Beautiful Bloom at Bearbones

Rosy plectritis, death camas, and cliff penstemon blooming beautifully on the side ridge.

Yesterday (June 15), Dan Thomas, Nancy Bray, and I spent the day at Bearbones Mountain. I just love this little-known jewel. So many interesting plants in such a small area. It’s a real melting pot, with plants more typical of the north, south, and east, all meeting together on a small, rocky knob. Few people travel this trail, so the plants are quickly filling in. We were surprised that most of the coralroots we saw seemed to be coming up right in the middle of the trail. We tried our best to avoid them, but as they were in bud and their reddish color blended in with the soil, it was difficult to spot them all, and on the return trip, we noticed several broken stalks we must have stepped on as we went up the trail. Both my companions seemed happy at the diversity of plants we saw. There were many slender-tubed iris (Iris chrysophylla) and fairybells (Prosartes hookeri) in the woods. The fairybells are especially small along this trail, some only 4″ high. After spotting the white-flowered wands of Mitella trifida, we spent a while looking for the very similar M. diversifolia, so I could show them the difference in leaf and flower shape. They can be hard to spot among the showier plants, but there were quite a few.

From the old lookout site on the summit, looking northeast, you can see Hills Creek Reservoir and the Three Sisters. On the right, the burn on Bunchgrass Ridge is evident in the distance. Below it and closer in is the open rocky ridge of Stone Mountain. Just in front is nearby “Bearscat Ridge” (my name!), tinged with pink from a spectacular bloom of rosy plectritis.

Mahala mat (Ceanothus prostratus) with Diamond Peak in the distance

We lunched at the small southwestern arm that juts off at one of the switchbacks. I wanted to check the small population of Sierra cliffbrake (Pellaea brachyptera) that I discovered here a few years ago. This is one of four sites in Lane County, the northern end of its range. There are only 30 or so plants, but the population seems to be holding. We had missed the pretty Phlox diffusa here, but the masses of Mahala mat (Ceanothus prostratus) had not yet finished. There were more Ceanothus when we reached the open summit, along with lots of other flowers. The ground was still damp. Every spot not taken by a perennial was covered with tiny annuals including the diminutive but bright yellow least tarweed (Hemizonella minima). The view at the old lookout site on top is terrific. We could see the still snow-covered Three Sisters, Bohemia and Fairview not quite melted out, and many favorite nearby landmarks, including Moon Point, Youngs Rock, Stone Mountain, and Mosaic Rock. I didn’t do the climbing around the north-facing rocks that I usually do, but we could see Castilleja rupicola, Erigeron cascadensis, and Penstemon rupicola all blooming. There were piles of dead stalks and some stones carefully arranged to form “YCC 11″—indications that a YCC weeding group had removed much of the nasty Klamath weed (Hypericum perforatum) last year. Thank you YCC folks!

Spring phacelia and Olympic onion grow abundantly on the gravelly slope.

The side ridge is my favorite spot. The short bushwhack down through the woods is well worth the effort. It was blooming beautifully. There was lots of rosy plectritis (Plectritis congesta) and death camas (Toxicoscordion venonosum) along with larkspur (Delphinium menziesii), Olympic onion (Allium crenulatum), and frosted paintbrush (Castilleja pruinosa). We were all excited to see that the adorable annual spring phacelia (Phacelia verna) was abundant and in good bloom. This is a rare endemic of Douglas and southern Lane County. It loves gravelly slopes like this. One of the wonderful things about this ridge is that it slopes gently to the south, bringing lots of warm sun to the plants along the top like mountain cat’s ear (Calochortus subalpinus) and several buckwheats (Eriogonum spp.) that were still mostly in bud. The north side of the ridge drops abruptly, creating cool, shady, vertical rock habitat for a whole different suite of plants. Castilleja rupicola, Saxifraga bronchialis, and Valeriana scouleri love this habitat and were in bloom, although the paintbrush wasn’t as fresh here as it was on the summit. It was a pretty warm day yesterday, and we were thankful for the breeze. Standing right above the small north-facing cliffs, I could feel how dramatically cooler it was down there.

A very odd, doubled flower of spotted coralroot.

I could stay up there all day, but we had some time constraints. Dan suggested it would be fun to camp up there someday. I would love to be there at sunrise. But we headed back to the car and arrived much more quickly than expected. On the way up, the trail seems a lot longer than a mere mile because there are so many plants to inspect. On the way back, we were more focused on going home. As I opened the back of my van, however, I noticed a single spotted coralroot (Corallorhiza maculata) in full bloom. This was the first one we had seen in flower, so of course it warranted a photo. And what a surprise, it had a double flower! I’ve never noticed this before. Now I felt ready to go home.

A Word of Warning

I highly recommend a trip up to Bearbones Mountain if you’re more interested in botanizing than hiking. But be advised that there is a major slump in the road on 5850 just south of the trailhead and north of the intersection with Steamboat Road 38. It has been fixed in the past but, unfortunately, has fallen in again. It is passable (slowly!) for vehicles with decent clearance. My minivan had no trouble. It is possible to access 5850 from the north by going up Larison Creek Road 2102, but I once went home that way and had to traverse another slump in the road. That was fixed a few years back, but perhaps the road wasn’t built very well, and there is a possibility of other bads spots appearing in the otherwise good gravel road.

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