Return to Bearbones Mountain

Looking to the northeast from the lowest tier we visited on the side ridge, you can see Groundhog Mountain (with all the logged areas) on the top ridge to Molly’s left and Moon Point and Youngs Rock to the right. Snow-covered Diamond Peak is in the distance. We wished we could see more snow on the lower elevations. I’ve still never been to the rocky opening in the near distance, but it is on my to-do list! 

Last year, a large downed tree kept me from getting to Bearbones Mountain. My previous trip had been back in May of 2017 (see Beginning of the Blooming Season at Bearbones). I’d heard the road was open this year, and I was anxious to get back to see the early flowers, so on May 16, Molly Juillerat picked me up, and along with her energetic dog, Loki, we headed to Bearbones. I was relieved to finally get back there without any road issues. Bearbones Road 2127 goes through some private timber company land, and logging has taken a toll on the road over the past few years. It had been many more years since Molly had been there (and the first time for Loki!), so she was happy as well.

I’d never before noticed the interesting skirt at the base of this Pacific yew (Taxus brevifolia) just below the summit. That’s a common growth habit for subalpine fir (Abies lasiocarpa) growing on ridges, but it’s very odd for growth for a yew. The bronze coloration of the upper needles is typical of plants on sunny ridges. The lavender flowers on the bottom left are mahala mat.

The beautiful low-growing mahala mat varies from bright purple to almost white up here.

The trail was in surprisingly good shape, considering how little it is used. In fact, the main problem was finding it—we passed the trailhead twice! Considering I’d already been there 18 times, I was surprised I didn’t recognize the trailhead. Luckily, both Molly and I have Avenza map software on our smartphones, so we were able to park in the vicinity and walk a little until we could finally spot the faint entrance to the trail. Someone had taken down the trail sign and the post that had an old register on it. I always enjoyed seeing my old entries from past years, as well as the few entries of other hikers.

Our first stop, just off the trail, was to the little open rocky spot on the west side where there is a small population of Sierra cliffbrake (Pellaea brachyptera). I tried to count it (3 dozen or so this time), and although I couldn’t remember the results of my previous counts, I think it is expanding a little. The other highlight in that spot is the spreading phlox (Phlox diffusa). We hit that just right! While mahala mat (Ceanothus prostratus) is abundant on the east side of the Cascades, it is rare in Lane County. You wouldn’t realize it, however, if Bearbones was the first place you visited in Lane County. It was at peak bloom in this little area as well as up around the summit of the mountain. Such a joy to be here so early!

Small talus is the typical habitat for Siskiyou fritillary. While most of the plants have only a single leaf, the one on the lower right developed a whorl of leaves, but the topless stalk shows someone preferred to eat the flower rather than let it go to seed (darn!).

In fact, it was so early there were still glacier lilies (Erythronium grandiflorum) in bloom on the north-facing side of the summit, and not a single sign of the bright red cliff paintbrush (Castilleja rupicola) was apparent. This was a good sign for our main botanical goal: checking out the population of Siskiyou fritillary (Fritillaria glauca) I’d first found on Bearbones many years ago. It’s a very early bloomer, although, in the case of Bearbones, I’ve only seen a few flowers over the years. It seems to mostly propagate by the breaking off of offsets of its bulbs. We checked the population at the top as well as on the side ridge but only found two plants with multiple leaves—a sign that they were ready to bloom. Alas, the biggest one had already been bitten off. So much for seeing a flower this year!

My first beautiful glacier lilies of the year!

Several brown elfins gave me the run around flitting around a patch of Fremont’s silktassel (Garrya fremontii) until I was finally able to get a few poor photos.

We wandered down the side ridge for quite a ways, finally turning around after we’d gone down about 600′ in elevation to an opening I’m not sure I’d been to before with a charming little low-growing oak “forest.” There were some early flowers in bloom, including the first three plants of cliff paintbrush clinging to the rocks, but mostly it was quite dry—not so surprising considering how little rain we’ve had this spring and how exposed and rocky this area is. The views are fabulous from this old lookout site, and it was my first time of the season getting high enough to get an idea of the snow level in the mountains—not good news. There was very little snow in the Western Cascades, although the High Cascade peaks were still quite white. Even Groundhog Mountain had only a strip of snow along the west-facing road and along the bottom of the huge Little Groundhog meadow.

Looking southeast down the ridge, from right to left are the twin open areas of Spring Butte, “Mosaic Rock” (the small but prominent rock with the conspicuous shaded side), Staley Ridge, and the burned areas from the Tumblebug Fire. Not much snow left for mid-May!

Death camas and Olympic onion (Allium crenulatum) are both bulbs and are well adapted to dry periods.

We did see quite a few death camas (Zigadenus venenosus) and Hall’s lomatium (Lomatium hallii) in bloom. And I was surprised how many little spring phacelia (Phacelia verna) were budding up. Most of the other annuals looked rather pitiful. Considering how little had started blooming, it was clearly very early in the bloom season—as one would expect in May at just under 5000′. Yet, the moss was so dry, it seemed more like the end of the season. I can see that this won’t be the best summer for low- to mid-elevation rocky habitat. Guess I’ll have to plan on focusing on wetlands if we don’t get much more rain.

4 Responses to “Return to Bearbones Mountain”

  • walter rhea:

    Just did flower search west of Bly. Amongst other things, ceanothus prostratus everywhere, I came across a violet that I think is v purpurea venosa. It seems to fit but maybe not. Could I indulge you to look at a few photos. I won’t be offended if you decline. Lots of Hydrophyllum captitatum alpinum and an interesting shrub with long tube flowers. I am still trying to ID it. Tobacco comes to mind, but it just does not fit. I very much enjoy your outings.
    … Walt Rhea

  • Hi Walter,

    You’re welcome to send me some photos, but I can’t promise much help with plants outside the Cascades, especially on the east side. As much as I’d like to learn the flora better elsewhere in Oregon, I haven’t had the time to do as much exploring as I’d like.

  • Jeffrey Caldwell:

    Thanks a lot for bringing us along on your interesting field trip. I love every detail you choose to relay.

    Interesting those brown elfin flitting around the Fremont silktassel. I see Calflora says it flowers Jan-April. I wonder where it was at in the flowering cycle at that location. The caterpillars eat flower buds and I have recorded many confirmed or strongly suspected hosts for it in several families: Adoxaceae, Agavaceae, Boraginaceae, Convolvulaceae, Ericaceae, Rhamnaceae, Polygonaceae, and Rosaceae but previously haven’t noticed any association with any Garryaceae.

  • Hi Jeffrey,

    The Garrya was just about finished blooming, but the inflorescences were still evident. I would love to see the brown elfin caterpillars!

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