East Side of Deception Butte

Whether you take the long route from the bottom or the short 1/3 mile path from near the top, the official trail to Deception Butte peters out before you reach the real reason to go up there—the glorious open slope that graces its south-facing side. Animals have made paths all over the summit, and it is easy to continue a short ways from the end of the trail down to the opening with its fabulous view. Last spring, I was up on another ridge near Oakridge scanning the mountains with my binoculars. Looking over to Deception Butte, I could see a large open area facing east, one I knew nothing about. Naturally, I just had to check it out.

Early flowers of harsh paintbrush (Castilleja hispida) on the main slope

Handsome madrone and view of Diamond Peak. Groundhog Mountain, on the right, is also still covered with snow.

Yesterday (May 10), I headed up there on a gorgeous sunny day. The snow level is slowly creeping up, but I was surprised to see piles of snow on the side of the road for several miles before I reached the trailhead at only 3200′ in elevation. It looked like the road had been plowed, so the deeper snow was taking longer to melt. There was no sign of snow in the forest. It is still very early on the summit, only 300′ higher. Lots of snow queen was decorating the woods with its adorable purple flower clusters, but there were none of the many fairy slippers yet. The open meadow was dotted with yellow from Lomatium hallii and a little Sanicula graveolens. Seepy spots were easy to spot from the bright white flowers of Micranthes (Saxifraga) rufidula. Only a handful of the lovely Dodecatheon pulchellum (see Dodecatheon at Deception Butte for more about this beauty) had started to bloom. Growing beside them on the wet rocks, Cascadia (Saxifraga) nuttalli was also budded up with just a few open blossoms. A few bright red spots of Castilleja hispida livened up the green of the steep mossy slope. As cold and wet as this spring has been, I still didn’t think it could have been worse than the miserable weather of last year, but my 2010 trip when the shooting stars were in full bloom was May 12—only two days later. We must be at least a week or two behind last year, which was already later than normal.

The steep, south-facing slope of Deception Butte is quite seepy, making it a good home for many interesting species.

With so little in bloom, I quickly headed off to find the openings on the east side of the mountain. I could tell from Google Earth that they started a couple of hundred feet below the summit, so I carefully followed the east edge of the open area down into the woods. Thankfully, it was easy to spot the first opening through a short stretch of trees. This was like a much smaller version of the main open slope with many stepped levels. A few Mimulus guttatus joined some patches of tiny Mimulus alsinoides and the Lomatium and Micranthes. Several madrones were perched on the rocks, partly blocking the view to the southeast. I continued along the upper level through another short stretch of woods until I could see the east-facing opening just below me. I had to step carefully going down not just because of the steep incline but because the area was filled with short shoots of poison oak—a plant that wasn’t even on my list. It was well worth the effort of picking my way through this unwelcome barrier, however, because the view was spectacular when I came into the clearing.

Looking north across the eastern slope, Tire Mountain can be seen in the middle of the photo on the next-to-most-distant ridge.

I had a 180° view that stretched from nearby Tire Mountain around to the snowy tops of the Three Sisters and Fuji Mountain, south to Diamond Peak and Groundhog Mountain. The steep nature and rockiness of the slope kept me from exploring much of it on foot, but with binoculars I got a good look across the opening. Things were slightly farther along here than on the top—500′ higher. A few Delphinium menziesii had begun, and some sprays of Romanzoffia californica displayed their little white funnel-shaped flowers in seepier spots. I had hoped to find more Dodecatheon over here but could not spot any dots of its distinctive bright pink in the distance, and there weren’t very many suitable really wet seeps close by. It would be better to wait until they are blooming in earnest to search for them with binoculars.

Looking up the main slope. By the end of the month, it should be quite colorful.

As I headed back slightly lower than I came in, I spotted a large patch of blooming Viola sheltonii under a large Douglas-fir. They are one of our prettiest violets with their red-backed yellow petals and deeply dissected leaves. I popped out into the middle hidden opening below where I’d crossed before and decided to continue straight across, so I could see the lower part of the main south-facing slope. There was lots more poison oak to navigate. It is interesting that it disappears before you reach the top. I’ve seen it above 3500′ before, so I’m not sure why it doesn’t grow on the upper part of the mountain—but I am thankful! Of course, one of the drawbacks of exploring down a steep slope is having to return back uphill, especially without the benefit of a trail. But there were plenty of animal trails to follow. And they were evidently well used judging from several piles of bear scat and lots more of deer. Some of the Lomatium was lying rootless on the ground, slightly wilted but not dried up. No doubt the bear responsible for that had been there fairly recently. But while I didn’t see him as I headed back, I did spot an odd small bird that flew off the slope with something in its mouth. It looked rather squat when it landed on a branch above me, but it was facing the other way. I only got a momentary glimpse of its face, but I think it might have been a small pygmy owl!

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