Exploring Meadows Below Sawtooth Rock

From the south ridge on Mount June last year, we had a good view of Sawtooth Rock at the right end of its large meadow as well as the three smaller openings below that I went to on this trip. The Three Sisters and Mount Bachelor had way more snow than this year almost exactly a year ago on June 22, 2020.

For years I’d wanted to explore all the meadows and rocky openings in the area of Mount June and Sawtooth Rock. I’m pretty sure I’ve checked out all the open areas on Mount June and regularly make a loop down the south ridge and west side when I go up there now (for a look at last year’s trip, see A Rainbow of Flowers at Mount June). I had also once explored several of the small openings just east of Sawtooth Rock Meadow (see More Meadows Near Sawtooth Rock). But I’d never made it down to a string of three rocky openings downhill to the southwest of the main meadow. On June 19, I decided to make that my goal.

At the first rocky opening, the paintbrush was attracting a rufous hummingbird. I tried to be ready to photograph it as it zipped around, but this was the only decent photo I was able to get. Perched as I was on the steep rock, I couldn’t move much, nor could I even see it most of the time, but its hum let me know it was still around. The blue flowers are bluefield gilia (Gilia capitata).

The road up to Mount June wasn’t any better than last year, but then it wasn’t any worse either. After dodging all the potholes, I was relieved to reach the trailhead. Surprisingly, the parking lot was empty. It was prime season for flowers and a gorgeous day. I don’t know where everyone was, but I was perfectly happy to have the place to myself! At the trail intersection on the ridge, I headed left (east) to Sawtooth. I rarely skip Mount June itself, but I knew all the bushwhacking downhill to the area I wanted to explore would be enough of a day, and I didn’t think it could ever be as beautiful as it was last year—certainly not after such a dry spring—so I wasn’t too disappointed.

The first opening was very steep and rocky. It also had the best flowers. Looking down from where I perched myself on a flattish rock, I could see wallflowers, broadleaf sedum, paintbrush, bluefield gilia, and larkspur, and Olympic onion.

Looking up from where I was sitting in the first opening, the backlit cliff penstemon and leafy fleabane (Erigeron foliosus) were glowing pink.

When I reached the low spot just before (west) of where the lower trail intersects, I headed through the woods along the edge of a side ridge. The deer had made trails—no doubt they frequent all the open areas—but as usual, they often go where I can’t, so I couldn’t follow their trails straight to where I was going. Still, it was relatively soon when I came upon the first opening below me. It was small and quite steep and rocky and faced west, toward Mount June. There were plenty of flowers, but I was right about it being drier and this ended up being the most floriferous spot I saw all day. It’s possible it was more protected from the sun and, despite its steepness, hadn’t baked quite as much as the grassier areas. Or maybe it was just the species that grew there.

The second opening was a sloping meadow with some rosy plectritis and cliff penstemon.

After having some lunch and watching a hummingbird and several butterflies enjoying the beautiful array of flowers, I had to get up and move on. I don’t think I could have sat on the hard rocks much longer anyway! The second opening, a steep meadow with a few outcrops, was visible through the trees from the first one. It looked like it might be very colorful during a moister spring as there were still some pink patches of rosy plectritis (Plectritis congesta). There was also more cliff penstemon (Penstemon rupicola) in full bloom on one of the outcrops.

Looking east across the third and lowest meadow, you can see some of the small openings east of Sawtooth Rock Meadow. In the foreground are the flowers and gray-green leaves of silvery lupine and Oregon sunshine.

The final opening has a rather dramatic cliff. You can make this out on the bottom right in the top photo.

The sweet little annual spring phacelia, blooming in the Sawtooth Rock Meadow. Its preferred habitat is gravelly slopes.

Another short stretch of woods was all that separated the final opening. It was far larger, a little lower in elevation, and facing more to the south. I wasn’t surprised it was drier even than the other two openings. I hadn’t missed everything, however. Oregon sunshine (Eriophyllum lanatum) and silvery lupine (Lupinus albifrons) were in bloom. Like the other openings, the rosy plectritis was still in bloom, and there were some other annuals out. I spent quite a while searching for the rarest annual in the area, the endemic spring phacelia (Phacelia verna) that occurs only in Lane and Douglas counties in the Western Cascades. There’s so much on Mount June and Sawtooth that I was sure it would be here, too. And indeed it was! It took me a while, but once I spotted the small, white to pale purple flowers, I started to notice more of them. A dry year like this is not a good judge of how many might be in this area, but it was good to know they were here at all.

From part of the most southerly meadow, you can look up at Sawtooth Rock Meadow along the main ridge top.

The cliff at the east end was the one thing I’d been able to see from up on Sawtooth Meadow in the past, so it was great to finally being able to stand on it and look back up at the meadow. It was awfully steep to go down to its base, so, considering how dry it was, it didn’t seem worth doing on this trip. After some time poking around this new area, I headed back the way I came. I tried to go more through the forest and straight up the side ridge, passing around some beautiful blooming rhododendrons too thick to go through. Before I reached the trailhead, I passed by some marked stakes, so someone else had been poking around this area, perhaps one of the wildlife biologists.

From the top of the western end of Sawtooth Rock Meadow, there’s a good view to the east, including Diamond Peak. You can see a bit of Sawtooth Rock farther down the ridge. Sulphur buckwheat (Erigonum umbellatum) was blooming among the clumps of Roemer’s fescue (Festuca roemeri).

As much as I enjoy exploring, it is always a relief to return to a trail and not have to think about every step as you do when bushwhacking. I was soon out on Sawtooth Rock Meadow. Of course, I immediately left the trail again and rode the ridge quite a ways before heading down to rejoin the trail. I was surprised at how much spring phacelia was blooming near the top. For a rare plant near the north end of its range, the Mount June/Sawtooth Rock area has more than any other place I’ve seen it. All in all, it was a lovely day, and I can finally stop wondering what those meadows below look like up close!

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