A Heavenly New Site in Lane County

The site as seen from Bearbones Mountain a few miles to the southeast. It is unnamed on the map, but I could hear Horse Heaven Creek running below to the north, so I’m calling it “Heavenly Bluff.”

Discovery really is what gets my blood pumping. I had a spectacular day yesterday (July 4), and it had nothing to do with fireworks. Several weeks ago when I was on Bearbones Mountain (see Beautiful Bloom at Bearbones), I had noticed an open rocky area between there and Bohemia Mountain. I planned to head to Bearbones yesterday to see the next wave of flowers but wanted to see if I could even find this intriguing spot first. It’s at the end of a small spur road 920 off of 2213 just south of Johnson Meadows. I wasn’t even sure the road would be passable. I was quite pleased to find it was, although it clearly wasn’t used much and was lined with a dreadful amount of the bright yellow but nasty invasive Lotus corniculatus. It looked to be a very short bushwhack through some woods to reach the opening, but it was even easier than I expected. Someone had made a trail and lined it with pink ribbons. Who did that, and what could they be doing out here? The North Umpqua Ranger District of the Umpqua National Forest is in charge of this area, and they don’t have any records of projects there, so I may never know. The trail led right out to the opening and down into some woods below, so they probably were not there to look at the fabulous floral display.

The far west end has a more or less north-facing cliff that increases in height until it is quite precipitous out at the end.

When I first popped out onto the small, fairly flat opening, I was worried it might drop off too steeply for much exploration, but while steep, I was able to explore much of it safely, and there was so much to see. Right off the bat I knew it was going to be great. While, at about 4300′, it was in the later part of its flowering season, there was still a great deal in bloom. Most conspicuous on the top was hot rock penstemon (Penstemon deustus) and leafy daisy (Erigeron foliosus). The exciting plant, though, was Mahala mat (Ceanothus prostratus), growing abundantly just as it does on Bearbones, a mere 3.5 miles away. This is now the fourth site in Lane County, and the other two are much smaller. Just as I had seen this spot from Bearbones, I had a great view of Bearbones from here. And clearly there was a lot of similar habitat. I set about looking for some of the other special plants from Bearbones to see if they were here as well. No luck with cliff paintbrush (Castilleja rupicola) although there was plenty of frosted paintbrush (C. pruinosa). I also could not find any of the tiny candelabrum monkeyflower (Mimulus pulsiferae) although its common buddies (M. breweri) and (Gayophytum humile) were in bloom.

A rare pure white form of Penstemon rupicola

I decided to head to the west end first. There’s an area of north-facing cliff, much like at the ridge on Bearbones. It was covered with flowers, including Penstemon rupicola, Sedum spathulifolium, Saxifraga bronchialis, and Erigeron cascadensis. Before I left at the end of the day, I took a quick look down below the shortest stretch of cliff by the woods, and there was still a beautiful display of larkspur (Delphinium menziesii) and a patch of Romanzoffia californica with nothing left but the hairy bulbils. The drop off is much more precipitous at the far end, so I made my way down the south-facing, gravelly slope. I was surprised by a large patch of pure white cliff penstemon (P. rupicola)! I’ve only seen that twice before, one (on Mt. June) that never blooms well, and the other out of reach on the steeps slopes of Loletta Peak. The gravelly slope was covered with large-flowered blue-eyed Mary (Collinsia grandiflora) and bluefield gilia (Gilia capitata), and every open spot was filled with tiny annuals. There were old larkspur capsules and Lomatium hallii in seed, so I imagine there was quite a display earlier in the season as well.

Sierra cliffbrake and Mahala mat grow happily on the lower part of the slope. Diamond Peak can be seen almost due east.

Sierra cliffbrake (Pellaea brachyptera) hardly looks like a fern. Bearbones Mountain can be seen just a few miles to the southeast.

As I headed back toward the east along the bottom of the slope, I was thrilled to see a large population of Sierra cliffbrake (Pellaea brachyptera), another uncommon plant from the south that occurs on Bearbones. But while the Bearbones population is only about 30 very small plants, this one had at least 40 plants, some maybe even two feet across. They were growing near a patch of small oaks that grew in sort of a triangle, extending up from the coniferous forest below. After counting the ferns and taking a GPS location (and finishing my lunch), I discovered there were at least as many on the other side of the oaks. This was a healthy population indeed. My guess is the ones at Bearbones are the progeny of these, not the other way around. Growing in with the ferns all along the base of the slope were the gorgeous purple-flowered skullcaps (Scutellaria antirrhinoides). These also grow at Bearbones though not in association with the cliffbrake. It was interesting to note how they were only growing along the base of the slope. Perhaps it is less well-drained there, or maybe more minerals wash down and the soil is richer farther down, or maybe it is something else they know about that I will never be wise enough to understand.

Snapdragon skullcap (Scutellaria antirrhinoides) is a beautiful member of the mint family (Lamiaceae).

I had planned to stop here, if possible, before going to Bearbones. I had neglected to take good closeup photos of the darling little spring phacelia (Phacelia verna) when I was there last month. But at this point, it was obvious there wouldn’t be any time to hike up Bearbones, and there was still so much more to explore here. Just as I let go of the idea of getting my Phacelia photos, there was one right in front of me, and it still had a few flowers! It took a while, but I did find a number of them still in flower. The cool, damp weather had allowed some of these annuals to grow quite large. Until the rain stops and they run out of water, they just seem to keep churning out more flowers. This was another good find, even though I rather expected it might grow here, as it is endemic to a small range of only Douglas and southern Lane counties. With only one exception (getting bitten by another tick—it is July already, when are they going to leave me alone!), it was really an unexpectedly great day. I can’t think of a better way to celebrate the birth of our nation than by spending the day in one its special botanical locations with some native American plants!

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