Beautiful Seeps at Youngs Rock

Yesterday (June 10), my husband, Jim, and I took some friends to Youngs Rock. It’s the kind of trail where you can botanize, hike for exercise, or enjoy the scenery of the awesome rocks. Our friends, David, Bob, Carolyn, and Hank (one of the sweetest dogs you’ll ever meet), had never been there, so it seemed the perfect place for everyone—there were even lots of great ponderosa pine branches for Hank to carry around! It’s a rare treat to have my husband hike with me because he prefers a real hike to my flower-by-flower explorations. We were also very lucky that we had plenty of sun while it was apparently cool and overcast all day at home. The southeastern corner of the county is usually warmer and less foggy than the Valley.

Looking east across the large, rocky and seepy slope just east of Youngs Rock

Climbing up onto Youngs Rock is not for the timid. The talus is extremely slippery here. Thankfully, both guys survived their attempt without incident.

Because I was with non-botany folks, I knew I couldn’t dawdle around in each meadow if I wanted to be at all social, even though it was already arranged for everyone else to go on ahead if I fell behind photographing wildflowers. It was just as well that the bloom season was just starting, and there wasn’t much begging me to stop. There were lots of flowering Lomatium utriculatum, a number of annual clovers, some Cryptantha intermedia and blue-eyed Mary species getting started, and lots of fairy slippers and Anemone lyallii in the woods. There is promise of a spectacular bloom of tarweed (Madia elegans) if we don’t get a sudden heatwave to dry things out (hard to imagine that after the cold spring we’ve been having!), and plenty more will be flowering in a couple of weeks. This atypically quick pace for me meant that, after lunching along the ridge, when we reached the fantastic pillar of Youngs Rock, it was only 1pm. Usually I’ve run out of time and energy by the time I get this far, and, after botanizing around the rock, much of it with binoculars, I turn around and head home. This time I was finally able to do some exploring just east of the rock—an area that’s been on my to do list for years.

Thompson's mistmaiden (Romanzoffia thompsonii) grows in large sweeps, following the water down the slope.

While Jim and David climbed up the rock, and Bob, Carolyn, and Hank sunbathed above the large meadow with the beautiful view, I scrambled the 100 feet or so down through the woods to the edge of the large rocky meadow on the south-facing slope between the Youngs Rock ridge and the one farther east that Sabine and I have dubbed Gateway Rock Ridge. In just a few minutes, I was out on a rock covered with Mimulus guttatus where water dripped over the side. I saw some small spots of white sparkling among the yellow—could it be Romanzoffia thompsonii? I hadn’t found it on this trail before. I couldn’t get there from where I was, so I climbed up and over and down the other side. Indeed, not only was there Romanzoffia there, but now I could see much more of the open area. This slope obviously funnels the water from higher up the mountain, and there were numerous seeps dripping down and forming a small creek below, all part of the headwaters of Deadhorse Creek. There was Romanzoffia everywhere and in perfect bloom. How lucky! It may have been too early for most of the plants on the ridge, but it was peak season for this pretty annual. I’ve seen it on four out of my last five trips. While it is only found in the Western Cascades of Oregon (see OFP Atlas map), it certainly does seem to be happy enough in its preferred habitat. It never fails to amaze me how many wonderful and uncommon plants turn up in this area.

Merriam's alumroot (Heuchera merriamii) happily growing underneath a very large overhanging rock

I had a little over an hour to study the area and try to figure out the best way to navigate the steep slopes and rocky dropoffs while Jim and David tackled the even more difficult lower parts of the pillar. Jim and I had walky-talkies so we could keep in touch while we were out of sight. I could hear them talking, but even this close, it is hard to understand someone yelling. I’m glad he remembered to bring them, so I knew I didn’t have to leave this wonderful area until he called me. Unlike the dry ridge we’d hiked up, this area was lush green and mossy. The animals obviously hang out here, and I followed their tracks around as much as possible. The most amazing spot I came across was a large overhanging rock. It was tall enough that I was able to stand underneath it, and it went back about 7 feet. There, on the almost horizontal ceiling, were hundreds of clumps of Heuchera merriamii! I knew it was in the area; there is quite a bit on Youngs Rock itself. And I knew it liked overhanging rock, but this was really taking it to an extreme. There were lots of old flower stalks, so it clearly blooms fine growing upside-down in this cave-like spot. The only other plant growing with it was fragile fern (Cystopteris fragilis). I’m definitely going to try to return to explore more of this area and to see what this rock looks like when it is in full bloom—underneath!

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