Ill-Fated Trip up Illahee Road: pt. 1, Illahee Meadow

From the road, it looks like the meadow ends beyond oaks at the top, but in fact there is much more open ground even farther uphill to the west.

The tiny flowers of common bluecup are bright purple, but they are surprisingly hard to spot. The long, distinctive sepals grow much larger as the ovary matures.

On the second day of my North Umpqua trip (June 2), I headed up Illahee Road 4760, just past the Dry Creek store on the north side of Highway 138. I hadn’t been to Illahee Rock for 8 years, and there are some meadows on the way up I wanted to explore. I hate to end a story on a sour note, so let’s get this out of the way first: on the way back down from Illahee Rock, I flatted a tire, most likely on a sharp rock, but I don’t know. I struggled to get the lug nuts off, causing some mild panic and a whole lot of swearing, but eventually got the spare on and drove straight home. That meant skipping the third day of my trip, but at that point, I just wanted to get back to “civilization” and the comfort of my own home, and I couldn’t go anywhere on my small spare anyway. I had been nervous about the idea of going all the way up to Illahee Rock because on my previous trips I had found the upper reaches of the road—along the steep, naked edge of the much-burned Boulder Creek Wilderness—quite scary. But I was determined not to let fear stop me from doing what I wanted to do, and I actually thought the surface of the road was in better shape than I expected. Needless to say, I had plenty of time to regret that decision on the long drive home.

A particularly friendly California tortoiseshell, this one landed on my hand repeatedly when I offered it my outstretched palm. It also sat on my hat several times. There were a number of other torties flying around, and though they kept fluttering around me, none had the courage to land.

Now that we got that out of the way, we can focus on the good stuff—wildflowers and butterflies! When I started up the road, I wasn’t sure if I should try to get to Illahee Rock first or even if I was going to go up there at all. When I arrived at the large, south-facing, roadside meadow (which I’m rather uncreatively dubbing “Illahee Meadow”) about 4.6 miles up the road, it was only 8:30am, and masses of showy tarweed (Madia elegans) lit up the steep slope. I had stopped here in the past, but I had never looked at it from beyond the road. Knowing that the tarweed would be closing up in a few hours, I decided to start the day by exploring the meadow. At a little under 3300′, this looked to be peak season for many wildflowers.

The upper reaches of the main meadow were especially floriferous with scattered ookow lifting their purple heads above a sea of tarweed.

The most difficult part of these roadside meadows is almost always getting above the roadcut. This proved harder than it looked because after several weeks of dry weather parts of it were dry and slippery with loose gravel. Once I’d managed to get up on the slope, it was still darned steep, and I really took my time. In addition to the tarweed, there were lots of clovers, some uncommon, white-flowered Nevada pea (Lathyrus lanszwertii), and pretty ookow (Dichelostemma congestum) in bloom. Up along the shady edges were beautiful patches of Tolmie’s cat’s ears (Calochortus tolmiei). I don’t generally pay much that much attention to grasses, but the graceful, tall inflorescences of California fescue (Festuca california) at the edge of the forest caught my eye. There was plenty of poison oak (Toxicodendron diversilobum), but thankfully it was in isolated clumps that were relatively easy to avoid.

I’m pretty sure this is Klamath plum (Prunus subcordata), a new species for me and one more common farther south than I usually travel. It was a fairly small shrub, growing among some of the steepest rocks. Its leaves have very rounded bases attached to long petioles.

Thinking the meadow was only as big as I could see from the road, I had left my pack and lunch in the car and only had one bottle of water with me in my camera bag. When I reached the “top” of the meadow and saw more meadow beyond, I realized this was a mistake. But I continued on, again thinking there were just a few more open areas up higher and farther west. But beyond this, I reached the top of the ridge and quite a bit of very rocky habitat.

Silvery lupine (Lupinus albifrons) was at peak in the rocky areas above the meadow.

The new fronds of Sierra cliffbrake are green, but the old ones are much more glaucous.

As I approached the rocky areas, I was excited to see one of my favorite ferns, the uncommon Sierra cliffbrake (Pellaea brachyptera). At first it seemed the population was rather small, as I’d seen in a number of other places, but as I continued farther uphill, I came across more and more clumps. And when I returned down the west side of the lower meadow where there were more outcrops, I found even more of it. I’d missed it coming up the deeper soiled, east side of the meadow. The rocky areas were also the perfect habitat of another favorite plant, the gorgeous silvery lupine (Lupinus albifrons). The white-flowered slender-tubed irises (Iris chrysophylla) were also lovely, as they had been in many places along the road. My timing was also spot on for the bright red flowers of frosted paintbrush (Castilleja pruinosa).

While many of the perennials were in full bloom, a few fading flowers on drying stalks were all I could find of the endemic annual spring phacelia (Phacelia verna), but I was happy to see it none-the-less. A number of other annuals were still blooming quite well though. Narrowleaf owl-clover (Castilleja attenuata) and hairy owl-clover (C. tenuis), actually paintbrush relatives, were abundant. One of my favorite tiny-flowered species, Rattan’s blue-eyed Mary (Collinsia rattanii) was scattered about at the edges of the openings. The small, dandelion-like annual agoseris (Agoseris heterophylla) is only open in the morning, so my early start (staying at Horseshoe Bend Campground just a few miles from Illahee Road was very convenient!) allowed me the rare opportunity to see it before the flowers closed up. Once I spotted the first common blue cup (Githopsis specularioides), I realized there were lots of them hiding among the larger plants. The tiny yellow flowers of the rather rare candelabrum monkeyflower (Erythranthe [Mimulus] pulsiferae) only appeared to be in one spot, but I’m sure I didn’t cover every inch of ground up there.

I’ve never seen such large spreads of narrowleaf owl-clover.

Unbeknownst to me while I was there, when I returned home and looked carefully at the area on Google Earth, I discovered there were even more openings in the largely forested area farther to the west and back downhill. One of these days, I’ll have to return and spend a whole day exploring this area. I can’t help thinking if I’d had the foresight to bring an aerial photo of the area, checking out all the open spots here would have kept me busy all day—and most likely I wouldn’t have flatted my tire!

2 Responses to “Ill-Fated Trip up Illahee Road: pt. 1, Illahee Meadow”

  • Marshall:

    I worry about flats out there in the woods so I put steel-belted AT tires on my Subaru (Yokohama Geolandar A/T G015, others are similar). Since you have a van, consider a full-size spare. Stay safe!! Keep taking beautiful pictures!

  • Leigh Blake:

    Loved your latest blog!!! Sorry about the flat tire…nasty experience. Glad you were able to deal with it.

    We live at 2400 foot elevation in Trail, Oregon and our Calochortus tolmiei has just finished along with our Iris chrysopylla and others…Delphinium menziesii, Dicentra formosa , etc..

    I have what I think is Prunus subcordata scattered about our land. I have Mark Turner’s ID book “Trees and Shrubs” of the Pacific Northwest and what you are showing looks to be Prunus virginiana (?). I searched for records of Prunus subcordata for several years….mainly because originally I could find no record of it. I am growing it in pots also…I’m using it for bonsai. If I’m wrong, please excuse me….it wouldn’t be the first time…My Prunus gets to be about twelve feet high and the Prunus virginiana stays much lower…and leaves are mote rounded than what I’m calling Prunus subcordata. They’re both great bloomers and the fruit on P. subcordata is very nice…small but very tasty. I love this plant!!

    Thanks for great articles…love your blogs!!!

    On a further note, my husband and I took a drive about three weeks ago to the country just to the north of us…about seven miles.. There were still Trillium ovatum, Delphinium menziesii (in great masses!!) and Dicentra formosa…We came around a bend and to our horror the mountains had been stripped of every tree…to the ground. Millions of acres of bare stripped ground. This was on the Douglas County side above Jackson County just east of highway 227 on the way to Tiller. Disgusting!!!!

    Thanks for your great articles!!

    Respectfully ..Leigh Blake

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