More Exploring on Road 5884

Mt. David Douglas and Fuji Mountain to the north

From part way up on the slope, there’s a good view to the north of Mt. David Douglas on the left and the gentle south side of Fuji Mountain on the right.

A small bee visiting swamp currant

A small bee visiting the equally small flowers of swamp currant (Ribes lacustre).

Last year, John Koenig, Sabine Dutoit, and I spent a great day at Lopez Lake and other interesting spots near the end of Road 5884 (see Glorious Day Near Lopez Lake), east of southeast of Oakridge. I went a short ways up the talus slope at the terminus of the road, but that only whetted my appetite to get close enough to the cliffs at the top and left sides of the slope to see what grew on them. So that was my main goal last Sunday, June 7.

It was a very warm day, so I headed to the cliff first. Rather than plowing through the large alder thicket and walking up the large boulders in the middle like I did last year, I decided to follow a small creek at the left edge, hoping to get to the north-facing cliffs along the side. No doubt this area was an old quarry, and it left a sharp cliff below the forest on that side of the slope and some flatter areas on the way up. This turned out to be a very good way to get started, as I avoided the majority of the alders. I also saw some beautiful, perfectly blooming stink currant (Ribes bracteosum) and other wetland plants. There was obviously quite a bit of moisture coming down from above, and one of the interesting things about the area was how many plants there were on this rocky slope that one would expect to see in a wetland or a forest. Many clumps of tall bluebells (Mertensia paniculata) were in bloom almost all the way up the 300′ slope. The moisture-loving swamp gooseberry (Ribes lacustre) also grew among the rocks as well as at the edges of the wetlands I visited later in the day. On the somewhat more level section about halfway up, there was a gorgeous display of false Solomon’s seal (Maianthemum racemosum) and another “woodland” plant, red baneberry (Actaea rubra). This also seemed like a strange place to see so much Fendler’s waterleaf (Hydrophyllum fendleri) and Sitka valerian (Valeriana sitchensis).

False Solomon's seal (Maianthemum racemosum) growing abundantly out on the open slope.

False Solomon’s seal (Maianthemum racemosum) growing abundantly out on the open slope.

While staring up at the cliffs last year, I had wondered if there might be some of the wonderful rock plants that like north-facing cliffs. From a distance with binoculars, I could see white and yellow dots but needed a closer look, which I didn’t have time for on that trip. This time, I was able to get to the base of the cliffs on the left fairly easily, and was very happy to see one of my favorite flowers, cliff paintbrush (Castilleja rupicola), in full bloom. Growing with it were several species of saxifrages (Micranthes rufidula, Saxifraga mertensiana, and S. bronchialis); those were probably the white dots. Often seen with cliff paintbrush in this part of the Cascades was Scouler’s valerian (Valeriana scouleri or hookeri). It prefers more shade than the taller Sitka valerian and can also be distinguished by its mostly basal leaves, while Sitka has mostly cauline leaves. I always appreciate when similar species grow near enough to each other to compare them side by side. There was also a lot of mountain arnica (Arnica latifolia), but it hadn’t started blooming yet. That might have been the yellow I saw on the rocks on my previous trip.

Cliff paintbrush (Castilleja rupicola)

Cliff paintbrush (Castilleja rupicola) and bleeding heart (Dicentra formosa) at the base of the north-facing cliffs

While most of the paintbrush was up on the cliffs, which were already shaded, some was down in the talus and still in the sun—the way I like to photograph plants, if at all possible. Always being drawn to the “bigger and better” plants, I was determined to follow the base of the side cliff up the slope to where a particularly beautiful patch of paintbrush was catching the light. This proved to be a really bad idea. If I’d been able to walk up on stable rocks, it would have been no problem, but this edge was basically open dirt. Still, I thought I could hang on to the rocks of the cliff itself to pull myself up the steep rise to my goal. I was really bummed to find that almost every knob I grabbed started to break off. I could tell there were two types of rocks on this slope, one forming the really large boulders and the other quite crumbly. Clearly the latter came from this side of the slope. While I didn’t have more than 20 feet more to go, I simply could not move forward and had to turn around and head back down. This was not going to be a picnic either. The soil was too dry up here to dig my feet in, and I had nothing stable to hold onto. My only choice it seemed was to sit on my butt and slide—hopefully not very far and toward the cliff rather than down the long slope below to the left. It was pretty stressful letting go, but thankfully I only slid about 10′ before I was able to stop myself and get back to an area where I had more control. It was only 15 minutes of hell, but it seemed much, much longer.

Lesson learned (for the moment anyway), I decided I didn’t really need to go all the way to the base of the main cliff, just close enough to use the binoculars. I crossed over to the large boulders, which seemed so much easier to walk on after the slippery dirt. I was very pleased to see that the uncommon longleaf arnica (Arnica longifolia) that I had found on the other side of the slope last year was quite numerous on this side. It hadn’t even formed buds yet, but the long, narrow leaves with their strong, distinctive arnica scent made the ID quite easy. When I got close enough for a good view of the main cliffs, it was all I could do not to climb a little higher up to photograph some large, glowing magenta clumps of cliff penstemon (Penstemon rupicola), the first I’d seen in good bloom this year. But this time, my good sense won out—I’m sure I’ll see more of that in the coming weeks. I could also see the silvery clumps of silverback luina (Luina hypoleuca) in the cracks, something I’d suspected was up there from my distant view last year.

A beautiful scene at "Zen meadow": alpine laurel (Kalmia microphylla) in the foreground and mountain shooting star (Dodecatheon jeffreyi) in the background.

A beautiful scene at “Zen meadow”: alpine laurel (Kalmia microphylla) in the foreground and mountain shooting star (Dodecatheon jeffreyi) in the background.

Satisfied that I’d seen what this area has to offer, I headed off to the much more relaxing “Zen Meadow,” just a little ways back down the road. I changed into my rubber boots, grabbed my lunch, and made the short bushwhack through the woods, passing at least a hundred tiny blooming heart-leaf twayblade (Neottia [Listera] cordata) in both red and green. This was just what I needed. The wetland was stunningly washed in pink. The purply-pink mountain shooting star (Dodecatheon jeffreyi) was in great bloom, and the warmer pink alpine laurel (Kalmia microphylla) was still going great guns. I didn’t find anything new or exciting, but this really is a wonderful spot to just enjoy the beauty of a mountain wetland. I was surprised that the yellow pond lilies were blooming so well. This was six weeks earlier than last year’s trip when they were in bloom, and then the shooting stars were just finishing. Clearly, as I’ve noticed elsewhere this year, different plants follow a different timetable, and the low snowpack is affecting blooming cycles quite differently.

Yellow pond lilies (Nuphar polysepala) in a shallow pool in Zen Meadow.

Yellow pond lilies (Nuphar polysepala) in a shallow pool in Zen Meadow.

pale swallowtail

A pale swallowtail enjoys the little tubular flowers of tall bluebells (Mertensia paniculata).

After Zen Meadow, I only had time for one more area. Rather than going down to Lopez Lake as I had on my previous trips to the area, I decided to explore a large meadowy area on the other side of the road that can only be peeked at while driving around it but looked really large on Google Earth. The north end looked especially interesting from the aerial view, with lots of water channels evident—perhaps this was a real bog. With a print of the aerial image in hand, I parked along the road and punched through the woods a few hundred feet until I came out into the open. It was indeed a real bog, complete with many clumps of willows and lots of sundews (Drosera rotundifolia)! I’d never seen any sundews at either Zen Meadow or Lopez Lake. The channels of water were quite interesting. Rather than typical creeks with sloped banks, these were very shallow with flat bottoms and somewhat straight sides.

The submerged leaves of a pondweed, most likely Potamogeton epihydrus, growing in very shallow water. Later, there may be floating leaves as well.

The submerged leaves of a pondweed, most likely Potamogeton epihydrus, growing in very shallow water. Later, there may be floating leaves as well.

Plants growing in the water can be very choosy about the depth, and perhaps other factors dictate why one plant just stops and another begins. The Eleocharis in the back seems to give way to the Potamogeton rather suddenly. Sundews grow on the mossy higher ground.

There were several aquatic species in the water, a reason to come back and check the area out again next month. I’m not very good with identifying graminoids yet, but I found it interesting that a very small spikerush (Eleocharis sp.) grew in one section of water, then disappeared and was replaced by a pondweed (probably Potamogeton epihydrus). A little farther along, the water was a bit deeper, and suddenly masses of a tall spikerush filled the channel. It always amazes me how some plants can be so particular, while others can grow in so many different situations. I had originally planned to go back to the car the way I came, but my curiosity led me to cut through the trees to the next part of the opening, and then the next, and so on. Eventually I ended up at the far other end. The middle sections were mostly meadow with enough wetland plants to show there was still moisture, but the far end returned to true wetland with lots of shooting stars and fading marsh marigold (Caltha leptosepala). There had obviously been a pretty good show of glacier lilies (Erythronium grandiflorum) weeks before, and there were plenty of things yet to come. I will definitely spend more time checking this area out next time.

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