Last month I went to Tire Mountain to check out a hidden meadow below the trail near the beginning of the Tire Mountain trail (see Off the Beaten Path at Tire Mountain). I wasn’t paying attention, however, and went up the wrong meadow. Having first explored it in the fall of 2012, I still needed to get back and check it out while it was still in bloom. I had also wanted to return to see the yampah (Perideridia sp.) in bloom and hopefully collect some seeds of early blooming flowers. My schedule has been pretty full, so I figured I’d better jump on the first decent day before it was too late. So on Sunday, June 19, I headed up to Tire Mountain hoping to accomplish at least some of my goals.
I don’t usually go to popular places on weekends, but with three other hikes scheduled for this week, I didn’t have much choice. I know the trail is popular with bikers, but I was still surprised to have a dozen of them pass me on the trail in the first half hour. It’s tough to take photographs while constantly having to jump out of the trail. I was glad to reach the main southeast-facing meadow and head down away from the crowds. The grass was drying out, although the ground was damp from rain the previous night. The yampah was coming into bloom everywhere. One of the troubles with identifying yampah is that the leaves usually dry out as it is coming into bloom. Most of the plants on the way down had only a few narrow leaves on the upper parts of the stem. The lowest leaves were all curled up and crispy. I wanted some specimens with both green leaves and flowers, and was happy to find some near the bottom of the slope along the edge of the woods where it was more protected and not as dried out. After I scan them for reference, I’ll press them (tonight!) and bring them to the OSU Herbarium. Hopefully someone more familiar with the genus will be able to look them over and give me a conclusive ID and perhaps confirm that they are indeed Bolander’s yampah (P. bolanderi), a more southern species. They definitely don’t look like the ones I have blooming on my property, which I presume are actually Oregon yampah (Perideridia oregana).
With that taken care of, I could look at some showier flowers while I ate my lunch. As the ground starts to dry out, many of the bulbs send up their flowers, and there were both ookow (Dichelostemma congestum) and hyacinth cluster-lily (Triteleia hyacinthina) in bloom, although the ookow was starting to fade. Still coming on were some budded cluster-lily (probably Brodiaea elegans), the last in line of the similar bulbs in Asparagaceae. Oddly, I haven’t seen this in the meadows along the trail.
I could see a glimpse of the off-trail meadow. This time, I was determined to get there, so I continued farther down the slope to where there were some large rock outcrops. I couldn’t see the meadow any more, but knowing where it was, I went down into the woods, crossed a dry ravine, and climbed up the other side. There were a few large fallen trees to contend with, but a deer trail led me easily up into the meadow after I dealt with those. It really is a large, impressive meadow with a number of outcrops. Like the other meadows, it was drying out, but it was clear that moisture flows down between the rocky areas, and this channel was still green and floriferous. I started walking up it to photograph the cheery Oregon sunshine (Eriophyllum lanatum) when a tiny pink flower caught my eye and the nasty smell of vinegar reached my nose. Sure enough, it was mountain blue curls (Trichostema oblongum). This was a new plant for my list, and Tire Mountain is now only my fourth site in the Western Cascades for this inconspicuous annual. Another even more inconspicuous annual, rareflower heterocodon (Heterocodon rariflorum) was abundant throughout the meadow. The name “rareflower” refers to the scarcity of visible flowers—tiny lavender, tubular blossoms, you have to be lucky to see. It seems most of their flowers are cleistogamous—self-pollinated flowers that never open up. Spotting these little annuals is a lot easier when you’re leaning forward while climbing up steep slopes!
Along the edge of the woods at the top of the meadow, there were a number of diamond clarkia (Clarkia rhomboidea) in bud. Farewell-to-spring (C. amoena) were also mostly still in bud throughout all the meadows, although I saw a few of their beautiful flowers open in this lower meadow. They’ll put on a gorgeous show in a week or so, I imagine. Just past the trees is another small opening I hadn’t remembered. It was lusher in here with lots of still green, taller foliage. Several wallflowers (Erysimum capitatum) lifted their orange blossoms above the grass, and I discovered a large patch of snapdragon skullcap (Scutellaria antirrhinoides) in bud. I’d spotted it in one of the other meadows a number of years ago but hadn’t noticed it at Tire since then. In partial shade along the edge of the opening were lots of lovely mountain cats ears (Calochortus subalpinus). This surprised me because this area is lower than most of the other meadows which are mainly inhabited by Tolmies’ cats ears (C. tolmiei). Mountain cats ears is usually found at higher elevations, and I had seen it here only at the top of the dike meadow and on the actual summit of Tire Mountain. This is one of the few trails I know where you can see both species.
Only a bit more than 200′ of bushwhacking from the hidden opening and I popped out at the trail just a short ways east of the intersection of the Alpine and Tire Mountain trails. I couldn’t remember where I’d come out last time, but I think I’ll remember it now, and it would be easy to do this off-trail jog in the reverse direction. Continuing on the trail to the other meadows, I passed more bicycles, hikers, and unfortunately shy dogs (not having a dog, I love to get some dog time when I can).
These dampers meadows were still lovely with sweeps of pink rosy plectritis (Plectritis congesta). The monkeyflower was mostly done, but the bluefield gilia (Gilia capitata) was outstanding. I climbed up to the top of the dike meadow and headed to the north-facing opening through the woods, another quiet spot few people know about. There were lots of mountain cats ears here, and I was able to collect some spreading phlox (Phlox diffusa) seeds, as both plants in my rock garden have died. I almost grabbed a seed capsule before I realized a checkerspot was resting on the phlox, waiting for the sun to return. Menzies’ larkspur was in seed, but the many lomatiums (Lomatium utriculatum, L. nudicaule, and L. dissectum) weren’t ripe yet. Only Hall’s lomatium was fully ripe, but I’d already collected seeds of that from a site closer to my property. All in all, it was a satisfying day: I accomplished most of my objectives, saw beautiful displays of wildflowers, got some nice photos, and even added a plant to my plant list. Even on my 34th trip to this wonderful mountain, it never fails to deliver!