Higher Up Bear Mountain Meadows

Looking east across the steep, rocky meadows.

It had been three weeks, plenty enough time we figured for the flowers to be much farther along at the meadows on the south slope of Bear Mountain, so Molly Juillerat and I headed back there last Friday (June 3). Since we had only barely gotten up to the cool rocky areas on our last trip (see Knobcone Pines on Bear Mountain Meadows), we wanted to explore the rest of the area east of Indigo Creek including the area much higher up. To make sure we had enough time this trip, we headed straight to Road 2149 and the end of what’s left of Road 204 rather than checking out all the wonderful spots we pass on the drive along Hills Creek Reservoir and Road 21. Knowing now how to get to the base of the meadow complex, it seemed to take only a few minutes to get out into the open. This time, we headed straight up toward the easternmost side that we hadn’t explored at all last time.

Striped skunks may be adorable, but it is not a good idea to upset one!

We were surprised to see how little had changed since our last trip. The Lomatium hallii and Mimulus guttatus and M. alsinoides were still blooming, and even some of the manzanitas and Sierra gooseberry (Ribes roezlii) still had flowers, although they were mostly fading. There was still plenty of snow on the north side of the ridge on the other side of Road 21; it really wasn’t notably different than it was on our previous trip. Spring sure is taking its time this year! As we headed up the steep slope to the rockier areas, Molly was startled by a skunk. It took her a second to remember it wasn’t just a cute mammal, and that, in fact, its tail was up and ready—but at least facing the other way. Perhaps it was guarding a den since it didn’t just run away. Anyway, we decided perhaps that was not the best direction to take. That was my first ever skunk in the mountains, so it was pretty exciting.

As we got up to some of the outcrops, it was clear that the best plants were on the rocks. We came across a few spots with beautiful pink Phlox diffusa. There were more of the strange small and congested fragile ferns (Cystopteris fragilis) over in this area. The area between the rocks was clearly eaten down to golf course height by all the animals. The ground was covered with deer and elk scat, and we even saw three deer in the distance at one point. Even some of the rock plants were nibbled. I’m used to seeing the damage bears do ripping up Lomatium hallii plants to eat the taproots, but here it was the flowers that were obviously the main course. Our best guess is the snow level being so low is keeping all the animals at lower elevations than they would normally be at this time of year. It would be interesting to see if this area is still grazed this heavily in a dry year. These meadow areas between the outcrops are also quite weedy, with the pink flowers of filaree (Erodium cicutarium) absolutely everywhere. These meadows were probably grazed by domestic animals in the past as well.

The distinctive cones of knobcone pine cling to the branches and, even on dead trees, do not open until they are burned.

When we reached the top, around 4300′ in elevation, we found a broad seepy area just below the forest that was sparkling with the tiny white flowers of Thompson’s mistmaiden (Romanzoffia thompsonii). While this isn’t really rare in the Western Cascades, it is an endemic—found nowhere else—and is considered a sensitive species. So while I photographed the pretty flowers, Molly took some notes for the Forest Service and marked the site on her GPS. Also blooming in the seep were a great many equally small meadow nemophila (Nemophila pedunculata), a species more common in this area than previously thought. Walking along the edge of the woods, we saw a number of dead knobcone pines. We had seen many more live ones as well. Knobcones pines need fire to open their cones because they need to germinate in an open area. Once the other trees return and mature around them, the knobcones die out. The healthy ones we saw were mostly perched on rocks where they had little competition. Molly said there are many seedlings coming in across the road where the recent Tumblebug fire burned much of the area. If this area burned again, there would no doubt be many more knobcones once again.

Spreading phlox (Phlox diffusa) blooms at the edge of the western meadow. There’s a great view of the intriguing rocky area west across Indigo Creek. The snowy ridge in the distance is Warner Mountain where the Moon Point and Youngs Rock trails can be found.

We headed back to the very western edge of the opening where there was a big dropoff. One tiny patch of snow remained. Here was blooming Sierra snakeroot (Sanicula graveolens), a lomatium look-alike that is usually found blooming right after the snow melts. We saw our first Penstemon rupicola growing on a rocky knob on which was perched an especially handsome knobcone pine whose lower branches were draped across the rocks. This gave us our first view of the rocky opening seemingly out of reach on the other side of Indigo Creek. To get there would mean finding a way down the steep ravine below and up the other equally steep side beyond. The cliff habitat over there looked like it might make an awesome perch for a peregrine falcon, but we didn’t hear or see any on either trip, so perhaps they haven’t found it yet. We quickly made our way through a patch of woods below to the western meadow we had reached on our last trip. Along the west end, the rocks were decorated with phlox and the first few flowers of Cerastium arvense. They ended in quite a dropoff and with an even better view of this cliff area. Heading back to the car, I couldn’t help but think about a return trip to see if I can get across the creek to explore even more of this interesting area.

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