Off the Beaten Track at Tidbits

A stunning show of mountain cat’s ear (Calochortus subalpinus) on the south-facing slope of “the Wall”.

Most people who go to Tidbits Mountain head up the trail to the old lookout site, enjoy the view, and return the same way they came. It’s a wonderful hike with many wildflowers and a fabulous view. But there is more to be seen at Tidbits. My goal for my trip yesterday (July 9) was to spend some time on what I call “the Wall”—the part of the ridge to the west of the “Tidbits” that can be seen from the summit. It puts on a great show in July. The last few years I’ve only come to Tidbits late during gentian season. I also wanted to relocate an uncommon plant I’d found back in the fall of 2009 off the side trail that heads north from the intersection where a cabin once sat.

“The Wall” as seen from the summit. While the shady, north-facing side is a vertical cliff, the south-facing side is a gentle slope. Cliff penstemon (P. rupicola) blooms in the foreground.

A small white prairie star (Lithophragma parviflorum) struggles to be seen in a sea of purple larkspur (Delphinium menziesii).

At the intersection where a hard left takes you to the summit, I went straight instead, heading downhill to the wall. Even though it’s only an extra 1/4 mile and 200′ drop in elevation, in the late summer I usually skip this stretch because the slope is all baked. But at this time of year, I always make a point of checking it out. I was not disappointed. As I’d hoped, the mountain cat’s ears (Calochortus subalpinus) were outstanding. I’d also hit the larkspur (Delphinium menziesii) season perfectly. What a show! If purple weren’t already my favorite color, it would be now. I decided to walk all the way down the slope below the trail, something I’d never done before. There were some seepy spots with both common and Brewer’s monkeyflowers (Mimulus guttatus and M. breweri). The latter was an addition to my list, along with some Mertens’ saxifrage (Saxifraga mertensiana) growing under an overhanging rock and naked broomrape (Orobanche uniflora), its little lavender flowers peeking out from Oregon stonecrop (Sedum oreganum). It was two hours before I was able to tear myself away from this gorgeous area and head up to the summit.

The summit of Tidbits is not the place for people with a fear of heights. Cascade fleabane (Erigeron cascadensis) is perched on the top about 200′ above the talus slope below. A little snow remained on the edges of the talus and on a few places along the trail.

As I’d hoped, the cliff penstemon (Penstemon rupicola) and Cascade fleabane (Erigeron cascadensis) were at peak on the tiny summit of the west Tidbit. I have been using a photo of the penstemon from here for the potential cover of my book but wanted to try for a better photo. The air was quite hazy, from what I don’t know. It looked like smoke. I was rather disappointed that I’d made it here just at the right time for the flowers only to have my photos spoiled by dirty air. Still, I took as many photos as I could from different angles and positions—ones that I could safely photograph from that is. Finally, vertigo got the best of me and I descended. Rather than going back the way I came, I took the old trail around the east side. It is not maintained and can be difficult to follow, as huckleberries have reclaimed much of the path. There is a good reason to take the rougher route, however. A nice population of Sitka mistmaiden (Romanzoffia sitchensis) hides in the shady section before you pop out onto the talus. It was in perfect bloom. Another white flower grows alongside it, alpine pennycress (now Noccaea fendleri). It also blooms out in the open on the sunny, rocky area just south of the final ascent to the summit. Those were already in seed, however. Odd that it seems to grow in only two spots here, and in two such diametrically opposed habitats.

Nuttall’s linanthus (Leptosiphon nuttallii) is a beautiful perennial in the phlox family.

Although it was getting late when I reached the intersection, I headed north on another faint trail. In late September of 2009, I followed this for about a mile before I ran out of time. There are several rocky openings, one with a fairly large dry meadow. On the way back on that trip, I discovered another spot of the rare endemic, Gorman’s aster (Eucephalus gormanii). But even more surprising to me, since I’d already discovered the aster growing on Tidbits in 2007, was a patch of Nuttall’s linanthus (Leptosiphon [formerly Linanthus] nuttallii). Anyone who has been to Fairview Peak in July will have seen the masses of fragrant, white, phlox-like flowers on the tips of soft, brushy, bright green foliage. It is a common Great Basin plant but is rare on the west side of the Cascades. This is the only recorded site in Linn County, so far, and there is only one other known spot in Lane County in addition to the Fairview/Bohemia area.

The flowers of king’s clover (Trifolium kingii var. productum) hang downward, leaving a little green stem exposed on top of the head—a crown perhaps? They were growing right out of the clumps of linanthus.

It took a while, but I relocated the ridgetop spot where I had found the two special species. From here, I tried to retrace the steps I’d taken on the original trip. Unfortunately, the batteries were dying in my GPS (the spares were accidentally left in the car—doh!), and it didn’t seem to have my old route anyway. But I knew that if I headed straight down the steep slope, I’d hit the main trail—sooner or later. This stretch of the old trail parallels the lower main trail before turning more to the north. I very quickly came out into a small opening with more linanthus. They were amazingly abundant for being so far from home. This bit of meadow was partly separated by some huckleberries. Oddly, the far side had no linanthus but loads of blooming phlox (P. diffusa), none of which was on the linanthus side. They may be in the same family, but apparently they didn’t get along! I continued on down the slope, following linanthus most of the way. They seemed to be following some sort of a wash. Growing with it in places was some monkeyflower and a gorgeous display of pink King’s clover (Trifolium kingii var. productum). This is a lovely perennial clover that I don’t see often enough. Finally, I found some linanthus in bloom. The plants at the top were not even in bud, so I had given up on the idea of seeing it in bloom here. I turned on my GPS long enough to make a waypoint (no guessing next time!) and was relieved to see the trail was only about 60 feet below me. It didn’t take long to return to the car from there. A long day but well spent and greatly enjoyed.


2 Responses to “Off the Beaten Track at Tidbits”

  • Jack Turner:

    Hello Tanya — Thanks for this nice piece on Tidbits and its floral show. You are an excellent story teller and observer.

    Any word yet on your book? Please let me know when/if it’s available.

    Jack Turner

  • Greg:

    Thank you very much, Tanya! Great report and wonderful photos, as always.

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