A Glorious Day Near Lopez Lake

Subalpine spiraea was at peak bloom in here at "Zen Meadow".

Subalpine spiraea (Spiraea splendens) was at peak bloom here at “Zen Meadow” and also at Lopez Lake.

Two years ago, Sabine Dutoit and I first discovered the beauty of Lopez Lake and the surrounding area near the end of Road 5884 (see Aquatics and More Near Lopez Lake), southeast of Oakridge. I was really looking forward to doing some more exploring up there, so on Thursday, July 17, I headed up there accompanied by Sabine and John Koenig. The three of us had gone to Bristow Prairie the week before and spent the day under cloudy skies and sprinkles, so we were all thrilled that it was an absolutely gorgeous clear day and also not as hot as it had been lately. Before heading to the end of the road, we made a quick stop to check out three small lakes that showed up on the map. Only one had any water left, and there weren’t many flowers or plants of interest other than some quillwort (Isoëtes sp.), an odd grass-like plant that grows in the bottoms of shallow lakes. This lake looked like a perfect mosquito breeding area, and indeed they were out in numbers here, so we didn’t linger here very long.

Columbines (Aquilegia formosa) decorate the base of the large cliff and talus slope area at the terminus of Road 5884.

Western columbine (Aquilegia formosa) decorates the base of the large cliff and talus slope area at the terminus of Road 5884.

The cliffs at the end of the road were another story. A pleasant breeze kept the bugs away, and there were lots of flowers. On our previous trip, Sabine and I had opted not to try to climb up the slope below the cliffs at all. Seeing them again for only the second time, I now remembered why we made that decision. Not only are the cliffs themselves high up above a steep slope, but the base was mostly surrounded by alder thickets. Still, after straining to identify the colorful dots high up on the rocks with my binoculars, I decided I had to at least get closer. My companions are used to this obsessive and antisocial behavior, so I left them behind to enjoy the birds, including a pretty lazuli bunting, and the butterflies. The alders were not as thick and tangled as they tend to be, and it really wasn’t too hard to punch my way through to the talus slope. Once there, large boulders allowed me to hopscotch part way up until the slope became steeper and switched to looser material. John and Sabine decided it was worth following me and soon appeared on the talus. It was fun watching their progress through the thicket, evidenced only by the waving of the tops of the alders below me.

Longleaf arnica (Arnica longifolia) growing among the rocks in the talus slope

Longleaf arnica (Arnica longifolia) growing among the rocks in the talus slope.

While I still couldn’t identify a lot of the plants clinging to cracks in the cliffs, I did find an uncommon arnica growing right in the talus. Longleaf arnica (Arnica longifolia)—also known as seep-spring arnica—has many pairs of long, narrow leaves. Its typical yellow arnica flower heads have pointed phyllaries and straw-colored pappus. The other two species in our area that have 5 or more pairs of leaves grow in wetter habitats. I was very excited to see this plant because the only other place I’ve seen it is at Table Rock Wilderness in Clackamas County, where it was in exactly the same habitat, forming clumps among the large rocks. While photographing these and a couple of gorgeous Cascade lilies (Lilium washingtonianum) with 23 buds and flowers on one plant (!), I heard a pika below me. They must have a lot of good things to eat here, but sadly I never got to see one.

The delicate rush (Juncus drummondii) is found mainly at high elevations along the Cascade drest.

Delicate threeflower rush (Juncus drummondii) is found mainly at high elevations along the Cascade crest.

Our next stop was the beautiful hidden wetland just a short ways back along the road. It was every bit as beautiful as I remembered it. Unlike the much larger wetland at Lopez Lake and most of the wetlands I frequent, this one seems somehow tamed and artfully designed. My own neglected garden is much wilder than this neat meadow. Maybe it is the gardener in me, but it is incredibly appealing, like I wish my garden would look like right now. Guess that won’t happen when I spend all my time in the mountains! While looping around the edge of the wetland, we came upon a shady spot with a single boulder and a tiny, almost bonsai-like tree. It was hard not to imagine that some intelligent life form had carefully arranged this wonderful vignette. On our first trip to this special spot, Sabine and I had finally settled on the name Laurel Bog for this unnamed area because the alpine laurel (Kalmia microphylla) grows abundantly here, but after two hours of savoring the soothing ambience and delighting in the closeness to nature here, we decided to call it Zen Meadow instead.

While the far end of the opening was filled with blooming arrowleaf groundsel (Senecio triangularis) and other tall plants, the foliage in most of the area was rather short, with lots of moss, and was quite pleasant to traverse. Many low shrubs are clustered together in certain areas, including Sierra willow (Salix eastwoodiae) and Booth’s willow (S. boothii), the two species I have been studying a great deal this year. The most colorful shrub is another favorite, the gorgeous pink-flowered subalpine spiraea (Spiraea splendens). The small ponds at one end are as perfectly placed as any landscape designer could have planned. One was filled with yellow pond lilies (Nuphar polysepala), just as Sabine and I had seen it 2 years ago. In the other, there were a number of interesting graminoids and several aquatics, but the real attraction, and what kept us there for quite some time, was that it was teeming with animal life. Sabine spotted a large dragonfly larva crawling through the grass nearby, and we saw another one latched onto a tadpole. The poor thing was hopelessly trying to swim away from the grip of the insect’s jaws. Mother Nature can be quite cruel. In addition to tadpoles and mature frogs, we saw a salamander and even some leeches—I could have done without those!

A perfect pool of water complete with yellow pond lilies

I can’t imagine a more perfect pool of water, complete with yellow pond lilies.

Dragonflies were also on the wing as were butterflies. The biggest surprise of the day for me was seeing common buckeye butterflies, for while they may be common elsewhere, I’ve never seen one in the Cascades. They have been recorded for Lane County, but none of us had ever seen one in the county before either. At first I thought it was just an individual who had strayed off course, but there were at least a few here, some more tattered than others. And when we got to Lopez Lake, they were there as well. According to Bob Pyle (in The Butterflies of Cascadia), they come up from California, breeding along the way, but they don’t overwinter here, except perhaps on the south coast, so they have to drift north every year. He says “they are common in the south, regular in central Oregon, and rare in the northern counties.” Maybe they had an especially good year in California or somehow the weather drove them farther north than usual. Whatever, I felt very lucky to get to watch and photograph them. They seemed to like fluttering around and then returning to the same open spot on the ground where they were before, so it wasn’t too hard to get close enough to get a decent shot. We also saw blues (Boisduval’s, greenish, and Anna’s), crescents, fritillaries, checkerspots, parnassians, orange sulpurs, a Lorquin’s admiral, and perhaps a painted lady.

The common buckeye (Junonia coenia) has striking markings.

The common buckeye (Junonia coenia) has striking markings. This one looks as if it has done quite a bit of traveling.

At last, we tore ourselves away from Zen Meadow to head over the much wilder wetland surrounding Lopez Lake. The floriferous stretch of meadow we had to cross to get down to the lake wasn’t as steep as I’d remembered it. It was filled with blooming broadleaf lupine (Lupinus latifolius), arrowleaf groundsel, and lovage (Ligusticum grayii). We headed left toward the lake when we reached the wetland, passing more willows and spiraea. Tucked among them and huckleberries were the pretty blue-green leaves of bluefly honeysuckle, something I had missed on our previous trip here. Two other additions to the growing plant list were alpine aster (Oreostemma alpigenum) and subalpine fleabane (Erigeron glacialis var. glacialis), both pretty composites typically found near the crest of the Cascades, as we were here. Shallow lakes like Lopez Lake are great places to look for aquatic plants, and in addition to the arumleaf arrowhead (Sagittaria cuneata), which was just starting to bloom, and ribbon-leaf pondweed (Potamogeton epihydrus), also seen on our first trip, we spotted two new plants in the inlet channel where it entered the lake. There were just a few flowers starting on some white water buttercup (Ranunculus aquatilis), otherwise I never would have noticed it. The more interesting plant to me was the rare carnivorous lesser bladderwort (Utricularia minor), which I was looking for since I’ve seen it before in these kinds of winding channels. All of these plants will be blooming better later in the summer, a good reason for a return trip next month.

Sabine and John inspecting some of the many small pools of water in the wetland south of Lopez Lake.

Sabine and John inspecting some of the many small pools of water in the wetland south of Lopez Lake.

Channels and pools run through much of this wetland. On the way to the lake, I scared up a small mammal, who leapt into the water and disappeared. On the way back, I surprised him again (and he me!) in the same spot. It all happened so fast, I wasn’t able to see much other than 6–8″ or more of chunky brown or gray body and a skinny little tail. Looking through my many mammal guides, it looks like there are several kinds of large voles (Microtus spp.) in the Cascades. One in particular is commonly called a water vole (Microtus richardsonii). According to Chris Maser (in Mammals of the Pacific Northwest), “The water vole… finds its favorite habitat along small, high-elevation streams that flow through subalpine and alpine meadows.” He also says they may be found on sunny afternoons “swimming from one side of a stream to the other”—exactly what I saw. They say you learn something new every day, but some days you learn more than others!

3 Responses to “A Glorious Day Near Lopez Lake”

  • Jack Turner:

    Hello Tanya — I tremendously enjoy your periodic columns, and learn a lot from your polished efforts. I am interested in learning the scientific name for that fecund lily you recorded: ” While photographing these and a couple of gorgeous Cascade lilies (23 buds and flowers on one plant!).” I still have much to learn, but I’ve never encountered the name “Cascade lily”, so I’d like to learn its other name.
    (Ironically this may be the only plant in your entire piece where you did not provide the scientific name for the plant being named/described!)

    Jack Turner

  • Hi Jack,

    Sorry I neglected to include the botanical name of Cascade lily, which you may know as Washington lily. It is Lilium washingtonianum, named after Martha Washington not Washington state, where it doesn’t occur.

  • Lori Humphreys:

    I saw my first Common Buckeye in Lane County on July 6th on the NABA count. It patrolled the road/path near the east entrance of Buford Park.

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