Smoky Day on Tire Mountain

At the beginning of the hike, I had to deal with smoke obscuring my view, but it wasn’t nearly as bad then as it became later in August.

On August 18, I decided to risk the smoke of what had now become a terrible fire season and head over to Tire Mountain for some more seed collecting. On most of the days up until that point, the smoke from the nearby Jones Fire drifted onto my property overnight but was blown off after the winds picked up in the afternoon. I was hoping for something similar, even though I was heading farther east. As I drove to Oakridge, I was wondering if I made the right decision. The smoke seemed to get thicker with every mile. But on the way up to the trailhead, it magically disappeared! Or so I thought. There was more smoke when I hit the trail. Oh well, I’d come this far, I had to at least get some seeds—my main motivation for going out.

There is a certain architectural beauty in the dried seed stalks and leaves of barestem lomatium (Lomatium nudicaule).

Skippers were enjoying the weedy but floriferous bull thistles (Cirsium vulgaris) blooming in the seep. Latecomers don’t have a lot to choose from in late summer, but thistles are great nectar plants even when they aren’t native.

There was still enough seed of Oregon sunshine (Eriophyllum lanatum), farewell-to-spring (Clarkia amoena), and biscuitroots (Lomatium utriculatum, L. hallii, L. nudicaule, and L. dissectum) to make it worth the discomfort of breathing smoke for a while. Besides, I was really missing being out in the mountains, having to hide in the house for most of August. It’s odd having cabin fever in the summer! I wasn’t the only one on the trail, alas. Unknown to me, it was the day before the Sturdy Dirty, a bike race on the trail that a large number of people seemed to be revving up for. While the bikers are all really friendly and considerate, I will have to try harder to go to Tire Mountain on less popular days in the future. Getting out of the way of dozens of bikers is rather a nuisance.

On the latter half of my outing, the skies were clear above me, but from the dike meadow, I could see the smoke drifting south from the fires burning in the McKenzie area.

As I made my way past the intersection where the Alpine Trail heads back downhill, not only did I get away from all the bicycles, I left the smoke behind! That really lifted my mood and my energy level. So much so that when I arrived at the very seepy area where the beautiful shooting stars (Dodecatheon pulchellum) bloom by the trail, I decided to climb up to the top of the rocky slope where I knew they were much more abundant. I’d never been up there in late summer, so I was surprised to find some green patches of foliage, still moist among the otherwise baked meadows. This was my 38th trip to this wonderful destination, and I was even more shocked to find five species I’d never seen here before. All were late-blooming moisture lovers. The airy white umbels of Gairdner’s yampah (Perideridia gairdneri) were also blooming by the trail, but I hadn’t noticed two species of willowherb, Epilobium densiflorum and E. glaberrimum, both in bloom with pretty, though small, pink flowers. While there is plenty of the nasty invasive St. John’s wort (Hypericum perforatum) all along the trail, here there was some of the native western St. John’s wort (H. scouleri), something I normally see in larger wetlands.

An interesting insect enjoying the western ladies’ tresses

The real find, however, was a number of blooming western ladies’ tresses (Spiranthes porrifolia). This species is far less common than hooded ladies’ tresses (S. romanzoffiana), and I’ve only seen it in a few places—although I’ve recently discovered I have a few plants on my own property. I’m starting to think it prefers lower elevations than I usually frequent. I also rechecked the population of flat-spurred rein orchid (Platanthera [Piperia] transversa) that I had discovered last year on the north side of the large meadow with the dike (see Seed Collecting at Tire Mountain) and found a number still flowering. Rattlesnake plantain (Goodyera oblongifolia) was also in bloom, so it was a great day for orchids, and I’m so glad I braved the smoke! I’m also so glad the rain season has returned and fire season is over! Hopefully, next summer won’t be as difficult.

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