Cripple Camp Shelter and Beyond

An incredibly beautiful form of marbled ginger (Asarum marmoratum) at the Camp Comfort campground along the  South Umpqua.

An incredibly beautiful form of marbled ginger (Asarum marmoratum) at the Camp Comfort campground along the South Umpqua. These are as beautiful as any cyclamen one can buy for the garden.

Having gotten such a late start the day before (see previous post, Exploring the West Side of the Rogue-Umpqua Divide), I’d also gotten into the Camp Comfort campground quite late and had only had enough time to see there was a lot of marbled ginger (Asarum marmoratum) under the big trees in this pretty spot. No one else was staying in the campground, so in the morning (July 14) I walked all around it. I couldn’t believe how many plants and how many gorgeous forms of marbled ginger there were. Alas, this uncommon woodland perennial doesn’t grow in Lane County or anywhere north of Douglas County, so it is always a treat to see. The white coloration varies quite a bit from plant to plant. Some are barely distinguishable from the common long-tailed ginger (Asarum caudatum), others have a pale triangle in the center, while the best forms have a white center and white veining. In this area, I even found some that were frosted white all around the edges, not just on the veins. Needless to say, I got a later start leaving for my hike than I had intended, but since I came to see plants, it really didn’t matter if they were on the trail or right by my campsite!

Marbled ginger is a very variable species with many different forms.

Marbled ginger is a variable species with many attractive forms.

I drove up Jackson Creek Road 29 to gravel Road 2947 and finally to Road 400 to the Cripple Camp trailhead. This took me fairly quickly onto the Acker Divide trail, which heads more or less east west across the Rogue-Umpqua Divide. There was more marbled ginger as well as lots of long-tailed ginger. I could pretty much tell the two apart without looking at the marbling (or a few lingering long-tailed ginger flowers), but I still wanted to figure out if there were other differences in the leaves in order to distinguish the unmarked marbled gingers from its solid-leaved cousin. The shape might be a little different, and I think the long-tailed ginger is shinier. I read once about the hairs on the edges of the leaves being diagnostic, but I couldn’t see any difference.

An immense tree towers over the Cripple Camp shelter. Leopard lilies and tall larkspur bloom in the wet meadow in front of the shelter.

An immense tree towers over the Cripple Camp shelter. Leopard lilies and tall larkspur bloom in the wet meadow in front of the shelter.

I soon came to the Cripple Camp shelter, which is built alongside a lovely wet meadow. Right next to the shelter is probably the biggest tree I saw on the trip, although there were a lot of large, old growth trees in this area. My rough estimate was 8′ DBH—wow! This was a beautiful spot, and I spent almost an hour photographing flowers and butterflies. One of my favorite late season wildflowers is the statuesque tall larkspur (Delphinium glaucum). In the Cascades, it is only found from Douglas County south. I was thrilled that it was in perfect bloom since I really wasn’t sure what to expect with the blooming period being so advanced this summer. Another special southern flower is leopard lily (Lilium pardalinum). It makes it up as far as southeastern Lane County, but it is still a welcome sight, and it too was in peak bloom. Another southern specialty, Bolander’s tarweed (Kyhosia bolanderi), was lifting its yellow composite heads above the other foliage. White bog orchids (Platanthera dilatata) and yellow arrowleaf groundsel (Senecio triangularis) were still blooming, and the white and yellow streambank birdfoot trefoil (Hosackia [Lotus] oblongifolia) fit right in.

You can see through the windows in the wings of this police car moth to the arrowleaf groundsel it is nectaring on.

You can see through the windows in the wings of this police car moth to the arrowleaf groundsel it is nectaring on.

Butterflies were enjoying the abundant nectaring opportunities. A pale swallowtail found the larkspurs to its liking, while some large fritillaries and a couple of worn juniper hairstreaks preferred the groundsel. Small blues flitted around. I never got a good look at them, but a field crescent let me take a few photos. There were several of the striking day-flying police car moths (Gnophaela vermiculata I believe) also nectaring on the popular groundsel. They seem fairly common in the Cascades, no doubt because their host food plants, borage family members including bluebells (Mertensia paniculata) and stickseed (Hackelia micrantha), are frequent inhabitants of Western Cascade wetlands.

Since I was planning on camping nearby again, I had planned to do a long hike. Continuing on the Acker Divide trail to the east, I hoped to eventually get to Pup Prairie or maybe even Hershberger Mountain. It would be about a 7-mile round trip hike to the Hershberger Lookout—a perfectly reasonable day hike for a dedicated hiker. But since it is quite frequent for me to spend an hour in the same spot, I couldn’t be sure how far I’d get, especially exploring new territory. After I tore myself away from the meadow, I promptly ran into trouble. I followed the trail for a short ways, and then it seemed to peter out. The Rogue-Umpqua Divide is a little-used wilderness. For the life of me, I don’t know why it isn’t more popular. I don’t think many people even know it exists. Until hunting season, it is practically empty. This trail was hard enough to follow where it went through the tall meadow foliage, but here it vanished on me. Maybe I wasn’t going to make it very far after all. When in doubt, keep going straight—that usually seems to work, in my experience. I quickly came to a dry creek crossing, and there, 50′ or so to the left was the trail. I got back on it and continued on my way. On the way back, I discovered the problem was a large tree had fallen right down the length of the trail, obliterating it for long enough that I couldn’t see where it had gone.

Checkermallows bloom in the wetland west of Toad Lake.

Checkermallows bloom in the wetland west of Toad Lake.

The next point of interest on the map was Frog Lake. The trail crossed by the far end of a wet meadow along the lake. Many trees and branches had fallen down here, but I headed down into the wetland to photograph a gorgeous stand of bright pink checkermallow. I think it was Sidalcea oregana rather than cusickii, but I’m not 100% certain. This genus is a bit tricky for me and I didn’t take the time to study it carefully. Unfortunately, it looked like getting to the lake itself would require crossing a large stretch of sedge—probably quite wet underneath—or bushwhacking through the forest. Since this was a new area for me, and I had other plans, I never got to see the lake. I could see that rather than clearing up, as the weather forecast had stated for the Tiller area in general, it was getting cloudier. After I continued on through what seemed like a long stretch of woods, I got to a small, dry clearing and got a view of some rather dark clouds. Hmm.

Mount Mazama collmia is a rare perennial found only within 30 or so miles of Crater Lake.

Mount Mazama collomia is a rare perennial found only within 30 or so miles of Crater Lake.

Finally, the trail broke out into a meadow. There it was, the plant I was really hoping to see on this trip: Mount Mazama collomia (with the similar scientific name of Collomia mazama)! This deep blue perennial is related to our much more common annuals, the peach large-flowered (Collomia grandiflora) and pink narrow-leaf collomia (C. linearis), and resembles them somewhat except for color. I had just seen some gorgeous stands of Collomia grandiflora at Moon Point on my last outing before this trip, so I had high hopes I might find the blue one in bloom. It grows at Crater Lake (hence the Mazama moniker) and nearby areas, but this narrow endemic isn’t even widespread in the Rogue-Umpqua Divide, which is just west of Crater Lake. I’d only seen it in the Hershberger Mountain area, along the ridge to the north of the lookout and along the roads up to Hershberger, where it is abundant. But here it was and in good bloom—I was thrilled!

The water was quite low in Jackson Creek, making not to cold, just right for a swim in one of the many pools.

The water was quite low in Jackson Creek, making it not too cold, just right for a swim in one of the many beautiful pools.

Unfortunately, looking up, I could now see a large, puffy cloud building up—right above me. I did not want to be out in a thunderstorm, and this looked pretty darn close. I was unsure what to do, so I rushed around taking photos of the collomia. Then I heard a rumble of thunder, putting a quick end to my elation. Damn, I’d better turn back, and I was nearly at Pup Prairie. But at least I found my plant. I high-tailed it back to the trailhead without getting a chance to explore a line of meadows not far off the trail that I’d hoped to check on the way back. Every so often the sun would come out again, and I’d think, “Perhaps I’m being too skittish,” but then it would rumble again. Not only did I not want to get wet or risk being out in lightning, I really didn’t want to drive over 10 miles of gravel road in a storm. Nothing ever did develop, but I was still quite relieved when I made it back to a campground along Jackson Creek, where I went for a quick, relaxing swim in the warm afternoon sun, a little bummed at my day being curtailed but still pleased about what I had seen, especially since it was just my first scouting trip of the area. There’s always next year for a return trip.

 

One Response to “Cripple Camp Shelter and Beyond”

  • Kristy Swanson:

    I love the Sidalcea and Collomia. Reading your description of your day I felt like I was there. Thanks.

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