First Outing of the New Year

“Gateway Rock” at the top. Large patches of low-growing buckbrush are found to the right of “Uncle Pete” tree.

The first buds appearing on gold star (Crocidium multicaule)

In spite of the dry winter we’ve been having, I haven’t gotten out much. I’ve been focusing on getting back to doing artwork rather than on botany the last few months, so this is my first post for quite a while. But today was another sunny day—although rather chilly—so Sabine, Ingrid and her darling poodle Bogy, and I headed over to the Hills Creek Reservoir area, one of our favorites any time of year. As always, we stopped along the cliffs that line the west side of the reservoir. This is one of the earliest spots to find blooming Crocidium multicaule. We’ve seen an amazing show of it here the last couple of years as a result of the wet springs (see Hills Creek Reservoir,  take 2). While we didn’t really expect to find any blooming on the second week of January, we did manage to see some small plants of these little annuals. Those growing right by the pavement seemed to be farther along and even had a few buds. Their lovely yellow flowers may well start to show up here in February.

Yesterday, I had been looking at a specimen I had collected at Jim’s Oak Patch on a trip to the area last spring. I had trouble finding the location on the map at first, so, since we were close by, we drove up the road to see if it was where I thought it was. There was evidence of recent logging at this restoration site. We could hear the loud chain saw noises across the river at Jim’s Creek, another nearby area being enhanced for oak habitat. The Forest Service had warned us that they were logging there, causing us to nix our plan to hike some of the Youngs Rock Trail. We walked around here a bit, but we wanted to be in a more open area where we could be in the sun, so Sabine had the great idea to see if we could find the ridge immediately to the east of Youngs Rock, an area we named “Gateway Rock Ridge” when we first explored it in 2005. We hadn’t been to the bottom of the ridge since then, and I didn’t have the best maps for the area with us, but somehow we made our way through a maze of back roads to the bottom of the open ridge.

Berberis aquifolium

Gorgeous winter color of Oregon grape (Berberis aquifolium)

The sun was really pleasant, and some of the chill had lifted from the air. It was already well after lunch, so we didn’t have much time to explore. We went up only to where we could get close enough to Gateway Rock for me to get a photo. That’s a mere third of a mile from the road, but the 600′ of elevation and abundance of small loose rocks made it more of a workout  than it might seem. We could see a number of plants that would provide colorful blossoms later in the spring. Lomatium utriculatum with its delicate, dissected leaves was abundant throughout the meadow, while the more robust Lomatium hallii appeared in the rockier spots. Gilia capitata seedlings and tiny Lotus micranthus were also evident. Large mats of Eriogonum compositum showed no signs of life yet. Two uncommon shrubs that grow here are rabbitbrush (Ericameria nauseosa) and buckbrush (Ceanothus cuneatus). While the former—a seriously late bloomer—was completely dormant, the latter looked very healthy with many small green leaves and no sign of browsing. It should have a great bloom this spring.

Sabine, Bogy, and Ingrid make the steep descent down the slope.

We sat for a while below Gateway Rock to enjoy the sun and pleasant breeze. There is a great view of Diamond Peak to the east. Unfortunately, that was the only mountain with any significant snow. The ridges of the Calapooyas to the south had only a smattering of snow above 5000′. There was so much more snow in these mountains in June—what’s wrong with this picture? Hopefully, we’ll get some snow before too long—we really need it— but not, like last year, late in the spring when we want to be out botanizing! Ponderosa pines grow abundantly throughout this area, and there is one tree growing alone in the opening just below the rock feature. As I walked by it on my way back down, I noticed someone had bolted an old saw blade to the trunk. On it was written: Uncle Pete 2004. Whether the name referred to the tree or the person who put up the odd sign, we will probably never know, but I’m sure there’s an interesting story there.

One Response to “First Outing of the New Year”

  • Kris:

    There sure is some pretty country around there, and I’m glad that you all got to enjoy it and the nice weather. I wouldn’t be surprised if there’s snow on those mountains now.

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