After our terrific trip to Balm Mountain (see Another Beautiful Day on Balm Mountain), I really wanted to do some more exploring in the area, so I suggested to John Koenig that we check out the lower part of the south end of Balm. My idea was to go down Road 3810 to where it deadends at the Skipper Lakes trailhead, head up the trail to the small lakes, which I’d only been to once, and climb uphill to look at the rocks below where we’d ended up on our previous trip along the ridge. The roads have been quite iffy in the Calapooyas this year, but our friend Rob Castleberry had been at Balm right after us and had done part of Road 3810, so I had high hopes we might be successful. We headed up there August 4. Alas, we only made it a short ways farther than where Rob had been when we came upon several trees blocking the road. Not again! This has been a frustrating year for road conditions.
But I never go without a backup plan, and there’s always so much to see in this area that we still had a wonderful day, enjoying the flowers, butterflies, scenery, and perfect weather. We turned around and went back up the road to “Aspen Meadow,” the meadow and wetland that we’d explored several times last year (see Another Exciting Day in the Calapooyas: The Sequel). Late blooming flowers including Cascade grass-of-Parnassus (Parnassia cirrata), western oxypolis (Oxypolis occidentalis), and great northern aster (Canadanthus modestus) were in perfect bloom. The Bolander’s tarweed (Khyosia bolanderi) was at the beginning of its seasonal bloom but still looking ratty in the late morning sun after shriveling up for the main part of the day. We were, however, able to see the flowers reopen at the very end of the day (when John and I go out together, we have trouble leaving any earlier!). There were lots of butterflies, mostly in the drier edges of the wetland. The odd colonies of cyanobacterium Nostoc parmelioides that we discovered on our final visit last year (see More Discoveries along the Calapooya Crest) were still abundant in the rocky creek bed.
Last year, we had noticed how sickly the quaking aspens (Populus tremuloides) had looked and wondered whether the population was in trouble or if it was just the result of the dry year following a practically snowless winter. Happily, they looked very healthy this year. The rocky area next to the aspen and willow grove was filled with sulphur buckwheat (Erigonum umbellatum), aging to from yellow to gold, and pretty pink owl-clover (Orthocarpus imbricatus). All the tiny annuals were going to seed.
Next we went down to Bradley Lake, a couple of miles to the northwest. I was wondering if any of the Sierra Nevada blues would still be around after we found so many of them almost exactly a month before (see More Butterfly Surveying in the Calapooyas). It was around 4pm by the time we arrived, and shadows were starting to stretch across the lake. We only saw a few butterflies, but one of them was a Sierra Nevada blue! It’s hard to say whether there might have been more if we’d been there earlier in the day or if it had been warmer or if that lone female was the last of the season. We also saw a California tortoiseshell, our third of the day. That’s more in one day than I’ve seen in years. Hopefully their population is on the rebound.
Most of the flowers were finished, but we did find some one-flowered gentian (Gentianopsis simplex) starting and some of the usual high-elevation-style short hooded ladies tresses (Spiranthes romanzoffiana). I was quite surprised that there was almost no sign of the arumleaf arrowhead (Sagittaria cuneata) in the water. I had hoped to see flowers, but there weren’t even any leaves. More investigating showed a number of leafless stalks—it looked like someone (elk?) had been nibbling on them. And where was all the ribbon-leaf pondweed (Potamogeton epihydrus) I’d seen in the past? Just a few underwater leaves were evident. Only the yellow pond-lilies (Nuphar polysepala) were blooming normally, although they were past peak.
My other goal in this area was to look for the explorers gentians (Gentiana calycosa) on the cliffs above the lake but below the road. Last year on our August trip, we had settled for climbing up the rocks above the road to see the gentians. John was game to try climbing up the talus slope from the lake in spite of wearing rubber boots to deal with traversing the wetland. I’d opted to carry my boots, so I had changed back into my regular shoes to climb the rocks. As I headed up the large boulders, I hoped I wasn’t dragging John up there for nothing. When I reached the bottom of the cliffs, I stopped worrying about that. There was the motherlode: a gorgeous sweep of gentians, perhaps 3′ across, and in perfect full bloom! After admiring these sufficiently (if that’s even possible), I proposed climbing up the edge of the rocks to the road from there rather than going all the way down the talus and back up the rocky and brushy hill. From our current spot, it looked doable, although when we were up on the road beforehand, it had seemed impossible. We made it without any real problems—even John in his rubber boots—what a trooper!
Since it wasn’t dark yet, we decided to make one more stop. If I’d been alone, I would have headed home at this point, but John is always happy to go ever further, and as long as he was driving, so was I. We headed off on Road 3850 to the southwest this time, over to the other side of the Calapooya crest to Grassy Ranch. We were quite surprised to find a group camping along the main road next to a parked brushmower. Roadwork signs were posted along Road 360 to Grassy Ranch, and they’d obviously been doing some major brushing of this deadend road. Any chance they’d make it over to Road 3810 to clear the way to Skipper Lakes?! We were in the Umpqua National Forest here, and evidently they have a larger budget for road maintenance than the Willamette. We spent a little time botanizing the seepy meadows in the area, finding lots of little one-flowered gentian and other goodies. Too bad the sun was getting so low. After some cold but delicious dinner (everything tastes better out in the mountains!) at Grassy Ranch, we headed back, but not before one last bit of excitement when John spotted a black bear loping through the meadows below the road. As we’ve said many times before, one of these days we need to camp up here, so we won’t have to go home at the end of the day and leave this wonderful area. It’s impossible to see everything in one day.