Moon Point Melting Out

Snowmelt species like glacier lily (Erythronium grandiflorum) and western spring beauty (Claytonia lanceolata) bloom quickly before the other, taller plants emerge.

This week, I went to both Youngs Rock and Moon Point (July 4 & 6). Despite the fact these two trails are so close they actually intersect, they couldn’t have been more different. Youngs Rock is on a south-facing rocky side ridge, and many of the meadows were already drying out. The cat’s ears (Calochortus tolmiei) were outstanding, but the masses of showy tarweed (Madia elegans) were mostly closed for the day, although some were starting to reopen as I headed back to the car. Moon Point, on the other hand, is more or less flat, lying on top of the ridge above Youngs Rock. There is plenty of moisture, still snow on the trail in places, and much of the area is just starting to bloom. I love this flowering time when everything is fresh and full of promise.

One of Gerry's main goals of the day was to photograph the rare green-flowered wild ginger (Asarum wagneri), which grows in abundance in the meadows of Moon Point.

This pool usually dries out quickly. Plants that like the special habitat of dried vernal pools can be found here later in the year.

I was joined on this trip by Gerry Carr, an expert botanist and photographer. He contributes many of his great photographs to the Oregon Flora Project Gallery and other websites and also has a site of his own, the Oregon Flora Image Project, where he hopes to eventually post photographs of every plant species in Oregon! I had heard from some bikers on the Youngs Rock trail that Moon Point was open, so I didn’t get too nervous when we hit snow on the road just before the trailhead. But looking farther up the road, there was quite a bit of snow. I doubt we could have gotten up there much sooner. Upon opening the car doors, we were immediately greeted by a swarm of mosquitoes. They’ve never bothered me up here before, but this year’s late snowpack is ideal for them, and they were horrible at Youngs Rock as well. Thankfully I finally remembered to pack bug spray, something I rarely use in the Western Cascades.

This past winter’s deep snow had an effect on the area in several other ways. Quite a bit of the first part of the trail is now a rushing creek. Small creeks that come down the slope and cross the trail are carrying vast amounts of meltwater now and are spilling much of it into the trail where I’ve never seen it before. On our way back, after going all the way down the trail to the rocky viewpoint, we cut down through the northernmost large meadow and around to Moon Lake. We passed by the “small vernal pool” I’ve checked out many times—it looked like a small lake! I’ve only once before even seen it with water in it. Looking down into the clear water, we could see the source of the annoying whining in our ears—millions of mosquito larvae. I’m guessing in drier years, the water here doesn’t last long enough for them to mature, as I’ve been here early on and never before had a problem like this with the little bloodsuckers. Oddly, this was one of the few places we had a respite from being annoyed by the mosquitoes.

Moon Lake is surrounded by a wetland that is especially pretty when it is surrounded by multitudes of Jeffrey's shooting star (Dodecatheon jeffreyi).

The real lake was also bigger than I’ve ever seen it and surrounded by a sea of pink Jeffrey’s shooting star and some fading marsh marigold (Caltha leptosepala). With binoculars, I could see that a slightly warmer shade of pink was evidence of blooming alpine laurel (Kalmia microphylla). Late in the summer, it is possible to walk out to this area, but it was far to wet too explore at the moment.

We spent some time looking at alders there that I believe are mountain alder (Alnus incana). They have a number of differences from the more common Sitka alder (A. viridis ssp. sinuata) that forms so many of the thickets along the trail. They have duller leaves and don’t have the wonderful fragrance the shinier and stickier Sitka leaves have. The female flower clusters are thicker and also have shorter peduncles, and, in my experience, the shrubs seem to me to be much less floriferous. They seem to like relatively boggy areas, while Sitka alder is found in a variety of habitats, often on steep avalanche slopes. Hopefully Gerry will be able to confirm my ID.

This lovely moth was kind enough to fly onto the Claytonia lanceolata while I was photographing it.

Moon Point is a wonderful, easy hike, and there are many beautiful and rare flowers to see. If you go, be sure to check out Moon Lake. I use to get lost trying to find the lake, which is not visible from the trail or the meadow below it. Now, it should be much easier to find. Since my last trip here in 2008, there are blue diamonds clearly posted to mark a cross country ski route. Follow them down the main trail for 1/3 mile until just past the large thicket of Sitka alders on the right. Here they point to the right, taking you downhill, through a short stretch of woods, into a large meadow. While the markers head to the left, past the vernal pool area, to get to Moon Lake, continue straight across this meadow (pretty much due west), poke through a few trees, and there it is—only about 300 yards from where you left the trail. I’ll try to get a description page posted for Moon Point fairly soon.

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