Wetland Bloom Starts with a Bang Near Elk Camp Shelter

Marsh marigold

Marsh marigold (Clatha leptosepala) and skunk cabbage (Lysichiton americanus) put on a great show in a wetland at the corner of Roads 142 and 226.

Our Native Plant Society chapter meeting was Monday night (May 20), but according to the forecast (and for once they were right!), it was also the only dry, sunny day of the week. That left me in a quandary about where to go—or if I should try to go anywhere at all. On top of that, I had a terrible night’s sleep, so I was already pretty tired. But as I lay awake at 4 am, I got the great idea to drive out Road 18 along Fall Creek and see if I could get up to Elk Camp Shelter. If I couldn’t get there, I could always walk along the Fall Creek trail. Either way, I wouldn’t be too far from home and could get back in plenty of time to drive into Eugene for the evening meeting.

The heady perfume of skunk cabbage (Lysichiton americanus) flowers filled the air, with no hint of the skunky odor that comes from the crushed leaves.

The heady perfume of skunk cabbage flowers filled the air, with no hint of the far less pleasant, skunky odor that comes from their crushed leaves.

Oregon bluebells (Mertensia bella) is much daintier than the more common M. paniculata.

Oregon bluebells (Mertensia bella) is much daintier than the more common tall bluebells (M. paniculata).

The wet meadows around Elk Camp Shelter hold the distinction as the northernmost reach of the endemic Umpqua Frasera (Frasera umpquaensis). For some reason, considering how close it is to my house, I had never explored the area until a couple of years ago, but that was in October, so I really hadn’t seen it in bloom. While I had to cross several patches of snow with melted-out tire tracks, I did reach the first roadside wetland, just north of Elk Camp Shelter. What a sight! It was covered with bright yellow skunk cabbage and sparkling white marsh marigold (Caltha leptosepala). Where marsh marigold grows, you almost always find its best friend, mountain shooting star (Dodecatheon jeffreyi), but they were just budding up with only a few open flowers.

I wandered through this area quite happily, criss-crossing a rushing creek running down the middle of the meadow, keeping my eye out for the occasional spot where the creek suddenly plunged quite deep. Where the meadow wasn’t quite as wet, there were lots of lovely Oregon bluebells (Mertensia bella), just coming into bloom. I don’t get to see those very often, so it was a real treat. I was also surprised to see that, like at Patterson Mountain last week (see Yellow is the Color of Spring at Patterson Mountain), there were mountain buttercups (Ranunculus populago), just coming into bloom. Patches of snow remained along the edges, and three very early bloomers were flowering in the newly exposed ground: glacier lilies (Erythronium grandiflorum), Lyall’s anemone (Anemone lyallii), and western springbeauty (Claytonia lanceolata). A few of the first blossoms of great polemonium (Polemonium carneum) and heart-leaf miner’s lettuce (Claytonia cordifolia) gave a glimpse of what the wetland will look like in a few weeks. The super-sized clover leaves of Howell’s clover (Trifolium howellii) will yield their flowers later in the summer. There was no recognizable sign of the frasera yet.

Although mostly white, there were a number of lavender pink Lyall's anemones (Anemone lyallii). A pink-striped western spring beauty () blooms on the left.

Although mostly white, there were a number of lavender pink Lyall’s anemones (Anemone lyallii). A pink-striped western spring beauty (Claytonia lanceolata) blooms on the left.

After exploring the wetlands on both sides of the road pretty thoroughly, I drove a little farther. The next wetland is only a quarter mile farther south. After crossing a few more patches of snow, a bank of snow spread solidly across the road not far beyond, stopping me at this spot. This meadow seemed to have about the same suite of plants, but it was not quite as pretty. There were a number of large gauges in the mud, from the road to halfway out into the meadow. It was hard to say if they were all naturally formed from water or if any were manmade. A large number of cans, a board out in the middle, and some seemingly parallel markings made me think the latter. It is so disheartening to come to such a gorgeous place, so seemingly out of the way, and see such a lack of respect for the land, the animals that live there, and the other humans who come to see it. After wasting some of my limited time throwing some of the cans and other litter into the back of my van, I decided I’d better turn around. There is an unmarked trailhead right across from this wetland that hooks up with the Alpine Trail and leads to Elk Camp Shelter and more wet meadows a short distance away, but I just didn’t have enough time left and wanted to check out another wetland on the way back.

Someone obviously camped in the area. Did they drive into the wetland?

Someone obviously camped in the area. Did they drive into the wetland? Shame on them!

Maybe a mile and a half back down Road 1824-142, the road passes below Saddleblanket Mountain. I haven’t been there in many years and don’t remember seeing much of interest because it is largely wooded. There is a hidden wetland at its base, not far from the road but accessed by a bushwhack through some thick vegetation. I did this two years ago, but there wasn’t time for it today. I did stop, however, to see what was growing along the side of the road where this wetland drains and forms a creek on the east side. On the damp bank was a large population of devil’s club (Oplopanax horridus)—definitely not bushwhacking to the wetland through those! This surprised me a bit because I don’t see it that often in Lane County, which is near the southern end of its range, but what was even more surprising is when I looked it up on the OFP Atlas, it turns out there was one observation in this area—and it was from me, from that trip to Saddleblanket Mountain in 2002. There were no other sites for at least 10 miles in any direction. Good thing I reported it then because I have no memory of that now. I also caught a glimpse of a cliff through the trees. This must be part of Saddleblanket that is not along the trail. Now I’m really hot to come back to this spot!


Brewer’s bittercress (Cardamine breweri) is an often-overlooked inhabitat of wetlands and small creeks that likes to get its feet wet.

Just around the corner is an quarry on the left. The far side of the road is logged off, opening up a fabulous view to the east, where the High Cascade peaks with their blankets of snow loom over the lower Western Cascade ridges. There are some interesting rocky spots that look worth exploring some time. Yet another wetland is situated just past the quarry. I had about 20 minutes to give that a quick once over. Although it, too, was covered with blooming skunk cabbage, there were no marsh marigolds or shooting stars. Instead, the ground was covered with checkermallow (Sidalcea sp.) leaves. Among the shrubs ringing the meadow were some Douglas’ hawthorn (Crataegus suksdorfii). This reminded me a lot of Upper Elk Meadows in Douglas County. Time ran out on my wonderful trip, but I’m so glad I squeezed it in, and I plan to head back up there in a few weeks to see the next wave of flowers and see all the spots I missed—and perhaps plan a field trip for NPSO to this interesting and easy to explore area.


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