Amazing Rock Feature Worthy of a Name

The north side of “Mosaic Rock” seen from farther down the road. Steeple Rock is the much smaller rock off to the left right  (why do I still get those mixed up!) farther up the slope.

Back in March, while doing our usual early-season poking around southeastern Lane County (see Spring is Here!), Sabine and I came across a huge rock feature we hadn’t noticed before. At the time, access to it was blocked by snow, even though it tops out at 4000′, so on Monday (June 20), we finally headed back up there to get a close up look. We took the first right off of Coal Creek Road 2133. The sign says the road is called 2133-200, but the maps disagree as to what it is called farther up.

Montia diffusa comes in after fires. It looks somewhat like a small-flowered version of the common candyflower (Claytonia sibirica).

On the way up, we spent some time at Jim’s Oak Patch, an area the Willamette National Forest has been doing restoration work on. Several years ago it was burned, and we found several interesting plants that are adapted to burned habitat. These are always interesting because they tend to come in en masse in the scorched ground, but they eventually disappear as other plants reestablish. They must leave vast amounts of seed in the ground, which can sit and wait for many years until the area reburns. Some of these plants have been considered rare, but it is hard to make a judgement about a plant that is so temporary. One of these plants is Montia diffusa. I don’t remember seeing it before, although I was aware of it, so it was great to see it in bloom and get a chance to photograph it. Another was Geranium bicknellii. According to Bruce Newhouse, this pops up a lot more than the Atlas would indicate. It also likes to establish in ground cleared by fire. There was a lovely sweep of Camassia leichtlinii with Plectritis congesta in wet spots and our perennial native Geranium oreganum in bloom as well. Several patches of Heuchera chlorantha foliage lead me to believe there is more in this part of the county than I previously realized.

Cliff penstemon (Penstemon rupicola) grows abundantly in rock crevices.

After this relaxing survey, we headed several miles farther up the road for some more difficult exploration. We were very pleased to come to a spot where the east edge of the rock comes down near the road. The forest had blocked our view of the rock as we were evidently traveling below it. As soon as I got out of the car, I could see what looked like magenta lights up on the right—loads of blooming Penstemon rupicola! We managed to clamber up to the base of the rock. We could see that the rock was entirely columnar jointed. While I’ve seen columnar-jointed rock in road cuts and elsewhere, it was an amazing sight to see such a large and freestanding monument built this way. The rocks themselves seemed quite solid, even if the talus slope was not entirely stable. We made our way around to the mainly north-facing side. Many of the interesting plants reach their southern limit in this area, and north-facing rocks make good refugia for these cool-loving “northerners”. But there was next to nothing on the vertical faces except numerous patches of penstemon, mostly just coming into bloom, and common plants including rosy plectritis and Lomatium hallii at the base. We also couldn’t get very far due to the steepness of the slope.

Can you tell if these are horizontal or vertical? It’s quite an optical illusion. The photo is taken looking straight up.

The south-facing side of the rock turned out to be much easier to access. This is the uphill side of the main slope, which is mostly forested and was far more stable. More plants also grew on this side, each tucked into the many cracks formed by the perfect joints. I was so pleased to discover another of my favorite plants, Heuchera merriamii. Although I continue to find more populations of this species and know that it is no longer considered rare here, I still get a thrill when I see it. Maybe it is because it picks the most amazing places to grow. Here again, it was growing mostly under an overhang (see Beautiful Seeps at Youngs Rock for another photo of this). In this case, the overhang was provided by the entire rock face arching over as well as individual joints that had broken off at the bottom. The plants might be protected from direct rain, but water was clearly percolating down through the rocks from above. Wet cracks not only had colorful monkeyflower, but there were also several with maidenhair fern (Adiantum aleuticum).

Sabine heading up the steep slope on the south side of the rock.

Following the base of the “backside” of the rock, we started heading uphill and more out in the open. The mossy rocks we crossed were also jointed but covered with mosses and numerous wildflowers, so it wasn’t as evident. We weren’t used to the heat of the day—there having been so few warm days so far this year—and it was a bit tricky heading up, so Sabine decided to wait for me while I continued up. I wasn’t sure how far I could go, but it seemed as though it was possible to actually get up to a point on the ridge that dipped down a bit just where the slope came up to its highest. While the footing wasn’t really that bad, it is always uncomfortable being on a steep slope, especially one with a drop off nearby. The war between my nerves and my curiosity was won by the latter. I couldn’t go this far just to turn around without finding out whether that was the top of the rock. After one last difficult push through a thick patch of manzanita, there I was on the ridge, albeit 200′ below the highest point to my right. What a view! I could see most everything to the north including Youngs Rock, Moon Point, and Bearbones Mountain. Thankfully the top wasn’t quite a knife edge, but there was nowhere safe to go from there, so after taking some photographs and noticing some Saxifraga bronchialis on the north side of the rocks, I headed back down to join Sabine.

The rocks form solidified waves near the top.

I’m so glad I made it to the top because my knees may not let me punish them like that again. I’m sure I’ll be back this way to see the base of the rock at least. It is just such a gorgeous natural sculpture that seems to change from every viewpoint. Some spots the joints are on end, some areas they form perfect columns, and especially near the top, they curve over like waves. We were rather dismayed that such an incredible feature had not earned a name. Less than a mile away, up the slope, Steeple Rock is easy to spot from a distance, but it pales in comparison to “our” rock. We decided it deserved a name. Sabine set her mind to that task and came up with some possibilities. We both liked the sound of “Honeycomb Dome” because the joints on their sides do look like a honeycomb, but the whole rock looks more like a flying saucer that crashed into the ground on its side—definitely not a dome. So we settled on “Mosaic Rock”. It expresses the artistic quality and cracked nature of the rock. Maybe those folks who make maps will pick up the name someday.

One Response to “Amazing Rock Feature Worthy of a Name”

  • Greg:

    Cool! I particularly like the “optical illusion” photo… I never would have guessed that that was taken looking straight up.

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