas County). This is the most southern point I’d ever seen it. I was anxious to see it there in bloom as well as to see what other treasures the area might hold.
I parked as before at a makeshift campsite along Road 5851 right beside the wetlands on the east side of Loletta Lakes. A quick bushwhack through the woods and I was up on the gravel. This is where the going gets slow as the gravel is quite slippery. While much had already finished, there were lots of Eriogonum compositum and E. umbellatum in bloom and a great deal of Monardella odoratissima just beginning. These are all butterfly favorites, and there plenty of butterflies out and about, mainly swallowtails and checkerspots, but I did see several blues, parnassians, and at least one western white. The cliffs along the north edge were dotted with blooming patches of Saxifraga bronchialis and Penstemon rupicola—and lots of Castilleja rupicola. It was a little past peak but unmistakable with its delicate, narrow-lobed leaves. The taller Castilleja pruinosa was splashing a more orangey shade of red on the gravelly slope. There was a great deal of Phlox diffusa with drying petals, but on the west-facing, backside of this slope, it was still blooming quite well.
Walking was much easier on the backbone of the ridge. It was interesting to note the masses of going-over Eremogone (Arenaria) pumicola liked the ridge but not the slope. I followed the ridge south up through another short stretch of woods to another large rocky opening and the summit of “Loletta Peak”. The eastern slope is gouged out dramatically and drops several hundred feet down. There were lots of beautiful Penstemon rupicola blooming in the crumbly gravel, not where I normally see it. I even spotted one clear white-flowered plant. I didn’t dare do more than look along the edges and scan the slope with my binoculars. One slip and there would be nothing to stop a precipitous slide.
From the edges, I did see Newberry’s knotweed (Aconogonum davisae, formerly Polygonum newberryi), not particularly common in the Western Cascades, but it wasn’t so surprising considering the elevation here was about 5800′—the top is 5910′. There were also many small Crepis pleurocarpa in bloom and some clumps of leaves that were similar but nowhere near as deeply cleft nor as gray-green. Perhaps these were Crepis occidentalis, a species I’m not familiar with. The view is terrific. You can see Mount Thielsen and the ridges of the North Umpqua to the south and the Three Sisters to the northeast. Nearby, many interesting rocky areas and wetlands beckon further exploration of the Calapooyas.
From the top, the ridge continues down to the south, and there is also a small slope to the west. On this, I discovered an unusual plant I’ve never seen before. It had whorls of 4 leaves and a square stem. This would seem to point to a bedstraw (Galium spp.), generally rather uninteresting species in the Western Cascades. But these leaves were blue-green from soft pubescence, like no Galium I’ve ever seen. The stems were coming out of a slightly woody base, so it is definitely a perennial. The only thing I could find in the floras that fits at all is a species called Galium californicum, which, according to the OFP Atlas, has only been seen in one site in Oregon. It seems highly unlikely that this could be that species, and keying it out without any flowers or seeds is not very reliable. If anyone has any other ideas, I’d love to hear them. It certainly makes me want to return a little later when the plant is farther along. I was also surprised to find a few plants of Linum perenne. This is not particularly common, but where it grows it is often abundant. At this high elevation, it was not surprising to find Eriogonum marifolium. Another yellow-flowered species, it is easy to confuse with E. umbellatum, but it has smaller umbels with smaller involucral bracts and, in the Western Cascades, is usually found only at the upper elevations.
Down the ridge to the south, I found two more mystery plants. Along with lots of the common Boechera (Arabis) holboellii and a little Boechera howellii (Arabis platysperma var. howellii), there was a very odd rockcress with larger, glaucous leaves and fewer downward-facing siliques than B. holboellii. I decided not to even tackle that one. Another unfamiliar plant had very narrow leaves alternating around the stem. It had only the tiniest buds. Something about it started a mental search in the back of my mind, and before I made it home, it occurred to me it might be Stephanomeria lactucina, a pink-flowered, chicory-like composite I’d only seen a couple of times—once in the High Cascades and once on the east side. A quick look at some photographs showed a perfect match. I still want to return and see it bloom, however. And perhaps later, there will be even more surprises!