First Flowers at Hobart Bluff

Yellow bells is the perfect name for this cutie.

Yellow bells is the perfect name for this cutie.

With a few more days of dry weather predicted before the return of showers, I made a last minute decision to head down to the Rogue Valley for the annual rock garden plant sale of NARGS member Kathy Allen on Wednesday, April 20th. While it is worth the 3-hour drive just to see her amazing garden and shop for rock garden treasures you can’t find anywhere else, I always try to get in some hiking, especially since the bloom season in southwestern Oregon is always ahead of ours in Lane County. After a delightful shopping trip and an afternoon hike on Medford’s Roxy Ann Peak at Prescott Park, I had a chance to attend a fun meeting of the local NARGS chapter and see a number of my friends from the group as well as the speaker, Malcolm McGregor, a British expert gardener and author of a terrific book on saxifrages. I had taken him out botanizing years ago on a previous trip to the US, so it was great to see him again.

From Hobart Peak, there is a great view of cliffy Hobart Bluff and Mt. McLoughlin in the distance.

From Hobart Peak, there is a great view of cliffy Hobart Bluff and Mt. McLoughlin in the distance.

From Roxy Ann Peak, I had been able to see that Grizzly Peak had almost no snow on the north side. I had been hoping to do some more botanizing in the Cascade-Siskiyou National Monument (CSNM), just to the south, so this was good news that it would most likely be accessible. I hadn’t been at all sure that I’d be able to get over 5000′ without running into snow, especially since the BLM’s info on CSNM trails indicated they should be clear of snow by late May—still a month away—and the BLM office didn’t have any up-to-date information when I’d called in the morning. Evidently, the recent hot weather has taken a toll on the decent snow pack we got this winter.

As the name implies, the Cascade-Siskiyou National Monument is in the area where the Cascades and Siskiyous merge, making it an area of particularly high diversity with elements of both floras. There’s also an element of plants coming from the east. The monument is known in particular for its high butterfly diversity, but it was too early and too cool for butterflies on this trip. My goal was to see the very first flowers of the season, and with just a few patches of snow, it looked like my timing would be perfect after all.

The soft gray-green leaves beautifully set off the lavender flowers of early blooming dagger pod (Phoenicaulis cheiranthoides).

Most of the western springbeauties were quite pink.

Most of the western springbeauties were quite pink.

So on Thursday (April 21), I drove up windy Hwy 66 to Soda Springs Road and on to the trailhead for Hobart Bluff. This was only my third time on the trail: first at an NPSO annual meeting way back in 2002, and then just 2 years ago with my NARGS friends at our annual camping trip when we went to Grizzly Peak as well as Hobart Bluff (see NARGS Annual Campout Hike to Grizzly Peak). As I stepped out of my van, I was thrilled to see some Klamath fawn lilies (Erythronium klamathense) in bloom just a short ways away. I rarely see these beauties, as they don’t seem to make it north of the North Umpqua, in spite of historical records as far north as Bohemia Mountain. Most of the short route to Hobart Bluff is along the Pacific Crest Trail (PCT) and is practically level. There were a number of western trilliums (Trillium ovatum) in bloom in the wooded areas, and a few two-lobe or upland larkspurs (Delphinium nuttallianum) had begun. Many, many more would be out in a few weeks. Likewise a number of lomatiums were just beginning, including Lomatium macrocarpum, L. dissectum, and L. nudicaule. Dozens of budded up mission bells or chocolate lilies (Fritillaria affinis) lined the trail. In some seeps, I found tiny meadow nemophila (Nemophila pedunculata) in bloom, along with the odd leaves of the wonderfully named false-mermaid (Floerkea proserpinacoides). I was surprised to see a very small spikerush (Eleocharis sp.) in bloom. I’ve hardly been out yet this season, so I’m not mentally warmed up enough yet to tackle ID’ing graminoids!

My first real thrill came when I reached the saddle between Hobart Bluff and Hobart Peak. This is the first spot with some northern exposure, and there had obviously been snow on the north slope quite recently. The mud was dry from the recent hot weather, preserving numerous animal footprints—both paws and hooves. Another plant I rarely see, daggerpod (Phoenicaulis cheiranthoides) was plentiful and in great bloom. Some western springbeauty (Claytonia lanceolata) were popping up among a number of pretty Klamath fawn lilies. I was surprised at how pink they were. The ones I’m used to are crystalline white. Later in the day, I did see much whiter ones. They seemed to vary by area. Perhaps it is a genetic thing, but it could also be soil chemistry or some other variable.

There's a certain charm to the tiny flowers of curl-leaf mountain mahogany (Cercocarpus ledifolius), which have no petals but fuzzy reddish sepals.

There’s a certain charm to the tiny flowers of curl-leaf mountain mahogany (Cercocarpus ledifolius), which have no petals just fuzzy reddish sepals.

Where the trail to the top of Hobart Bluff leaves the PCT, the first of many balsamroot (Balsamorhiza deltoidea) had just begun. More lomatiums were blooming, and as I switch-backed up the trail, I came across alpine pennycress (Noccea fendleri) and then spreading phlox (Phlox diffusa) in full bloom. Mountain mahogany is something you won’t normally find in the Western Cascades, and there were two species here (Cercocarpus betuloides and C. ledifolius), both in bloom, although you might not notice the tiny petalless flowers. The views in all directions from the top were fabulous, although I couldn’t help wishing I’d had time to do this hike the day before when it was sunny rather than under the day’s high overcast sky that indicated the forecast rain was on its way (thankfully the rain held off until I hit the freeway heading home!).

Looking west from the summit of Hobart Peak, you can see snowy Mt. Ashland and the rocky knob of Pilot Rock, farther southwest along the PCT.

Looking west from the open summit of Hobart Peak, you can see snowy Mt. Ashland on the right and the rocky knob of Pilot Rock on the left, farther southwest along the PCT.

From the top, there is also a clear view of the open top of Hobart Peak, the lump right next to the bluff. Unlike my previous trip, I had plenty of time to explore before starting the long drive north, so when I got back to the saddle, I decided to head off trail up to the summit. As I walked up through the patchy woods, I was disappointed that nothing was coming up next to the small snow patches. Maybe this would be a waste of time. If I didn’t check it out, however, I’d always wonder, so I continued on. It was relatively easy walking and only about 300′ of elevation gain. As it opened up more, I started to see more Klamath fawn lilies and other snow-melt species.

This area must be hot and dry in the summer as evidenced by the desert gooseberry growing here. The inset shows the sweet white flowers and nasty sharp thorns. The view looks north across the Rogue Valley. Grizzly Peak is the highest area on the right side.

This area must be hot and dry in the summer as evidenced by the desert gooseberry growing here. The inset shows the sweet white flowers and nasty sharp thorns. The view looks north across the Rogue Valley. Grizzly Peak is the highest area on the right side.

I was also excited to see a white-flowered gooseberry I’d only discovered for the first time a few weeks ago in the Lava Beds National Monument in northern California—not really so far away from CSNM. It was desert gooseberry (Ribes velutinum). There were several more plants blooming at the summit. Several other species I hadn’t seen on the summit of Hobart Bluff made me very pleased I’d once again taken the “road less travelled”. There were a number of grass widows (Olsynium douglasii) in bloom—a species I wish grew in the Cascades, turkey peas (Orogenia fusiformis)—a snowmelt species I do see fairly often in the Western Cascades, and a bright yellow lomatium I believe is the same rare species I’d seen on Grizzly Peak. It has been called Lomatium hendersonii, but the Jepson Manual describes that species as white, leaving me confused about what to call it. Two species that I’d only seen a few flowers of along the trail were blooming much better up here: dwarf hesperochiron (Hesperochiron pumilus) and yellow bells (Fritillaria pudica). I managed to spend a whole hour photographing all the early beauties on the summit.

Dwarf hesperochiron is a very early blooming member of Hydrophllaceae. It grows across eastern Oregon, just spilling over to the west of the Cascades in southwestern Oregon.

Dwarf hesperochiron is a very early blooming member of Hydrophyllaceae. More frequently found in eastern Oregon, it spills over to the west side of the Cascades only in southwestern Oregon. The egg-yolk yellow centers, black anthers, and heavy veining of the large white flowers really brighten up an area of open ground.

Klamath fawn lilies in the wetland next to Hyatt Lake Reservoir. Mt. McLoughlin is perfectly placed beyond the lake.

Klamath fawn lilies at the edge of the wetland next to Hyatt Lake Reservoir. Mt. McLoughlin is perfectly placed beyond the lake.

Finally, I decided it was time to head back to the car. I could see the road and the powerlines, so I knew the parking area was just below me. A very quick and easy quarter-mile bushwhack took me back to my van in no time. I figured I still had an hour before I really had to hit the road, so I headed over to Hyatt Lake Reservoir. The campground is gated off right now, and there was still some snow on part of the road past the gate, but a nice man told me it would be open in a few weeks. He was thrilled that the reservoir was 70% full, not as much as it could be but a real improvement after the horrible drought of the last few years. I headed over to the lake past numerous trilliums and lots of blooming snow queen (Synthyris reniformis). Many Klamath fawn lilies lined the creek inlet. I went over to a rocky opening that had been so floriferous in July of 2014, and was pleased to find abundant fawn lilies and more yellow bells. Time to go, but I hope I have time and good weather so I can return in a few weeks to see the next wave of flowers!

6 Responses to “First Flowers at Hobart Bluff”

  • Ginny:

    I love the Dwarf hesperochiron with its bold coloration! Sounds like a good trip and not an opportunity missed!

  • Jason:

    Always look forward to your posts! Thanks Tanya!

  • kelley Leonard:

    I am so very glad you were able to spend some time here early in the season. Did you notice the Klamath fawn lilies under the juniper trees up on top of Hobart Bluff? There is also a small patch of
    Erythronium hendersonii right at the edge of the tree line as you first start on the trail after the meadow by the parking lot.

  • Yes Kelley, I did see the Klamath fawn lilies on top under the junipers, as well as on the northeast-facing slope near the top, and in a number of other spots. The Erythronium hendersonii wasn’t out yet along the trail, but I did see some blooming at a little lower elevation along Soda Mountain Road. I love this first wave of flowers!

  • Cyndi Dion:

    Hi Tanya; So glad you made it down to Kathy’s and our neck of the woods. Its fun to see pics of familiar sites as well as those up near you that I had not been to before. I love your posts, thank you so much!

  • Kristy Swanson:

    You write so well. I hear your voice and see these places through your wonderful photos.

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