Balm Mountain Really Rocks!

Hall’s goldenweed (Columbiadoria hallii) blooming in front of gorgeous rock formation near the south end of the ridge.

Fall is officially here. Soon the snow will start to blanket the Cascades, and I’ll hang up my hiking vest for the winter. The last place I just had to get back to once more this season was Balm Mountain in the Calapooyas. On my previous trip (see First Exploration of Balm Mountain), I hadn’t made it all the way to the south end of the ridge. I really wanted to check it out to see where the most interesting parts of the ridge are for when I return next year to see it during peak flowering season, so yesterday (September 22), I headed back up there. This time I took Staley Ridge Road 2134, so I could drive all the way to the access point for Balm Mountain.

An acmon blue sips from fall knotweed (Polygonum spergulariiforme). This was also a big favorite of bees by Staley Creek, as little else is blooming now.

My day got off to a bad start when I stopped at Trailhead Cafe in Oakridge to pick up some of their delicious peanut butter chocolate chip cookies. I walked in as a man was bragging about how he’d just shot a 250-lb bear after tracking it for three days. He was so proud of himself for murdering the poor bear, he had to go and repeat the story to another employee. People may have an argument for hunting for subsistence, but bloodlust seemed to be motivating this man. If another human had been his target, he would have been labelled a violent criminal. I’m sure that bear wanted to live as much as any of us. It took me a while to shake my bad mood. Watching butterflies and the sun finally breaking out as I made a short stop at the bridge and waterfall along Staley Creek finally took my mind off the hunter and onto plants. I also made a quick stop at a little shallow lake I remembered seeing from up on the ridge on my previous trip. It was largely devoid of plants, but there were lots of tadpoles in the process of turning into frogs.

Some asters were still blooming in one of the first colorful rock formations near the south end of the mountain. The reddish dying leaves to the left are Newberry’s knotweed (now Aconogonon davisiae).

Hall’s goldenweed (Columbiadoria hallii)

After making several more roadside stops along the ridge, I finally parked at the edge of the clearcut on the north side of Balm Mountain. By now the day was completely clear, at least above me and to the east, and the view was fabulous. I quickly made it up to the old lookout site and then headed off along the up-and-down ridge. About the only thing still in bloom was Hall’s goldenweed (Columbiadoria hallii), but surprisingly it wasn’t attracting any pollinators. It took me a while to get as far as I had reached on my first trip before bushwhacking down the ridge. That must have been at least 3/4 of the way to the far end. Shortly after this, the ridge opened up to several wide rocky areas separated by only short stretches of open forest. The wild formations were made of the same type of artistically eroded rock as the ones I posted from my first trip. Most of the plants seemed to stay away from these smooth, layered areas, but there were tons of spreading phlox (Phlox diffusa) and other rock lovers around the edges and on raised strips of more chunky rock.

Greene’s goldenweed (Ericameria greenei)

In one of these areas, I did a double-take when I realized the yellow flowers there weren’t more Columbiadoria hallii but were actually the superficially similar and much less common Greene’s goldenweed (Ericameria greenei), normally found at higher elevations near the Cascade crest. This only showed up in one opening—the next few openings were again dotted with Columbiadoria. Both of these species were once placed in the genus Happlopappus and used to confuse me. Both are very late-blooming, yellow-flowered composites. They have only a few ray florets and rather generic-looking lanceolate leaves. Their gestalt, however, is a bit different. Ericameria greenei always appears to me to be somewhat messy. It is more leafy, and leaves often partly cover the bracts of the involucre. The styles are very long and flop over. Columbiadoria is a much stiffer and more orderly plant. The involucre has very short bracts which are easy to see and usually appear to be coated with shellac. Seeing the two growing near each other is a great way to learn to differentiate the two species.

View of Mt. Thielsen and Mt. Bailey from the south end of Balm Mountain. Someone evidently enjoyed the view while camping here.

I wasn’t sure if I’d know when I got to the end of the ridge. Would it just start heading down through the woods? Or would there be an abrupt end? It couldn’t have been more obvious. I walked through a short stretch of forest and suddenly popped out at the top of a steep gravelly slope with a 180° view to the south and east. Lots of plants grew here including some large clumps of Luina hypoleuca, loads of Penstemon rupicola, a little Ageratina occidentalis, and even a single Balsamorhiza deltoidea. I’d seen some last year by the Skipper Lakes trailhead below, so I imagine there is more lower down the slope. After admiring the view for a little while, I headed back but just a little downslope where it was still open. There were more of the really beautiful, wavy rock formations. The rock looks as though it is golden until it weathers. When the flowers are in bloom, it will be an amazing place to photograph. Nine months—how will I stand the wait!

One Response to “Balm Mountain Really Rocks!”

  • Kris:

    Tanya, that ridge looks like a wonderful place to explore, and the view is great. The differences in the Goldenweeds are interesting, and I’m sure you’ll find many other interesting things there next year.

    The Acmon Blue is beautiful and so is the flower it’s on.


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