Late Afternoon at Hobart Bluff

Looking west-northwest from Hobart Peak toward Ashland, the yellow Bloomer’s fleabane, white ball-headed sandwort, and red paintbrush are beautifully backlit in the early evening light.

Although it is listed as having a range of 239 miles, our all-electric car (a Kia Niro EV) can go around 280 miles in the summer. That’s plenty for most day trips, but it is a bit limiting for adventures farther afield, and the vehicles I had been driving for the last 20 years are still chugging along but not reliable enough for driving in the mountains. Thankfully, more chargers are popping up all the time, so I’ve been checking the maps of where I can charge the car. I was surprised and pleased to find the Green Springs Inn in the Cascade-Siskiyou National Monument has its own charger, albeit a slow one. I hadn’t been down that way in a while, and my husband, Jim, had never been there, so we decided on a quick overnight trip and booked a room at the inn for June 29.

Rock buckwheat (Eriogonum sphaerocephalum) is mainly an eastside species, but it also grows at nearby Grizzly Peak. Mount McLoughlin can be seen in the background.

Roundleaf snowberry (Symphoricarpos rotundifolius) is an eastside species that just sneaks over to the west side of the Cascades down in Jackson County. Its flowers have much longer tubes than our westside species, common snowberry (S. albus) and creeping snowberry (S. mollis).

We took the eastern route via Klamath Falls. Turns out that from our house it is actually several miles shorter than down I-5, and we so rarely get out that way that we thought it would be a more interesting drive than the freeway. Unfortunately, we got a rather late start and hit road construction, so by the time we arrived at the Hobart Bluff trailhead, it was already close to 4 pm. What with the late hour and a husband who’s not particularly into botany, I didn’t dilly-dally the way I usually do, but we were only a few miles from the inn, so we were still able to walk the 1.25-mile trail to the top of Hobart Bluff and bushwhack our way back along the ridge to Hobart Peak.

While I love the familiar Western Cascade flowers I see on most of my trips, it always excites me to see something new. The Cascade-Siskiyou Monument is a melting pot of Cascade, Siskiyou, and eastern Oregon plants, so there are many plants that I’m not familiar with. Although the elevation was slightly higher than Bristow Prairie where I’d been only 5 days before (see Changing Waves of Flowers on Two Trips to Bristow Prairie), the blooming season was much farther along—not surprising considering Hobart Bluff is 90 miles due south (if only the drive south had been that short!). The balsamroot (Balsamorhiza deltoidea) was finishing up, and buckwheats (Eriogonum spp.) were getting started. It was all very pretty except for one very upsetting thing, which I noticed as soon as I left the car. Bulbous bluegrass (Poa bulbosa) had invaded the area and seemed to be everywhere. This is a horrible weed that spreads by tiny bulbils in the inflorescences. I don’t remember ever seeing so much of it.

This female pale swallowtail is laying eggs on the choke cherry leaf, but for some reason, they did not stick to the leaf. It appears she produced five green, spherical eggs, but they were still attached to the end of her abdomen as she flew off. How distressing for her!

There were more butterflies than I had seen lately, but it was rather warm, and they were mostly moving too fast for me to get a good look. There is a very high diversity of butterflies in the monument, including the rare mardon skipper, so I had hoped to see something unusual. Mostly I saw swallowtails, but I did have one really interesting encounter. I saw a pale swallowtail fly by and land on some choke cherry (Prunus virginiana). I figured it might be a female laying an egg since that species is a known host plant, and there were no flowers on it for the butterfly to nectar on. I watched the butterfly curl her abdomen around, and she laid several eggs. Yay, I was going to get to see an egg up close! I’d never seen the ones of this swallowtail species. But when she flew off, the cluster of eggs was still stuck to her abdomen, and I couldn’t find any eggs on the leaf. I wonder what happened. I’m not sure what they use to attach the eggs to a plant. Was it too sticky? I do hope she was successful in her later attempts.

Paintbrush (probably Castilleja pruinosa, but I didn’t stop to look) and sulphur buckwheat (Eriogonum umbellatum) blooming on the ridge.

Most of the trail is part of the Pacific Crest Trail. It passes through meadow and woodland, including one dark stretch of trees where dozens of budding phantom orchids (Cepalanthera austiniae) were popping up. Then it turns left off the PCT and ends in the rocky habitat atop the bluff. Two species of mountain mahogany (Cercocarpus ledifolius and C. betuloides) and some gnarly western junipers (Juniperus occidentalis) reminded me I wasn’t in Lane County anymore. After enjoying the views of Mount Shasta, Mount Ashland, and Mount McLoughlin from the summit, and trying to orient ourselves in this unfamiliar landscape, we headed back to the saddle where the trail crosses the ridge. 

The fairly level profile of Grizzly Peak can be seen about 13 miles to the northwest. That was our destination for the following day.

A honeybee collecting the blue pollen of bluefield gilia (Gilia capitata)

There had been a lot of species on nearby Hobart Peak that I didn’t see along the trail to the bluff on my last trip (see First Flowers at Hobart Bluff), and I hoped that would be true again, so we left the trail at this point and headed up the partly forested ridge. It seemed like a harder bushwhack than I remembered, but that may have been because the plants were more well grown than on my previous visit much earlier in the season. But we did see many things I hadn’t seen on the bluff or on my previous trips, so it was well worth it. At the saddle, there was a patch of some very low-growing rose, possibly Rosa spithamea. Farther up the ridge in some gaps between the trees, we saw a beautiful spread of toothed owl clover (Orthocarpus cuspidatus), a species I don’t think I’ve seen before. I was thrilled to see hundreds of little Peck’s phacelia (Phacelia peckii), although they were mostly going over. I was hoping to see this rare species at Grizzly Peak the following day, as I’d seen it there in the past, but I didn’t know it also grew at Hobart Peak. A short while later, I had a mild panic when I noticed my lens cap was missing, but thankfully I was correct in thinking I must have dropped it while photographing the little phacelias, which were just a little ways back and out in the open where I was able to spot it.

The flowers of toothed owl clover have much larger, more inflated white sacs than the mountain owl clover (O. imbricatus) that I am familiar with in most of the Western Cascades.

Two other species I had seen at Grizzly Peak were on the open summit of Hobart Peak and in full bloom: Bloomer’s fleabane (Erigeron bloomeri) and ball-headed sandwort (Eremogone congesta). A gorgeous blue penstemon was starting to bloom. The glandular inflorescences lead me to believe it was Roezl’s penstemon (Penstemon roezlii), but with only a few plants, the wind really picking up, and the late hour, I just wasn’t able to get any good photos. With the view of Ashland and beyond, the sun getting low in the sky, and all the beautiful flowers, it was a great place to end the day. If you do ever do the trail to Hobart Bluff but don’t want to follow the ridge up, I would recommend at least walking the short way up the powerline from the parking area to the top of Hobart Peak to see some different species.

Jim starting to head south back to the road from Hobart Peak. The parking area is just out of view to the left of where you can see the road. While the powerline running across the area is a real eyesore, it does help keep you oriented.

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