A Return Look at Deer Creek Meadows

The upper meadow in its full glory of monkeyflower and rosy plectritis during a break in the clouds. Looking east where there was still lots of blue sky, we didn’t realize that rain was coming in.

The floriferous roadcuts start just after you pass picturesque Fritz Creek, which was still gushing with water most likely from higher elevation melting snow.

After my earlier trip to Deer Creek Road this season (see Golden-lined Banks of Deer Creek Road), I was anxious to return and see the next stage of bloom as well as to explore the upper meadows we hadn’t had energy to do on the first trip on a hot day. On May 25, 2017, just about 3 weeks after the first trip, John Koenig and I drove out to Deer Creek Road, on what turned out to be a cooler day than we expected but a good one for climbing up the steep meadows.

We started out enjoying the lovely sunny day by walking down the road to see what was in bloom. Thompson’s mistmaiden (Romanzoffia thompsonii) and naked broomrape (Orobanche uniflora) were finishing up; silverleaf phacelia (Phacelia hastata), Menzies’ larkspur (Delphinium menziesii), and prairie star (Lithophragma parviflorum) were at peak bloom; and the big show of large-flowered blue-eyed Mary (Collinsia grandiflora) was just beginning. We also needed to figure out the best way to access the upper meadows. I hadn’t tackled the eastern meadow since 2010 (see Superb Floral Display Above Deer Creek), so I had forgotten where along the steep roadcut Sabine Dutoit and I had managed to climb up. It turns out we did find the same gap in the rocks, although I didn’t recognize it until I got home and looked at my old photos (for those interesting in checking it out, it’s about 1/4 mile past Fritz Creek but bring an aerial photo as you can’t see the meadow from below). Hopefully I’ll remember the spot the next time I go up there.

From our lunch spot at the upper reaches of the eastern meadow, we could see Carpenter Mountain with its fire lookout. Snow remained down its eastern flank for quite a ways.

While it was certainly quite steep, animals have made many trails and footsteps to walk in, and it was still damp enough to not be slippery. We headed up the eastern edge to a rocky area at the top where we could see around the corner toward Fritz Creek. Some death camas (Toxicoscordion venenosum) was starting to bloom, and there were some lovely madrone (Arbutus menziesii) in full bloom, but the main show was in the damp areas down the center of the meadow where the monkeyflowers (Mimulus guttatus) and rosy plectritis (Plectritis congesta) were carpeting the slope. After eating our lunch (and very briefly becoming lunch for a loathsome tick), we headed back down the meadow. We suddenly realized it was clouding up, and it was totally cloudy when we reached the most floriferous area. Preferring to photograph in the sun, I was rather frustrated, and eventually we headed back across the meadow for our descent. Suddenly blue sky and sun reappeared. I “ran” back across the meadow while John made his way downhill. It only lasted 10 minutes, but I was thankful to have that much time to enjoy the splash of color in bright sunlight.

Flitting around on some manzanitas, we saw three brown elfins before it clouded up. This one looks quite fresh, still showing some vivid purple scales on its wings.

By the time we made it back to the road, it was starting to sprinkle. We drove the half mile over to the western meadow, where we hemmed and hawed about whether to climb up as the rain seemed to be getting heavier. We decided not to bother and got back in the car. Looking for a better place to turn around, we drove up the road a little farther. In the few minutes it took to turn around, the rain had stopped. This time we decided to go for it, but we only hiked up to the base of the meadow where we could that the beautiful shooting stars (Dodecatheon pulchellum) were all but finished. Still there was a lovely show of monkeyflowers, rosy plectritis, and larkspur (Delphinium menziesii). We were lucky we didn’t get really wet, as when we made a short stop at the cliffs along Cougar Reservoir on the way home, we noticed the potholes were filled with water and McKenzie Highway was steaming. Back in the Valley, the sky was perfectly clear. A good reminder this early in the season that mountains can create their own weather, and to be ready for any kind of weather when out hiking.

We climbed across the middle of the meadow to see this magical carpet of monkeyflowers and rosy plectritis. Other smaller annuals were also evident up close. The dark clouds appeared rather quickly and put a bit of a damper on my photography.

Given that it was still raining lightly, we only climbed up to where we could look at the bottom of the western meadow. It was a relatively short but steep climb up from the road (the gray patch below at the right side of the photo), but the flowers made it worth while.

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