Clear Skies at Last on Lowder Mountain

From where the trail first reaches the ridge, there’s a good view of the Three Sisters with fresh snow.

One of the few butterflies I saw, this orange sulphur was sitting on the silvery leaves of Oregon sunshine (Eriophyllum lanatum), while the gorgeous purple leaves are those of sticky cinquefoil (Drymocallis glandulosa). The little flower on the left is Cascade knotweed.

Technically autumn started on September 22 this year. But for all intents and purposes, fall started with the first real rain on September 18. What a relief!! After the seemingly endless hot and smoky summer, following an unusually hot, dry spring, it was hard to remember what rain sounded like. We got at least 2 inches at my house; the patter of raindrops on the skylight above my desk was music to my ears. And finally, with the fires no longer spewing out smoke, I could go out again! It had been four weeks since I’d managed to sneak in a half day seed-collecting trip to Cloverpatch on a relatively clear day. I could hardly wait to get up in the mountains. On Monday, September 20, it was dry—or at least it wasn’t raining. I headed up to Lowder Mountain under clear blue (not dirty brown!) skies. Everything was still pretty wet from the rain, and it was quite cold up there when I stepped out of the car (not that I’m complaining!). My original plan was to bushwhack around Quaking Aspen Swamp, but not wanting to be drenched, I decided staying on the trail would be wiser and headed up Lowder Mountain instead, both trails starting from the same spot.

Just off the trail in the forest, I spotted this dead flying squirrel, for all the world looking like it was napping peacefully. I wonder if it died of old age or had a terrible fall. I’ve never seen a live flying squirrel, and only a few times have I come across a tail—the hairy bit that owls or other predators leave behind. So this was a most unexpected sight.

I had hoped to collect fruits of some of the common woodland species along the trail, including bunchberry (Cornus unalaschkensis) and queen’s cup (Clintonia uniflora), but the only berries I could find were of false Solomon’s seal (Maianthemum racemosum). Maybe they’d all been eaten or perhaps knocked off in the rain.

A large spread of pearly everlasting in the meadow at the intersection. The hidden rocky area is just below the trees at the bottom of the meadow.

After a late start and a stop along Cougar Reservoir and with the days getting shorter, when I reached the intersection that leads to the summit, I decided it would take too much time and energy to head up the switchbacks that lead to the top. Wanting to relax, I chose instead to do some more exploring around the meadow in that area. By then the sun had finally dried out the foliage, and it was quite pleasant wandering about off trail. Not much was left in bloom, but there were large patches of pearly everlasting (Anaphalis margaritacea) attracting a few insects, and the diminutive Cascade knotweed (Polygonum cascadense) was still in flower. For years, I’d wondered what was below the meadow. It looked like it might be open beyond the trees. Maybe there were more outcrops similar to those just downhill of much of the trail before this spot. I’d never checked that on Google Earth. It seemed like the perfect time to find out.

Looking west across the rocky slope

Looking southeast at part of the rocky slope from the old section of trail. Like much of Lowder, an open area below the rocks is filled with thimbleberry (Rubus parviflorus). The ridge in the distance is nearby Olallie Mountain. A fire burned the ridge and destroyed the old lookout in the fall of 2019.

I still don’t know much about bees, but I do recognize some bees as familiar and common. This bee caught my eye as something unusual. There were a small number of them in the new rocky spot visiting the Hall’s goldenwood. Bee expert August Jackson replied to my ID request: “These are Xeromelecta californica, or I guess now Brachymelecta as it has just been found that genus name has precedence. These are kleptoparasites of late-season Anthophora like Anthophora urbana. I’ve personally never seen them out so late, but I guess I’m often not still looking this late in the season.” Thank you, August! I’ll be on the lookout for them earlier in the season next year.

Indeed, it turns out there is a large, rocky area wrapping around the slope just below the trees—not too steep and covered with interesting plants. I spent quite a bit of time poking about, collecting some barestem lomatium (Lomatium nudicaule) seeds and trying to photograph bees and a few butterflies, which were finally warm enough to be flying about. There was one last good nectar source out on the rocks, Hall’s goldenweed (Columbiadoria hallii), so I parked myself in front of it and watched insects visiting its bright yellow flowers. I knew that this might be my last chance to do this for many more months, so I really just wanted to relax and take it all in. When I had eventually had enough, I decided to head straight on the old abandoned trail for just a bit. After a little while, I was able to look back and get a decent view of the new rocky area, so I turned around. This was my 20th trip to Lowder Mountain, and I’ve already done a lot of off-trail exploration, but now I can’t wait to get back to see this area in bloom. While I expect annual wildfires are the new norm, I hope that next summer there will at least be more time to botanize before they start and smoke keeps me out of my favorite destinations.

After being dormant and dried out all summer, the rosettes of rustyhair saxifrage (Micranthes rufidula) were already greening up two days after the first rains. I checked out the ones growing on my property right after it started raining on Saturday and discovered they began to green up within 8 hours of the heavy rain starting. Many were almost fully green in less than two days. These here at Lowder may have been in a more exposed spot but were still well on their way to being fully refreshed. It’s a remarkable feat that I have observed many times, but I’ve found no other reference to it so far.

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