After last week’s trip to Warfield Bog and Hemlock Butte (see previous post), I was interested in checking out some more places in the area. While exploring on Google Earth, I noticed several apparent wetlands in the area near Lopez Lake, just a couple of miles northeast of Hemlock Butte. From the spotty appearance of the lake in the aerial image, it also seemed likely that Lopez Lake had aquatic plants—always a plus for me. All of the areas of interest could be reached off of Road 5884, out Hwy 58 east of Oakridge. I’d been up the first half of this road a couple of times before to hike to Devil’s Garden, an area with a small wetland and a lake at the base of a talus slope, but I’d never been all the way to the end.
It is always exciting to check out new places, especially when they turn out to be better than expected. Sabine joined me for this adventure yesterday (August 8). Thankfully, Road 5884 was fine for all 9 miles of gravel until we hit some washout just before it deadends at the base of a cliff and talus slope. We parked and walked out to the end, admiring the great show of lupines (Lupinus latifolius) and arrowleaf groundsel (Senecio triangularis) by the road and the fabulous though filtered view of cliffy Mount David Douglas, just across Hwy 58. The plant life was quite lush in the moist area below the cliff, and a thick stand of Sitka alders (Alnus viridis) prevented us from exploring the rocky area up close. With binoculars, we could see red patches of paintbrush and clumps dotted with pale yellow, which might have been silverback luina (Luina hypoleuca). With more time, we probably could have found a way to the cliff, but we were saving our energy for the wetlands. Confirming the rock plants will have to wait for another trip. Instead, we enjoyed seeing what was growing here close to the road. There were rusty saxifrages (Micranthes ferruginea) all along the edge. We also spotted some yellow-staining collomia (Collomia tinctoria), a plant that is found more often to the south and east. I still can’t figure out where the yellow stain comes from, but Sabine noticed that the glandular leaves gave off a pleasant, somewhat citrusy smell. I’d never noticed that before.
About 0.4 mile back from the end of the road, we parked again and then punched our way through a few hundred feet of forest into the hidden wetland I’d seen on Google Earth. This was a lovely place unlike most of the many wetlands I’ve been to. A major relief was that there was no outer ring of shrubs to bushwhack through. There were plenty of small willows (Salix commutata?) and blooming subalpine spiraea (Spiraea splendens) in patches throughout the open area, but no shrubs transitioning from the woods to the meadow and not an alder in sight. It was also surprisingly dry. I wore my rubber boots, not knowing what to expect, but didn’t really need them. Sabine was even able to nap comfortably on the ground next to willows and huckleberries. Oddly, this didn’t seem to be because it was so late in the season—there were a great many fresh elephant head (Pedicularis groenlandica), and a swath of bright pink mountain shooting star (Dodecatheon jeffreyi) decorated the southern (north-facing) edge. The elevation here (5300′) is the same as the upper wetland at Hemlock Butte, which was all but finished almost a week ago. Perhaps being just north of Diamond Peak, it might have received a lot more snow in this spot.
There were numerous small channels of water in the meadow and two little ponds. Both were very shallow and filled with aquatic plants. The larger of the two had blooming small bur-reed (Sparganium natans) and a primitive grasslike plant known as a quillwort (Isoetes tenella). Both of these uncommon aquatics grow at Waterdog Lake near Groundhog Mountain about 9 miles to the west. While we were seeing some of the early season plants, one reason to return sometime in July is to see the abundance of alpine laurel (Kalmia microphylla) in bloom. It was everywhere. Many wetlands I know have a patch of laurel somewhere in a cool spot. But there was nowhere in this wetland that you could be more than a few feet from some of this pretty evergreen shrub. It must be stunning while in bloom. Some of the laurel was in its usual spot on a hummock of sphagnum moss. It seemed like the perfect place for sundews (Drosera spp.), but we never saw any. We circled the wetland over to the south end. Somehow, I was just sure this cooler edge would have the laurel’s High Cascade relative, pink mountain heather (Phyllodoce empetriformis). It only took a few minutes to spot it at the edge of the woods. This species is abundant in the High Cascades but is only found in the Western Cascades at the edges of wetland fairly near the Cascade crest. Small patches like this occur at Quaking Aspen Swamp, the small upper lake at Groundhog Mountain, the east lake near Hills Peak, and at Hawk Mountain. This area seems to be at the edge where the High Cascades flowed over the far older Western Cascades. An aerial view shows gentle slopes of the High Cascades just to the east and south, and the steep ridges of the Western Cascades to the west and north.
We drove back down the road another half mile to the east and pulled into a small deadend spur road. People have clearly camped here, most likely during hunting season. From here it was a quarter mile and 200′ elevation loss to Lopez Lake. It was tough going down the hill because the lupines, groundsel, and other plants were again quite lush, and it was almost impossible to see the ground. One of my feet fell into a dry ditch up to my knee. But we made it safely down to the wetland south of the lake. Here there were lots of white bog orchids (Platanthera dilatata). Sabine had noticed that there wasn’t a single one at the other wetland. It is one of the most common wetland plants in the Western Cascades. Sometimes what is missing is as interesting as what is present. As we had seen at the other wetland, there were blooming primrose monkeyflowers (Mimulus primuloides) and fading elephanthead. This time I didn’t wear my rubber boots, and it was much wetter and trickier getting around. We finally made it over to where we could see the lake and what a wonderful surprise—it was covered with blooming arumleaf arrowhead (Sagittaria cuneata). Bruce Newhouse had spotted it here back in 2006, but I had completely forgotten that that is probably where I had heard about Lopez Lake to begin with. It is uncommon in the Cascades, but I have seen it in the Blair Lake area, at Bristow Prairie, and at Loletta Lakes and nearby Bradley Lake in the Calapooyas. Seeing it in bloom is always a thrill. There was also some pondweed (Potamogeton sp.), but it didn’t have any flowers or floating leaves yet. Another unexpected and amazing sight in the lake was the untold numbers of tadpoles around the warm edges of the lake. These had large dark bodies, bigger than I remember the toads at Waterdog Lake being, so maybe they are Cascades frogs rather than toads. It would be fun to come back in a few weeks and see how they are doing. Certainly there are lots of reasons to come back to see this beautiful lake. Hopefully I’ll be able to soon.