Expect the Unexpected

A very happy Siskiyou fritillary on Heavenly Bluff.

Siskiyou fritillaries sure grow well on Heavenly Bluff.

With a week of dry weather and the snow quickly retreating to higher elevations, I wanted to head back to Heavenly Bluff to get another look at the beautiful Siskiyou fritillary (Fritillaria glauca) there. Last year when John Koenig and I went up there (see Siskiyou Fritillary in Lane County ), we were having an extremely dry May, and despite some snow on the road, the frits were past peak. I thought we might have better luck this year since, although things are still early, we’ve had regular rain all spring. So Sabine Dutoit, Nancy Bray, and I headed up toward Heavenly Bluff on May 12, just 2 days later than my trip with John last year. After all the obstacles on the road on that trip, I figured we’d better have a backup plan, so since we were going right by the Bearbones Mountain trailhead, we could go there if we couldn’t make it to Heavenly Bluff.

I was surprised at how good the road condition was for the first half of May—no snow, no logs, and not even a rock out of place. Then we discovered why when we passed a brushcutter along the road. I talked to someone at the ranger station later who said they had no one working up there, but there is a lot of private timber company land in the area, and there was some sign of thinning, so it could be they are getting ready for more logging. In any case, we were able to make it all the way to Heavenly Bluff. Why someone would clear that final deadend spur road, I don’t know. But I was very pleased to be able to drive right to where we could walk easily up through the woods to the opening. Pleased that is until we got out of the car and discovered the tire was flat. Perhaps it was the very short section of the spur road where there were a lot of small, sharp rocks, or perhaps the tire was already leaking as I’d had to inflate it last week when it looked a little low. Whatever the reason, changing a tire had not been on my agenda. I couldn’t face dealing with it immediately, and I was not about to miss out on my botanizing, having come all this way, so we headed up to the bluff.

It's important to be ready for anything. After changing the tire, we discussed what we might have done had we gotten stuck there and what else would be useful to bring along in case of an emergency: extra water, food, paper and matches or lighting a fire, paper and pen for signs, blankets. Some I had, but other things I am adding to necessities. While 99% of the time, everything goes fine, you don't want to make a bad situation worse by being unprepared for that one day when everything goes wrong.

It’s important to be ready for anything. After changing the tire, we discussed what we might have done had we gotten stuck there and what else would be useful to bring along in case of an emergency: extra water, food, paper and matches for lighting a fire, paper and pen for signs, blankets, and more. Some I had, but other things I am adding to my necessities. While 99% of the time everything goes fine, you don’t want to make a bad situation worse by being unprepared for that one day when everything goes wrong. Especially when you’ve dragged your friends along with you!

While we hadn’t passed any snow on the road like we had last year, the slope was much moister. The flower species were about the same, and most were just starting, but they looked a lot healthier. We saw Mahala mat (Ceanothus prostratus), blue-eyed Mary (Collinsia grandiflora), larkspur (Delphinium menziesii), rustyhair saxifrage (Micranthes rufidula), and Hall’s lomatium (Lomatium hallii). Some darling little spring phacelia (Phacelia verna) were just opening their first flowers. And happily, the Siskiyou fritillary was at peak bloom. In addition to many single flowers, there were ones with two, three, and even four flowers on a single stalk. This is such a robust population! I spent lots of time photographing them, of course. Finally we headed back to the car… and the tire. While I wasn’t looking forward to the upcoming task, I didn’t think I was too nervous. I had changed the tires on this vehicle before, although it had been around 8 years ago. Nancy read the directions, and Sabine gave moral support while I worked to get the spare off the bottom of the van. This is when some panic set in. I simply could not get the tire unhooked from the plastic “T” at the end of the cable that held the tire up. That’s when it hit me that we were up 12 miles of gravel road on a deadend spur that no one would be driving on anytime soon. And naturally, we had no cell service. My husband knew where I was, but he wouldn’t be looking for quite some time. But before I had time to really freak out, Nancy saved the day by getting the plastic thing unjammed. Thousands of miles of dusty gravel roads must have glued the two pieces together, and the manual instructions didn’t even say that it came apart, just “slip the retainer at the end of the cable through the center of the tire.” Phewsh! After that, it wasn’t hard to put the tire on, although I sure was dirty when it was over. We made it to Oakridge before Les Schwab closed, drove home with some new tires, and were no later than usual. I love the mountains, but I sure was relieved to be home.

Looking northwest from the open area below and west of the Bearbones summit, you can see Heavenly Bluff just 3 miles away, along with Bohemia Mountain and Fairview Peak, which at about 6000' have startingly little snow for this time of year.

Looking west northwest from the open area below and west of the Bearbones summit, you can see Heavenly Bluff just 3 miles away, along with Bohemia Mountain and Fairview Peak farther back, which at about 6000′ have startingly little snow for this time of year. Mahala mat is just coming into bloom in the foreground.

They say, if you fall off a horse, the best thing to do is to get back in the saddle. So yesterday (May 14), I headed back up the same roads, only this time I only went as far as Bearbones. I wanted to take advantage of the roads being cleared so early, and I thought I’d see if any of the frits were blooming there this year. The population of Siskiyou fritillaries at Bearbones is not nearly as healthy as at Heavenly Bluff, and there has been little sign of blooming over the 8 years since I first discovered them there. Unfortunately, there were still no flowers, but I did find a single mature plant with multiple leaves and a stalk. What happened to the flower, I don’t know, but it looked like the plant might have been chewed. On the positive side, I found patches of single-leaved baby plants where I had never noticed them before, west of the summit, so that makes three separate areas on the mountain where they grow.

The Pacific dogwoods (Cornus nuttallii) were gorgeous along the roads.

The Pacific dogwoods (Cornus nuttallii) were at peak bloom along the roads. You can see the tiny true flowers in the center of the showy bracts. They give off a lovely light fragrance.

Cliff paintbrush (Castilleja rupicola) grows on the north side of cliffs and rocky slopes here near the southern extent of its range.

Cliff paintbrush (Castilleja rupicola) grows on the north side of cliffs and rocky slopes here near the southern extent of its range.

Bearbones is over 500′ higher than Heavenly Bluff and has a larger area of open rocky habitat. While they share a number of species, Bearbones also has several snowmelt plants not found on Heavenly Bluff. I was too late for the small area of steer’s head (Dicentra uniflora)—only leaves remained, but my timing was perfect for a lovely show of glacier lilies (Erythronium grandiflorum) on the north side of the summit, and the cliff paintbrush (Castilleja rupicola) was also coming into bloom there and on the side ridge. Even the Mahala mat was just starting. Peeking out from among the solid mats of toothed leaves were the bright yellow faces of Shelton’s violet (Viola sheltonii). On the ridge, the amazing yearly show of death camas (Toxicoscordion venenosum) was just starting. There were lots of Sierra sanicle (Sanicula graveolens) and Hall’s lomatium in bloom. The latter is a favorite of bears.

As I headed down the side ridge, I noticed some dry bearscat and a few rocks that had been tossed over to get at the plants below. The upturned roots were dried up so this seemed to be from several days ago at least. I had noticed this sort of thing before on Bearbones (see Bears Gone Wild) and other rocky summits after an early spring seems to wake the bears out of their winter slumber. After photographing spring phacelia and more cliff paintbrush, I went to the spot where I had first seen Siskiyou fritillary. How very disappointing, there weren’t even that many leaves, and no plants of blooming age. I continued on to the edge of that level wondering if I should go any farther as the day was getting late, and I had seen everything I expected to see. I reached the spot where I would have to climb down a short way to get down to the next level. Suddenly I realized I was looking right at a bear—I certainly wasn’t expecting that! He (or she) was at the far end of the next level, 200–300 feet away, digging away so intently, he didn’t seem to notice my presence. I sort of hid behind a rock for about 10 minutes until he’d had enough of that spot and headed down farther. That certainly answered my question about whether to go any farther. Time to head home and leave wonderful Bearbones Mountain to the bear.

bear@BB051414217

A handsome bear goes about looking for a snack. You can see some upturned rocks in the lower right hand of the photo.

7 Responses to “Expect the Unexpected”

  • Great write! Thanks for sharing.

  • Great write! Thank for sharing.

  • Jake:

    From 2005 to 2012 I had 5 flats with the Dodge Caravan. Pulling off a forestry road into a parking spot I blame for at least 3 of those flats. Practice changing a tire is a must for backwoods explorer.

  • Jack Turner:

    Hello Tanya — and thanks for the current version of your adventures. I really stumbled over the name you provided for Death camas: Toxicoscordion venenosum, of which I’d never heard before. Is this the same plant named Zygadenus venenosus ? Is one name more current/recent than the other, or is there some other reason why the Death camas would have two entirely different Latin names ?

    In any case, I really enjoy reading your rich columns (but wish you would always provide driving directions to the locations you visit and write about.)

    Thanks, Tanya
    Jack Turner
    Mohawk

  • Hi Jack,

    Yes, alas, Zigadenus venenosus got a new name, Toxicoscordion venenosum. I try to put synonyms of newly renamed plants in, but I often forget. You can access all the current names of plants on the Oregon Flora Project’s Checklist at http://oregonflora.org/checklist.php, but don’t be surprised if some of them change again. Science is always in flux.

    I’ve tried to put directions to many of my favorite sites on my website, but there are so many things to do that putting the rest on is rather low down the long list these days. If there is ever one in particular you would like, just send me an e-mail.

  • Another great post! Thanks for giving so much detail, I just love it. How do you find all these amazing hikes? Many years of hiking I guess.

    Great stuff! Thank you,

    Dustin

  • Kermit Williams:

    Hi Tanya,
    Great posts. I, as a member of the High Desert chapter of the NPSO, am also interested in finding both the Siskiyou Fritillaria and the Longhorn Steer’s Head. Sounds like mid-May to early June. I will have to look up directions to Bearbones Mountain Rd 2127 and also go to Lookout Mountain, which I already know the directions to. Do you have any additional info I might need? Thanks,
    Kermit Williams, Bend

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