Another Exciting Day in the Calapooyas: The Sequel

Sliver Rock

Sliver Rock is awesome pillar rock that protrudes from the slope below Road 3810 in the Boulder Creek Wilderness. There seems to be a lot of confusion about the name. The USGS quad map shows it as “Sliver Rock,” but their website lists it as “Silver Rock”. The Forest Service District maps that cover the area are also divided about the name. I’m going to keep calling it Sliver Rock because it really is like a thin sliver, and there’s nothing silvery about it. John and I contemplated how and whether we might be able to reach the rock. It looks challenging but too enticing not to give it a try…some day.

John Koenig and I had such a great day last week (see Another Exciting Day in the Calapooyas) that we wanted to pick up where we left off, so, on Thursday, June 4, we headed back up Coal Creek Road 2133 to our usual parking spot east of Loletta Lakes. We hadn’t gotten this far last week until 6pm, so we wanted to spend more time here and see the area in the sun. When we arrived, the area was under a cloud that obscured the ridge just above us. John was confident it would burn off, and indeed, within just a few minutes, we were under blue skies. The rest of the day was gorgeous, sunny, and pleasantly cool.

Tiny threeleaf lewisia (Lewisia triphylla) blooms in the morning, closing up later in the day.

Tiny threeleaf lewisia (Lewisia triphylla) blooms in the morning, closing up later in the day.

The tiny flowers of three-toothed mitrewort (Mitella trifida) are easy to miss in their forest habitat, but they deserve a closer look.

The tiny flowers of three-toothed mitrewort (Mitella trifida) are easy to miss in their forest habitat, but they deserve a closer look.

In the wetland just a few steps away from the truck, the glacier lilies (Erythronium grandiflorum) that were still in good bloom last week were completely done. On the previous trip, we had noticed that, unlike the flowers I had seen at lower elevations earlier in the season, these had been the normal, relatively tall and reflexed type. This is what I’d expected since I had seen some snow along the 6000′ crest of the Calapooyas from across the valley last month. We also checked out the spots where there were lots of threeleaf lewisia (Lewisia triphylla), and, also as expected at this early hour of the day, they were indeed open. Overall most of the plants weren’t much advanced from the week before, and it looked like they had gotten a decent amount of rain. One plant we hadn’t seen last week was the green bog orchid, Platanthera stricta, just budding up. There were also a few more elephant heads (Pedicularis groenlandica) in bloom. There should be plenty more flowers to see in the next few weeks, when I’m planning to bring a group of people up here for our annual Rock Garden Society camping trip.

We also went back to the gravel slope we discovered along the east edge of the plateau. We really wanted to take a better look at the buttercup-leaved suksdorfia we had discovered at the very end of the day last week. It was still blooming well, but most of the plants were already in the shade at noon. Like most saxifrage family members, they don’t like being out in the sun too long. After spending lots of time looking at all the other pretty species in the area, we decided not to try going down the steep slope to try to reach the other gravelly slopes to the north.

John photographing sundews in the wetland east of Loletta Lakes.

John photographing sundews in the wetland east of Loletta Lakes. Note the odd rocky spot in the middle of the wetland.

Instead, we drove a couple of miles farther up the road to the main intersection on the ridge and made the hard left onto Road 3810 that leads to the south end of Balm Mountain. Back in  2008, John had driven Sabine Dutoit and me partway down this road to get to Dome Rock when the better route up Staley Creek Road was blocked. The one road that connects this end of the crest from the other side that passes Potter Mountain is in really bad shape. My only other trip to this road, I parked at the bottom and walked up the wavy road. No way I’d take my vehicle up there! Before you pass that road, however, there is a pretty meadow and wetland where we had made a short stop on that trip to see what was blooming near the road. This time, we took a thorough look at the meadow, which was much larger than we realized as it slopes down quite a ways, mostly out of view of the road. We ended up spending several hours here, noting how different it was from the wetland we spent the morning in. That one is more or less level and has a cozy feel to it. It is very patchy, almost split up into separate rooms by sections of trees. This one is wide open with a grand view across the North Umpqua to the south.

Looking across the wet meadow along Road 3810, we got a great view of the mountains on the south side of the North Umpqua. The largest is Twin Lakes Mountain. Behind it to the right, you can just make out the light-colored rocks of Quartz Mountain.

Looking across the wet meadow along Road 3810, we got a great view of the mountains on the south side of the North Umpqua. The largest on the left is Twin Lakes Mountain. Behind it to the right, you can just make out the light-colored rocks of Quartz Mountain. You can also see the slightly taller aspens poking out from the willow thicket, but we hadn’t noticed them from the road.

The female catkins of Sierra willow (Salix eastwoodiae) have silky hairs on the ovaries. Their leaves will enlarge quite a bit after blooming.

The female catkins of Sierra willow (Salix eastwoodiae) have silky hairs on the ovaries. Their leaves will enlarge quite a bit after blooming.

There are several different sections of willows, which happily were still in bloom, as both John and I are really interested in willows. The one just below the small pond was entirely Sierra willow (Salix eastwoodiae) with females all appearing to be on the uphill end and males near the bottom. After discovering how wet it was below the thicket we returned to the truck to put on our rubber boots and went back to follow the small creek eminating from the thicket all the way down the meadow until it disappeared into the woods. While we saw many of the same common plants as in the wetland near Loletta Lakes, we were very pleased to find numerous clumps of grass-of-Parnassus (most likely Parnassia cirrata) under the other taller plants and lining the banks of the creek. Many shiny pinnate leaves were also following the water course. I was fairly sure that they were those of  western oxypolis (Oxypolis occidentalis), an uncommon member of the carrot family, Apiaceae, but I wasn’t sure until I later checked photos when I got home. Neither of these will bloom until later in the summer, and I definitely want to return to see them here. We also found an odd willow that looked similar to Geyer’s willow (Salix geyeriana), but the flowers were too long. Could it be the elusive Salix lemmonii I’m always looking for?

The spiny caterpillar of a Hoffman's or northern checkerspot munching on Cascade aster (Eucephalus ledophyllus). Since it was cool enough to keep my sweatshirt on all day, I didn't remember that I was wearing the t-shirt I had designed for the local butterfly group of Hoffman's checkerspot butterflies and a caterpillar on the aster. Some coincidence!

The spiny caterpillar of a Hoffman’s or northern checkerspot munching on Cascade aster (Eucephalus ledophyllus). Since it was cool enough to keep my sweatshirt on all day, I didn’t remember that I was wearing the t-shirt I had designed for the local butterfly group of Hoffman’s checkerspot butterflies and a caterpillar on the aster. Some coincidence!

Another thicket of willows near the bottom of the meadow had partly hairy ovaries, so perhaps they were Salix eastwoodiae that had hybridized with something else. Willows often refuse to allow themselves to be categorized, really liking to do their own thing. Under these willows was a large population of the very large-leaved Howell’s clover (Trifolium howellii). Another legume, streambank birdfoot trefoil (Hosackia oblongifolia recently changed from Lotus oblongifolius), was spread throughout the wetland. Neither of these were in bloom yet, giving me even more reasons for a return visit.

As we turned around to head back up the hill and explore the west side of the meadow, we passed some very large conifers, including hybrid firs (Abies concolor x grandis and Abies magnifica x procera) and incense cedars (Calocedrus decurrens). John asked me if incense cedars were unusual up here to which I replied they are actually rather weedy and commonly invade meadows. And there in front of us was the perfect example—dozens of sapling incense cedars marching up into the meadow. They even appeared in an unexpected rocky opening we hadn’t seen from the road and in the other willow thicket that oddly grew right up to the rocky spot. I do hope they don’t take over the meadow. This whole area is just north of the Boulder Creek Wilderness, which has burned several times in recent years. Perhaps a forest fire would actually benefit this meadow.

Young incense cedars (Calocedrus decurrens) invading the base of the meadow.

Young incense cedars (Calocedrus decurrens) invading the base of the meadow.

The rock area was filled with budding up sulphur buckwheat (Eriogonum umbellatum) and we had missed a show of glacier lilies now going to seed. Earlier we had been discussing what we should keep our eyes open for. This area was similar to some of the meadows we’d been to not so far away south of Bristow Prairie. That reminded me of the aspen grove John had spotted in that area in what we coined Bunting Meadow after all the lazuli buntings we saw there. But I was still surprised when I realized there were lots of small quaking aspens (Populus tremuloides) growing among the Geyer’s willows that made up most of this thicket. Some of the aspens looked quite unhealthy, perhaps the odd winter had allowed some pathogen to attack them. Hopefully they’ll survive, as aspens aren’t common on the west side of the Cascades and have always been a favorite of mine since I saw them every summer as a child at camp in Vermont. We also saw a gorgeous lazuli bunting shortly thereafter. Perhaps they can be found in many of the meadows in the Calapooyas. I should look up from the plants more often!

Field pussytoes (Antennaria howellii ssp. neodioica) has silvery leaves like rosy pussytoes, but they are much larger. Its flowers more closely resemble our other common pussytoes, Antennaria racemosa, but the upper leaves of that species are lime green.

Field pussytoes (Antennaria howellii ssp. neodioica) has silvery leaves like rosy pussytoes, but they are much larger. Its flowers more closely resemble our other common pussytoes, Antennaria racemosa, but the upper leaves of that species are lime green.

Since John had never been to the dead end of the road a few miles farther, and I had only been that far once (see First Exploration of Balm Mountain), we got back in the truck and headed on down the road, passing the lovely orange-flowered Crater Lake currant (Ribes erythrocarpum) that I remembered being frequent along the roadside here. Thankfully, the road was passable, and we were able to reach the impressive rocky area below the south end of Balm Mountain. The slopes above the road were covered with blue drifts of large-flowered blue-eyed Mary (Collinsia grandiflora). A little balsamroot (Balsamorhiza deltoidea) bloomed right beside the road. What really caught my eye was a silvery-leaved plant with white flowers. I made John stop the vehicle so I could get out and take a photo. I’m pretty sure it was field pussytoes (Antennaria howellii ssp. neodioica), a species I’d only seen in one other site in the Western Cascades—another one of those end-of-the-day discoveries that seems to have been happening a lot this year! At first, it seemed that there were only a few patches, but just a little farther, and they were suddenly everywhere along the road and up on the slopes. Funny how uncommon species can be abundant once they find the right spot. I could have spent a whole day exploring this area, but we were running out of daylight, so I may well have to return soon to do just that.

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