A Day Full of Surprises

Looking past the steep north side of the rock, you can see Bohemia Mountain and Fairview Peak in the distance.

Looking across the steep north side of Pyramid Rock, you can see Bohemia Mountain and Fairview Peak in the distance.

The proofs for the Flora of Oregon arrived from the printer last week, so I had to take some time off of botanizing to help read through the manuscript one more time and then make a bunch of changes. I had hoped to join some researchers who were visiting the sites in the Calapooyas where there were disjunct populations of Columbia lewisia (Lewisia columbiana), normally found much farther north. Since I didn’t finish making corrections to the Flora until it was too late for their hikes, I decided to go back up to one of the sites, Pyramid Rock, where I had seen it in all its delicate beauty last year (see Peak Bloom at Pyramid Rock). On my past trips, I had made it an overnight trip coming up from Steamboat because of the 25 miles of gravel required to get there from the north. But I didn’t have time to camp out, so I decided to just tough it out in one day. Unfortunately, all my usual hiking buddies were already occupied, so on on Friday, June 12, I headed up Coal Creek Road 2133 by myself.

Woodland phlox (Phlox adsurgens) actually loves growing in gravel roads as well as in the woods. It was in perfect bloom in many places along our long drive.

Woodland phlox (Phlox adsurgens) actually loves growing in gravel roads as well as in the woods. It was in perfect bloom in many places along our long drive.

Doramay on top of Pyramid Rock, admiring a colorful display of flowers below

Doramay on top of Pyramid Rock, admiring a colorful display of flowers below her, including Penstemon rupicola, Phlox diffusa, and Sedum spathulifolium.

My first surprise came after I had driven up the road a few miles. I don’t think I’ve ever seen anyone else past the first couple of miles outside of hunting season, when suddenly the place is crawling with camouflaged guys with guns. But here was a car on the road ahead of me. They kindly pulled over to let me go by. As I passed, I thought I recognized the driver. Could it be my friend Doramay Keasbey? I pulled over, hoping I wasn’t going to embarrass myself. But it was Doramay, along with her friend Pat! They had seen my recent reports on the Calapooyas and wanted to check it out for themselves. I invited them to hop in my van, happy to have the company.

Since I was hoping to get all the way to Pyramid Rock, if at all possible, I only made a few stops on the way up to show them some of my favorite roadside flower spots, so they could check on them later themselves. Although there were a few rough sections of road after we turned onto Road 3850, especially where the most recent fire in the Boulder Creek Wilderness had crossed the road by the Bulldog Rock trailhead, we were able to make it to Pyramid Rock with no problem, and it was still late morning. I was really pleased. We bushwhacked through the short stretch of woods and soon came out into the open and onto the gorgeous, floriferous rock. While things were farther along than when I was here last year, there was still plenty in bloom. My companions were quite thrilled, and I was equally happy to be able to share it with them, especially knowing how unlikely it was that they would ever have come to this out-of-the-way place themselves.

Up close, it is easy to see why Saxifraga bronchialis is called spotted saxifrage.

Up close, it is easy to see why Saxifraga bronchialis is called spotted saxifrage.

While they wandered about taking photos of flowers and butterflies, watching a bald eagle soar overhead, and enjoying the view, I went to check on some of the plants I’d seen before and to look for anything I’d missed in the past. Some of the gems of the area, including Lewisia columbiana, the endemic spring phacelia (Phacelia verna), cliff penstemon (Penstemon rupicola), and cliff paintbrush (Castilleja rupicola), were past peak, but there were still some attractive individuals to photograph. Cascade fleabane (Erigeron cascadensis) was in full bloom and leafy fleabane (E. foliosus) was just beginning. I have a seed-grown leafy fleabane blooming in my rock garden right now—3000′ lower, so it was interesting that the blooming times were not so far apart. The uncommon Sierra arnica (Arnica nevadensis) was just finishing. Last year, it was just beginning, so perhaps it will be tough to get here at just the right time to see it in good bloom.

Pat standing above a gravel scree filled with Siskiyou fritillary (Fritillaria glauca) leaves.

Pat standing above a gravel scree filled with the individual leaves of young Siskiyou fritillary (Fritillaria glauca).

Since Doramay and Pat were happily amusing themselves, I headed down the main, southwest-facing slope. One of these days, I’ll make it all the way down to where the rock gives way to trees, but again this time, I only went down a hundred feet or so. As I passed by a patch of loose scree, I could have sworn I caught a glimpse of the small glaucous leaves of Siskiyou fritillary (Fritillaria glauca). I noted in my report last year that I thought this was the perfect habitat for this choosy plant. I thought I had done a really thorough search, however, and had convinced myself it simply wasn’t here. When I stopped and turned around, I couldn’t find them again. Maybe I was just seeing what I wanted to see. Thankfully, I soon found another area of loose gravel filled with their little leaves, starting to dry out but still unmistakeable. What a wonderful surprise after I’d given up hope of finding them at Pyramid Rock. That makes the fourth site in Lane County, the northern extent of the species, and I could see all three of the others (“Heavenly Bluff,” Bearbones Mountain, and Bristow Prairie) from the top of the rock. The other nearby location, “Loletta Peak,” we’d driven by earlier in the day. I’ll continue to look for likely scree-covered slopes in hopes of finding even more of this special wildflower.

Once we finally tore ourselves away from Pyramid Rock, we headed back to Reynolds Ridge. This is also farther than I usually go in a day, so I would liked to have spent more time here, but we only had time for one stop, so I drove up the short side road up to the shelter. It was more rutted than I remembered, so I’ll probably walk it next time. I wanted to show my friends the little wetland in the larger meadow up top. When we got there, there were lots of small butterflies flitting about. We’d already had a good butterfly day, seeing lots of checkerspots, swallowtails, meadow fritillaries, a few parnassians and orangetips, a fast-moving white of some sort, and an arctic skipper, mainly on an earlier brief stop along the road below the shelter. These blues were very cooperative and let us come fairly near without flying off. They seemed especially enamored of the bistort (Bistorta bistortoides) that was coming into bloom. I was surprised (again!) and thrilled when I recognized them as a species I’d only seen once before, farther south in the Rogue-Umpqua Divide.

Sierra Nevada blue

A Sierra Nevada blue nectaring on bistort (Bistorta bistortoides).

I couldn’t remember the name, but it turns out they are Sierra Nevada blues (Plebejus or Agriades podarce). They are an uncommon southern species that didn’t show up as being this far north or west in Bob Pyle’s The Butterflies of Cascadia. Their host food plant is mountain shooting star (Dodecatheon jeffreyi), which was in fading bloom in this wetland. Later, at home, I posted a message to the local North American Butterfly Association chapter’s Google group and got a reply from butterfly expert Dana Ross that the Reynolds Ridge population had been discovered just a year ago by biologists with the Forest Service and BLM while surveying for this species. So it really was an important find, even if we weren’t the first to come across them.

Several toads were hopping across the road to the wet ditch.

Several toads were hopping about in a wet roadside ditch at Reynolds Ridge.

Sadly, time to head back after our wonderful day. But we had one more surprise in store. Unfortunately, this was not the pleasant kind. We had to drive back over the rough spots in the road again. I had this slight niggling feeling that maybe the van was driving a little rougher than it ought to be. We hit a couple of small rocks that I’d easily gone over on the way out. It always sounds kind of crunchy when you’re driving on gravel, especially with the window open, so I ignored my concern for a few more miles. We stopped near Loletta Lakes so I could show Doramay and Pat the endemic Crater Lake currant (past blooming, unfortunately). When I turned to get back in the van—damn—the front tire was flat! I let out more than a few “colorful” words. No wonder we’d been riding so low as to hit the small rocks. After a stretch of 8 years without a flat in this vehicle, this is the fourth one in about 13 months, and I only ever got one flat tire in many years of driving a much smaller passenger car. The flat was on the only tire that hadn’t been replaced last year. The tire store says I can’t get any better tires to fit on the van. Guess it’s just the price I’ll have to pay to keep doing what I’m doing until I’m willing to get a bigger rig. Thankfully my companions were calmer than I was, and, with their help, we managed to change the tire and get back on the road without any more surprises. A bad ending perhaps, but I’d still say it was worth it to see so many wonderful things. And thanks again to Doramay and Pat for being so game and joining me for an adventurous day!

4 Responses to “A Day Full of Surprises”

  • As an addendum, another NABA member, Lori Humphreys, went looking for Sierra blues after seeing my Google group post. While I was writing this report, I received an e-mail from her saying that she had discovered some in Lane County—in Bristow Prairie of all places! That area never ceases to surprise and delight me. Kudos to Lori! I’ll be keeping an eye out for these pretty butterflies when I head back up to the Calapooyas to check out some wetlands later this week.

  • As usual, wonderful reporting with stunning photos! Thanks, Tanya.

  • Ron Mudd:

    Another fascinating report Tanya, and congratulations on finding the fourth site. Sounds like it may be quite a strong colony ? Wonderful reading as always.

  • Jason Clinch:

    Another lovely report, Tanya! Funny coincidence, I just saw spotted saxifrage for the first time at the NPSO Annual Meeting in Hood River up on Grassy Knoll in WA. Such a nice plant with beautiful succulent foliage, too! Thanks again!

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