Relaxing Day at Elk Camp Shelter

It was peak season for the common camas (Camassia quamash) at Elk Camp.

Gina especially loved the old-growth forest near the Elk Camp Shelter. As we walked along the trail past the shelter, we were surprised to see someone just waking up after having arrived there on his bike very late at night. I don’t think he was expecting to see us either. The trail past the shelter is part of the much longer Alpine Trail that passes through Tire Mountain and is very popular with mountain bikers.

I’d much rather see flowers than fireworks on the 4th of July, so my neighbor Gina and I went up to see wetlands up at Elk Camp Shelter, Nevergo Meadow, and Saddleblanket Mountain, all no more than 15 miles away as the crow flies from where we live in Fall Creek. It was a pleasantly cool day, but the clouds mostly disappeared as the day went on. Although we did see several hikers and bicyclists—a first for me in that area—it was quiet and peaceful. That’s just the way I like my holidays!

One of the plants I had hoped to see in the Elk Camp meadow was Nevada lewisia (Lewisia nevadensis). Sabine Dutoit had discovered it there a number of years ago when I led a trip for the Native Plant Society (see NPSO Trip to Nevergo Meadow and Elk Camp). Luckily, I timed it right, and some of them were in bloom. I saw several between the trail and large willow thicket, where Sabine originally spotted them, and several more as I wrapped around the edge of the wetland to the bit of meadow that is hidden from the trail. Though there aren’t very many (although there could be more than I think as they are very hard to spot out of bloom), that’s where I had seen the largest number of them in the past. That’s also where most of the population of the rare endemic Umpqua frasera (Frasera umpquaensis), but there were no signs of buds or flowers on them. I”m not sure if they will bloom at all this year as they bloom only periodically. The Nevada lewisia and its frequent companion threeleaf lewisia (L. triphylla) seem to prefer more or less bare ground in moist meadows. I headed farther south along the edge of the wetland to look for more bare ground. I was rewarded with another patch of Nevada lewisia. The odd thing was that these had much smaller flowers—about the size of the threeleaf lewisia near them. I had never noticed this before, but then I rarely see open flowers because they seem to close up on warm afternoons (as does the threeleaf lewisia). With the partly cloudy day, some were still open.

These two Nevada lewisia plants from different parts of the meadow by the Elk Camp shelter had remarkably different-sized flowers.

After Elk Camp, we took a short look at the wetland across the road from where the trailhead starts. The mountain shooting star (Dodecatheon jeffreyi), marsh marigold (Caltha leptosepala), and mountain buttercup (Ranunculus populago) were fresher than at Elk Camp and still blooming well. We even found an area on the edge of the wetland that had just melted out and had some remaining snowmelt species, including the last glacier lily (Erythronium grandiflorum) and some western spring beauty (Claytonia lanceolata). This wetland is narrower and more sheltered than the one by Elk Camp, so the snow must take longer to melt. At only around 4400′, I was surprised that the blooming season wasn’t farther along.

The roadside wetland near the trail access to Elk Camp Shelter was still in its early season splendor with blooming mountain shooting star, marsh marigold, and mountain buttercup.

The Douglas’ hawthorns (Crataegus gaylussacia) at the Saddleblanket wetland were in bloom. We spent quite a while watching several rufous hummingbirds whizzing about, frequently landing in the hawthorns. One of their favorite nectar sources, Cooley’s hedge nettle (Stachys cooleyae), is common in the wetland, but it wasn’t blooming yet.

One of my favorite plants at both Elk Camp and Nevergo Meadow is the graceful Oregon bluebells (Mertensia bella). I don’t see it all that often, but it is quite abundant in this area.

Next we spent a little while at Nevergo Meadow. The beautiful early show of skunk cabbage (Lysichiton americanus), marsh marigold, and mountain shooting star (Dodecatheon jeffreyi) were largely done, and the later flowers, including tiger lilies (Lilium columbianium) hadn’t started yet, so we didn’t stay as long as I usually do. On the way back to Fall Creek, we decided we had time to bushwhack through the old-growth forest to see the wetlands north of Saddleblanket Mountain. It was harder than I remembered getting because there were so many really large fallen trees, but we did finally find a way in. It was too early for the splendid display of white bog orchids (Platanthera dilatata) and Cusick’s checkermallow (Sidalcea cusickii) I’d seen there before (Insects and Flowers at Saddleblanket and Elk Camp Wetlands), but it was still a great way to end our day.

Driving out from Fall Creek, the road goes past an old quarry with an expansive view to the north and east. It was the first time I’d seen the extensive fire damage from the large fires of the last two years.

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