Fabulous Day at Grasshopper Mountain

Highrock Mountain and Grasshopper Meadow

Near the summit of Grasshopper Mountain, there is a fabulous view of nearby Highrock Mountain. I had been very disapointed the day before that I couldn’t see Highrock even though I was walking right below it. Grasshopper Meadow can be seen below.

The awesome cliffs of Grasshopper Mountain in the Rogue-Umpqua Divide looked even better up close from Cliff and Buckeye Lakes (see Exploring the West Side of the Rogue-Umpqua Divide) than they had from a distance the year before from near Hemlock Lake. On Wednesday, July 15, I finally went to walk to the top of them. It was forecast to be the clearest day of my three-day trip, and the weatherpersons were correct. After the clouds of the previous two days, it was a relief and a joy to have totally clear blue skies all day. Instead of doing the long loop from the lakes, I found a shorter route to the summit of Grasshopper Mountain from the Acker Divide trail, just a little northwest of where I had been the day before. I left the campground and headed east on Jackson Creek Road 29, which soon becomes gravel. After about 10 miles of well-maintained gravel, a sign points to the trailhead a mile down deadend Road 550. It’s all pretty easy, and since Road 29 loops around and goes back to the South Umpqua Road, you can get to the trailhead just as easily from the north end of the South Umpqua Road, depending on where you’re camping.

A fritillary nectaring on a large and delicious blossom of leopard lily.

A checkerspot nectaring on a large and delicious blossom of leopard lily.

After just a couple of hundred yards, the tie-in trail tees into the Acker Divide trail at a small wet meadow. There were lots of flowers including a few leopard lilies (Lilium pardalinum) just coming into bloom. I also noticed arroyo willow (Salix lasiolepis), an uncommon species in the Western Cascades. It has large, coarsely toothed leaves that are distinctly glaucous underneath. This area looked quite promising, but it was rather wet from dew or low clouds the previous day, so I decided to postpone exploring it until the way back. I headed to the right. A left turn would lead to Mosquito Camp, a wet meadow less than a half mile away. I hoped to check that out on the way back, if I had time. The trail heads into forest similar to my trip the day before (see Cripple Camp Shelter and Beyond) with lots of impressive large conifers and a pleasant understory, including the lovely marbled ginger (Asarum marmoratum) and lots of long-tailed ginger (A. caudatum). This is not surprising since the trailhead was only around 1.2 miles west of the Cripple Camp Shelter trailhead I’d started at the previous day. In less than a mile of easy, level walking, I popped out into Grasshopper Meadow. What a wonderful spot! Loads of tall larkspur (Delphinium glaucum) in full bloom were attracting lots of swallowtails. A couple of signs indicated that the Acker Divide trail no. 1437 continues to the right toward Cripple Camp shelter, while the Grasshopper Mountain trail no. 1574 goes off to the left (west). But with all these flowers and butterflies, I wasn’t going anywhere yet!

Bolander's tarweed (Kyhosia bolanderi) is a tall perennial found only in the southern half of the Cascades and the Siskiyous down into California. It is sticky and fragrant like other tarweeds (Madia spp.) but inhabits wetlands.

Bolander’s tarweed (Kyhosia bolanderi) is a tall perennial found only in the southern half of the Cascades and the Siskiyous down into California. It is sticky and fragrant like other tarweeds (Madia spp.) but inhabits wetlands.

Pale swallowtails and I agree that leopard lilies are some of the most attractive flowers in the Western Cascades. You can see one nectaring while two more fly in from the right to join in the party.

Pale swallowtails agree with me that leopard lilies are some of the most attractive flowers in the Western Cascades. You can see one nectaring while two more fly in from the left to join in the party.

I spent over an hour exploring and photographing flowers and butterflies. In addition to the gorgeous larkspur, there was lots of Alice’s fleabane (Erigeron aliceae), scarlet paintbrush (Castilleja miniata), California false hellebore (Veratrum californicum), Oregon yampah (Perideridia oregana) in a dry area, and white bog orchid (Platanthera dilatata) along a small creek running through the edge of the meadow near the trail. The latter was the favored nectar source for a western painted lady. Fritillaries and parnassians were also on the wing. On the damp western side of the meadow was an area of Bolander’s tarweed (Kyhosia bolanderi) still open. Its flowers seem to close up in the afternoon and reopen in the evening, so I was happy to catch them looking unshriveled at 10:30am. Showy tarweed (Madia elegans) and some other composites do this as well. What really captured my attention was a clump of seven fully blooming leopard lilies proudly showing off their deep orange blossoms well above all the other foliage. I’ve never seen such a magnificent show of this species. For one, I don’t see it that often as it only drifts north into Lane County in a few spots. Moreover, it is usually growing among other tall plants where you can’t see its whorls of narrow leaves or in the shade along the edge of a wet meadow. I wasn’t the only one enchanted by this stunning sight. Two tattered pale swallowtails drifted over and began to nectar. Like icing on a cake, they enhanced my subject even more. At times, there were even three butterflies as well as bees visiting the lilies. Then they’d flutter off, only to return fairly soon. Clearly this was the best nectar around. And in return for the tasty nourishment, the butterflies were coated with orange pollen they carried from one flower to another—a good deal for both the plant and the butterfly. If only all relationships were that mutually beneficial!

A pair of fritillaries mating

A pair of fritillaries mating. I believe the one on the left is the female. She’s quite a bit darker than the male.

Eventually, I returned to the trail and headed uphill toward the top of the ridge. This section had burned some, but it wasn’t completely devastated like the forest had been in some spots on the trail to the lakes below. The marbled ginger seemed to have weathered the fire quite well as had the Scouler’s harebell (Campanula scouleri). Snowbrush (Ceanothus velutinus) filled the understory of the singed forest. The trail was a bit iffy in places as a result of the numerous fallen logs and general lack of use. In one spot I noticed someone had started to cut a fallen tree but had given up. Since the Rogue-Umpqua is a wilderness area, motors aren’t allowed, so trail maintenance may be sporadic. The ridge is only 600′ above the meadow (total elevation gain from the Acker Divide trailhead to the summit of Grasshopper Mountain is only 800’—my kind of hike!), so it didn’t take long to get up to where it was somewhat rocky, although still more or less wooded. The trail split again, one direction heading downhill toward Cliff Lake and the other, to the left, heading to the old lookout site at the official summit. I passed through some small, rocky meadows that still had some flowers, including lots of California harebell (Campanula prenanthoides) that was inundated with bees.

Trees cling precariously along the edge of the cliff along the top.

Trees cling precariously along the edge of the cliff along the top.

As I headed farther along the ridge, I came to another, larger meadow. This must have had some moisture because there was a beautiful stand of tall larkspur. While the trail went off to the left, I could see I was now near the top of the cliff, so I went over to take a peak through the trees. Whoa! There was a precipitous drop. Apparently, the cliffs were formed thousands of years ago when the northwest edge of the mountain collapsed. It didn’t seem as though it had happened that long ago. Some of the very large trees along the edge of the meadow seemed to be hanging on by a thread. I would not want to be below when they finally gave way!

The expansive view to the north takes in nearby Buckeye (right) and Cliff lakes, the north end of the Rogue-Umpqua Divide, and the east end of the North Umpqua area. The light areas in the distance are evidence of the Rainbow Creek fire that burned Whitehorse Meadows and surrounding areas in 2009.

The former lookout site at the summit of Grasshopper has an almost 360° view. To the north, it takes in nearby Buckeye (right) and Cliff lakes, the north end of the Rogue-Umpqua Divide, and the east end of the North Umpqua area. The light areas in the distance are evidence of the Rainbow Creek fire that burned Whitehorse Meadows and surrounding areas in 2009.

The final climb to the summit looked like it would have been gorgeous a few weeks earlier. Most of the plants had gone to seed, but I still saw lots of barestem buckwheat (Eriogonum nudum) in bloom. There were lots of freshly blooming oceanspray (Holodiscus discolor), and I even found a couple of faded plants of the seldom seen and poorly named pine broomrape (Orobanche pinorum), which actually parasitizes oceanspray not pines. When I came up to the old lookout site, evident only from a few remaining concrete blocks, I had to back up a few steps. The view was tremendous. The dropoff was also tremendous. Cliff and Buckeye lakes could be seen 1300′ feet below. I’m not sure exactly how far down the cliffs themselves go—at least 500′ in places—and I sure didn’t want to find out the hard way! I backed off and enjoyed my lunch and the view from a safe distance away from the edge. I was so thankful it wasn’t cloudy or terribly windy. I would not have enjoyed being up there in bad weather, but it was quite lovely in fair weather.

A female Clodius parnassian rests on larkspur leaves.

A female Clodius parnassian rests on larkspur leaves.

I am so delighted to have found this terrific trail. It is just what I was looking for. I had hoped to find at least one trail in Tiller area that I could profile for my book. This one has it all: great wildflowers and butterflies; a variety of habitats including old growth forest, meadows, a creek, and rocky habitat; and an amazing view. It also fits my own criteria for a good botanizing trail: good road access and reasonable length (this is well under 5 miles round trip) and elevation gain (~800′). The less effort I have to expend in walking, the more time I have to botanize and take photographs (as easy at is was, I still ran out of time to check out the unfortunately named Mosquito Camp). And for those who do like a better workout, there are plenty of options to continue in different directions on a myriad of connecting trails. The only negative thing I can see was the difficulty in finding and traversing the trail in places. But carrying a map and aerial photo certainly help with that. I will definitely return to Grasshopper Meadow and Mountain—hopefully many times—and will add this terrific destination to my book and website.

Leave a Reply

Archives
Notification of New Posts