Rock-hopping at Table Rock Wilderness

Anyone who has read my blog reports probably can tell that cliffs are my favorite habitat. There’s just something awe inspiring about seemingly delicate flowers clinging to life high up on sheer rock. How do they even get there? There must be a lot of luck involved getting a seed into a tiny crevice on the side of a cliff where the roots can take hold. The contrast between the ephemeral flowers and age-old rock also appeals to the artist in me.

Fool's huckleberry (Menziesia ferruginea) growing on the giant talus slope

The cliffs at Table Rock have to be some of the most amazing in the Western Cascades. Over 300′ high in places, they stretch for almost 500 yards on the northeast-facing side, above the trail, and almost as much facing east—an area that looks too scary to explore. They have also created massive talus slopes. The trail crosses the talus, which in places continues over 200′ both above and below. This much rock creates what must be the equivalent to a major metropolitan area for pikas.

A clodius parnassian enjoys a sip of Cascade penstemon (P. serrulatus) along the old road.

On Thursday (July 22), I spent a long day at Table Rock, hoping to see pikas as well as cliff-dwelling plants and other botanical beauties. I love this trail except for the long stretch of abandoned road that now has to be walked to reach the original trailhead. It makes the hike much longer and means I never have enough time at the cliffs to see everything I want or just hang out and wait for pikas to appear. There are a lot of weeds along the road, but the saving grace is some really stunning purple stretches of Penstemon serrulatus that were in great form this week. Both Castilleja hispida and C. miniata also contribute a lot of color. The rare endemic Clackamas iris (I. tenuis) grows on the road banks, but it had finished blooming. There are a number of wet ditches and small rivulets that cut across the road and are good habitat for moisture-loving plants like the large form of Mimulus guttatus. On the way back, I noticed both Stellaria crispa and the smaller and flatter S. obtusa, plants of little interest to most people but ones I’ve been keeping track of for a while (see Stellaria obtusa at Horsepasture for more about these two.).

After climbing through the pleasant forest, passing beautiful patches of bunchberry, Clintonia uniflora, and Anemone deltoidea, I finally reached the cliffs. I could hear pikas sounding off, and suddenly something ran across the talus, looked up at me, and disappeared. Expecting a pika, I was quite surprised when I realized it was long and skinny with a tail—a weasel! I’d read a number of times that they are a predator of pikas. Few other animals can slip under the rocks where the pikas live. No wonder the pikas were giving off warning calls. I spent a while climbing up the talus to get to the cliff base where lots of columbines, arnica, and other flowers were blooming, and when I eventually got back to the trail, I spotted the weasel again for a fraction of a second. Poor pikas, danger on the loose. No pikas would be showing their adorable faces while he was around.

A close up of the exquisite flowers of Enemion hallii

One of the rarest plants at Table Rock is Willamette false rue-anemone (Enemion [Isopyrum] hallii). It is endemic to northwestern Oregon and southwestern Washington. I had seen it under the Devil’s club that grows along the trail as it crosses the far end of the talus. I had thought there was only a small patch of it, but here it was in perfect bloom continuing on for many yards mostly hidden under the shrubs on the lower side of the trail. In addition to being partly hidden, it can be hard to spot its little white flowers at first because its dissected leaves resemble those of bleeding heart, also growing here, and its fuzzy flowers look similar to those of false bugbane (Trautvetteria caroliniensis), also blooming in the same area. False bugbane’s flowers are larger and are wholly made up of stamens, while those of Enemion have five petals below the explosion of stamens. While photographing the Enemion, I heard a whir at my back and turned my head over my shoulder to see a hummingbird drinking from a columbine, so close I could touch it!

an unusual pink form of thimbleberry

Most people head straight to the summit to see the view. I had to tear myself away from the cliffs and talus, but I knew there’d be something I’d miss if I skipped the top. The long wind around to get to the top was beautiful however. It was about peak season for the masses of Rhododendron macrophyllum, and this is one of the best places I know to see one of our showiest shrubs. Another shrub caught my eye as well. Thimbleberry (Rubus parviflorus) is also abundant along the trail and was in full bloom, but one section on the west side of the rock had pink flowers that were fringed along the edge. With such large showy flowers (Who named it parviflorus—small-flowered?), it would make a lovely garden plant if it didn’t form extensive colonies that could swallow an entire garden. There are also some rocky openings where beargrass, Penstemon cardwellii, and some lingering Lomatium martindalei were blooming.

curved-beak lousewort (Pedicularis contorta) with Mount Jefferson in the distance

At the summit, a few Cascade lilies (Lilium washingtonianum) were opening. It was almost worth the climb to catch of whiff of their heavenly scent. Pedicularis contorta was also beginning. This is one of the best places I know to see this, an uncommon plant found only in a handful of places in the Cascades and Blue Mountains. Several other plants I saw only at the summit or on the way up including Comandra umbellata, both Antennaria rosea and A. racemosa, and Lomatium martindalei. On the way back, I took one last look at the plants growing right on the cliff face. I managed to find some Saxifraga cespitosa and Douglasia laevigata, but both had finished. Penstemon rupicola, Saxifraga bronchialis, and a few Phlox diffusa still had some color, and I found one lovely bronze bells (Anticlea [Stenanthium] occidentalis) in bloom. The real show would be coming later when the deep blue masses of gentians bloom in August. It is worth the long drive just to see their stunning display.

One Response to “Rock-hopping at Table Rock Wilderness”

  • jane:

    My Friend forwarded your Post Rock-hopping at Table Rock Wilderness on Tuesday.Your post was Well written.Pl. keep posting on arnica flowers.

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