Unexpected Finds at Mount June

I never had gotten back to further explore the west side of Mount June (see Spring Phacelia on Mount June), so yesterday (October 7), I headed back up there. It was still foggy in the valley but had been clear above when I woke up in the morning, so I hoped Mount June would be above the clouds. It’s close enough to the valley that it often is foggy even up at the top. Thankfully, I drove out of the fog and enjoyed the sun all day.

Fog can be seen from the rocky north end of the west meadow

I headed straight up past the first outcrop to just before next opening. Here I turned right and headed down through the open woods, pretty much due west, following the least steep incline. I quickly popped out into the west meadow just above the wonderful rocky dikes. No great view of the valley this time, just a blanket of fog, its fingers creeping up the ridges below me. There was still some seed left in the numerous larger patches of Penstemon rupicola and Saxifraga bronchialis growing on the steep sides of the rocks. Some of the mats of Penstemon were three feet wide. They must have been glorious in bloom. What with the cold spring we had, I was too early to see them in flower this year on my previous trip in June, normally their peak season. Growing on top of the rocks were little tufts of Minuartia rubella. Most of the seeds were already gone, but there were at least three plants with a few fresh flowers. Considering how rarely I see this little cutie, it was quite a coincidence that this was the third trip in a row I’d seen it. And all three sites had some reblooming plants. Very little else was in bloom, only the little annual knotweeds and a few rattlesnake plantain (Goodyera oblongifolia). Fresh leaves were out on Micranthes (Saxifraga) rufidula and Lomatium hallii.

The narrow leaf segments and blue cast make Pellaea brachyptera look more like a miniature conifer than a fern.

I poked about this steep meadow for a while and then ducked into the woods below on the far end. The next opening is only about a hundred feet below and to the left. This is the rocky slope I had explored on the June trip. As with any off-trail rocky area, every step is a small decision, trying to find the best footing and hoping not to run into a dead-end where it is too steep to continue. I started to walk south straight across the top, but then I hesitated and decided instead to walk across a small, somewhat flat section about 10′ lower. I eventually wanted to get to the next opening below that I hadn’t checked out on the previous trip. Suddenly, there on the ledge right in front of me was Pellaea brachyptera! Had I gone the other way, I never would have found it. As in Robert Frost’s wonderful poem, The Road Less Traveled, “I took the one less traveled by, and that has made all the difference.” How many times have I wondered what I might have seen or missed if I’d taken a different route or gone on a different day. I guess that’s what makes life exciting.

Small clumps of Sierra cliffbrake (Pellaea brachyptera) growing on a rocky ledge

This is a very unusual fern near the north end of its range here. In fact, Mount June is now the second most northerly site. It’s known as Sierra cliffbrake, its main range being down in California. There were only 11 plants in a space about 3′ x 5′. I scanned the nearby rocks with the binoculars for more but didn’t spot any. How did they get here? And why aren’t they all over the rocks? Another rock fern, Aspidotis densa, was abundant in the area, and almost every Western Cascade rock-loving fern I can think of grows somewhere on Mount June. Most of the sites I’ve seen this at were similarly small and isolated. Who knows, maybe with global warming, it is in the process of moving north and these are pioneers. I’ll have to watch this population over the coming years to see if the number of plants increases.

These newly germinated seedlings will bear the pretty blue flowers of Gilia capitata next summer.

After I finished photographing the Pellaea, I went straight down through the woods to the lower small opening. From here, I could see there was another opening to the north, so I headed there first. This was quite large, and again, quite rocky, but much drier with much more sun. There were many small oaks and manzanitas. I walked across to the north end. I could see through the woods to the big west meadow just uphill. It’s great that all these open areas are close together. I was taking photos of the location when I heard the noise of movement above me. Expecting to see deer, I was taken aback when two dogs came barreling into the opening in front of me. One had a leash on. They were very friendly and came right up to me. They were husky types. I once had a husky/malamute mix. She used to run off all the time, so I figured they’d mostly likely ditched their parents. I called out, but no one was nearby. I was nearly 600′ below the summit and they were heading the wrong way. So much for any more botanizing. I grabbed the leash, and we headed straight up through the west meadow to the trail, with only a short break to get us all some water and catch our breath. I adore dogs and enjoyed all their affectionate licks, but it reminded me why I don’t have a dog now. Trying to walk off-trail with a dog on a leash was no picnic. We never seemed to want to go around obstacles the same way. And when the unleashed younger dog disappeared over the side of a steep rock, I had a moment of panic. We got to the trail and checked out the summit. No one there. I had all sorts of unpleasant scenarios going through my head. Would I have to drive around looking for someone looking for a dog? Or bring them home and try to find their owner by phone? I’d already called the number on the collar and got the answering machine of the Humane Society. Thankfully, as we headed down the trail, their dad was coming up the trail. Apparently, they’d ditched him the second he opened the car door. What a relief for all of us. I wonder if they had followed my scent down the mountainside. We chatted about the dogs on the way down and said goodbye. Not the way I had planned my day, but all’s well that ends well.

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