Exploring Meadows Below Youngs Rock

Looking south from the lower meadow, there's a good view of Dome Rock and other areas of the Calapooyas, still with some snow.

Looking south across the lower meadow, there’s a good view of the Calapooyas, still with some snow. The bright green shrubs on the rocks are mock-orange (Philadelphus lewisii).

The Youngs Rock Trail in southeastern Lane County follows a south-facing ridge up through a string small meadows and openings. It’s a favorite of mine for both flowers and scenery, and I’d already been on various parts of the trail 23 times. I’d done some exploring off trail, but there were more meadows I hadn’t been to yet. Since it’s still early in the season for most of the flowers in the lower mountains, I thought it would be a good time to do some exploring to see if these meadows would be worth a trip during peak season. No one could accompany me on Saturday, April 30, but that was just as well as I hate to drag my friends out bushwhacking until I know how hard it will be and if it will even be worth the extra effort.

Fairy slippers were at their peak bloom in the forest.

Fairy slippers were at their peak bloom in the forest.

My main goal was a very large, steep meadow on the east side of the ridge. From top to bottom it is about a 400′ drop and appeared to reach right down to Youngs Creek. As I usually do, I started part way up the trail, accessing it from the now bermed off Road 435 off of Youngs Creek Road 2129. There’s a small opening one can see from the trail just past the second small meadow area. I headed down to it, passing a number of lovely fairy slippers (Calypso bulbosa). I had spent some time the night before looking at the area on Google Earth and had decided it made the most sense to head to the mystery meadow first. If I headed north at the same elevation for about 500′, I couldn’t miss it. It would be a lot harder to locate the small meadow were I to do it in the reverse order. Plus, if the new meadow was a bust, there were other places to explore higher. If I did the whole trail first, I also might be less inclined to climb around a steep slope off trail at the end of the day. Anyway, I had a vague plan.

The red line on this Google Earth aerial view encircles the areas I explored for the first time on this trip. The various waypoints mark the route of the official trail.

The red line on this Google Earth aerial view encircles the areas I was exploring for the first time. The various waypoints mark the route of the official trail from what I consider the middle trailhead to the giant pillar of Youngs Rock itself.

There were numerous deer trails, and the dry woods were quite open, so it was a piece of cake getting to the new meadow. I popped out about halfway up the meadow, just as I’d expected. It was steep but not so steep I couldn’t explore the whole thing. There were a lot of outcrops in the middle. Not a lot was in bloom yet: some spring gold (Lomatium utriculatum) in the grassy areas, Hall’s lomatium (Lomatium hallii) in the rocks, and prairie stars (Lithophragma parviflorum) scattered about. The wild cucumbers or manroot (Marah oregana) were just emerging and beginning to flower. Some rabbitbrush was perched on the rocks. As one of the latest blooming plants in the Cascades, this was a good sign that this area might have a long period period of bloom despite the relatively low elevation (~3150–3550′).

Larkspur and mistmaiden brighten up the northeast end of the meadow above the creek.

Larkspur, goldstars, and mistmaiden brighten up the northeast end of the meadow above the creek.

My original plan had been to skip going to the bottom, especially as my knee had been bothering me since my last outing, but the loud rushing of the creek below kept calling me, and I decided it was more important to explore this area thoroughly than to rush up to the trail when clearly not much was in bloom yet. As I criss-crossed the steep slope, I discovered more flowers blooming in the damper areas near the bottom. There were nice patches of larkspur (Delphinium menziesii) beginning and some California mistmaiden (Romanzoffia californica) and goldstars (Crocidium multicaule). While the mistmaiden isn’t uncommon, I’d never seen it along the Youngs Rock trail, nor had I seen the goldstars, although both grow on the cliffs of nearby Hills Creek Reservoir. In one spot, lots of little purple heads of naked broomrape (Orobanche uniflora) seemed to be parasitizing the abundant prairie stars.

A beautiful waterfall spills over a rocky opening along Youngs Creek.

A beautiful waterfall spills over a rocky dropoff along Youngs Creek.

Entering the woods, I was enthralled with how pretty it was along the creek. There was a narrow, fairly level area of mossy logs, but just across the creek, it went up very steeply again. In some spots it was quite rocky. I had thought I’d head back up to the meadow after checking out the creek, but a bright pink clump of fairy slippers caught in a shaft of sunlight begged me to cross the creek and come over and photograph them. From there, I could see another opening a bit farther downstream. Guess I’d better check that out too! I crossed the creek again and climbed up the bank onto a small but very steep meadow. Near the bottom was a drift of pink rosy plectritis (Plectritis congesta), but the real attention grabber was a beautiful waterful, maybe 20′ high. At last I’d found the perfect spot to relax and eat my lunch while enjoying the view.

A second cascade could be seen from the woods along the north side of the large meadow.

A second cascade could be seen from the woods along the north side of the large meadow.

I watched two dung beetles attempting to push some deer scat up the hill, but it seemed like such a fruitless task that after it went downhill several times, I couldn't bear to watch anymore. So much drama in just a few square inches!

I watched two dung beetles attempting to push some deer scat up the hill, but it seemed like such a fruitless task that after it went downhill several times, I couldn’t bear to watch anymore. So much drama in just a few square inches!

After lunch, I went down to the top of the waterfall. Clearly this was the end of the line for me. The dropoff was too steep in every direction to proceed any farther downstream. The large and intriguing rock on the far side of the wall was dotted with some larkspurs, but it looked way too steep and slippery with wet moss to explore. I settled for climbing up through the forest to the top where little was in bloom, but there was a nice view to the south. Time to head back across the creek yet again and up the large meadow. Where the creek wrapped around the north side of the meadow, I discovered another waterfall, smaller and less dramatic than the one downstream but still quite pretty. I poked around the outcrops as I headed up through the meadow, trying to find the easiest route up, while avoiding occasional clumps of poison oak. Many of the plants I have seen in the trailside meadows were evident, including diamond clarkia (Clarkia rhomboidea), threadleaf phacelia (Phacelia linearis), and silver lupine (Lupinus albifrons), making it worth the return trip when they might be blooming. I also discovered one blooming mission bells (Fritillaria affinis) and more gold stars. The little oaks (Quercus garryana) perched on the rocks were also in bloom, dangling their chartreuse flowers just above my head.

In 2009, the Tumblebug Fire burned over 14, 000 acreas at the east end of the Calapooyas. Looking southeast from the second meadow along the trail, the aftermath is still evident.

In 2009, the Tumblebug Fire burned over 14,000 acreas at the east end of the Calapooyas. Looking southeast from the second meadow along the trail, the aftermath is still evident.

When I reached the very top of the meadow, I kept heading more or less straight up, following deer trails when possible. The trail runs along the ridge perpendicular to the meadow, so there was no chance of getting lost. I quickly came to another oak dotted opening with a bunch of larkspur and budding plectritis. And in a couple of more minutes, I hit the trail, right between what I call “Lunch Meadow”(for the number of times I’ve stopped for lunch there) and “Lightbulb Rock Meadow” (for an odd-shaped rock). All in all it was quite easy. I still had energy, and, without a lot of flowers to photograph, there was still time to go all the way up to Youngs Rock itself. It was only on the way down that my sore leg started to act up. I had practically forgotten about it while traipsing up and down the steep meadow. But it was definitely a successful day, and I look forward to returning to see the meadow when it is further into its flowering season.

One Response to “Exploring Meadows Below Youngs Rock”

  • Jack Turner:

    Hi Tanya — and thanks once more for your captivating ‘Recon Prose’! I really enjoy your use of language.

    Jack T

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