Beautiful Spots on the Road to Spring Prairie

The river of large-flowered blue-eyed Mary (Collinsia grandiflora) washing down the hillside was punctuated by the bright red of harsh paintbrush (Castilleja hispida).

A lovely grouping of naked broomrape (now Aphyllon purpurea) parasitizing rustyhair saxifrage (Micranthes rufidula).

After spending time in the Spring Prairie area of eastern Lane County last year (see Exciting Day at Spring Prairie), I was anxious to get back there and do some more exploring. Way back in September of 2007, Sabine Dutoit and I had climbed up a big rocky slope just above Road 730 that leads to Spring Prairie (see Spring Meadow above Blair Lake). But it was late in the season, and all I remembered was seeing the dwarf lupine (Lupinus lepidus var. lobbii) that I associate more with the High Cascades—it is fairly common along the road near Santiam and Willamette passes. I had vowed I would return the following year when it was in bloom. But I didn’t. Now it is 15 years later, so I was long overdue to check it out during peak blooming season. How had it fallen off my to-do list for so long? I guess there are just too many interesting places to go.

As soon as we got out of the car, I knew it was going to be a good day when we saw a number of green commas nectaring on a freshly blooming sitka willow (Salix sitchensis) by the road. Willows are also their caterpillar host food plant, so they are frequently found near wetlands.

On Saturday, July 9, I decided it was the perfect time to head up there. Since we finally had good weather on a weekend, I was able to invite two other local Native Plant Society of Oregon members, Angela Soto and my OregonFlora colleague Thea Jaster, both of whom are limited to weekend outings (being able to go out during the week is one of the best perks of working from home!). We drove up Road 730 and parked right next to the access to the two lakes (click here for the location). We headed up the ridge through the forest, paralleling the road, and in less than 1/6 of a mile, we were out onto the open rocky slope.

The good rain this spring seems to have been especially beneficial to the larkspur, which has been abundant everywhere this year.

It was a gorgeous day, and we seemed to have hit the flowering season just perfectly and were greeted by many beautiful flowers. We slowly made our way up the slope, identifying plants large and small. The Menzies’ larkspur (Delphinium menziesii) and harsh paintbrush (Castilleja hispida) were outstanding. Farther on there were more mountain cats’ ears (Calochortus subalpinus). The tiny pink Brewer’s monkeyflowers (Erythranthe breweri) also caught our eyes. When we got to where the slope opened up and headed farther up the ridge, we came upon a draw where the water must have washed down the slope as the snow was melting. It had fueled a stunning sweep of wildflowers. I couldn’t stop taking photographs from every vantage point. While I spend a lot of time looking for interesting plants, I’m not always rewarded with such a colorful display, so I was really savoring it. I was also relieved that I hadn’t dragged my friends up a steep slope for nothing.

Thea and Angela admire the show of wildflowers.

The view of Diamond Peak was partially obscured by clouds. Dwarf lupine is in bloom in the foreground outcrop.

While Angela and Thea relaxingly enjoyed the flowers and the view, I really wanted to get to the top of the ridge to see if anything different grew up there. I had been wondering why we didn’t see any buckwheat (Eriogonum spp.) as we walked across the lower section. There is lots of sulphur buckwheat (E. umbellatum) in the rocky area along the trail from Blair Lake to Spring Prairie, just a half mile north of us. Of course, as soon as I said that, they started to appear. As I climbed higher, I found many other species that also grew in the other rocky area, including cliff penstemon (Penstemon rupicola), Martindale’s lomatium (Lomatium martindalei), and pumice sandwort (Eremogone pumicola). The top is about the same elevation as the other rocky area, so maybe it was just a matter of elevation and exposure, the lower half of this one being more protected by nearby forest. Most of the dwarf lupine was also up here and in perfect bloom. This special place certainly deserves a return visit, and it also needs a name. Technically it isn’t part of Beal Prairie or Spring Prairie, nor is it on Mule Mountain, the nearby spots that are given names on the map, but perhaps Mule Mountain Rock Garden would work as it is between Mule Mountain and Mule Creek.

From near the top of the slope, you can see north to Beal Prairie, one of the large beargrass meadows in the area.

Rosy twisted stalk is easily missed, but it’s worth peeking under the leaves to see its darling rosy bells. Next to it is swamp gooseberry (Ribes lacustre). There is a great deal of it growing in the wetland by the small lake.

After returning to the car for a bite to eat, we headed over to the lake that is hidden just a couple of hundred feet off the road. On our way around the lake to the south side where there is extensive wetland habitat, we were surprised to have to climb over a large snowbank. This spot is protected by the forested slope just to its south and gets very little sun. There was plenty of marsh marigold (Caltha leptosepala) still in bloom in the wetland, and some plants by the snowbank were even still emerging, buds already formed for a quick jump on their short season. Its frequent companion, mountain shooting star (Dodecatheon jeffreyi), was also blooming. Growing among them but harder to spot in the verdant wetland were the green bog orchids (Platanthera stricta). We admired the blossoms of rosy twisted stalk (Streptopus lanceolatus) and also found its larger cousin clasping twisted stalk (S. amplexifolius), but the latter wasn’t in bloom yet.

The west lake still had snowbanks at the edge of the woods.

We didn’t have much time left after so thoroughly enjoying our two botanizing spots, but neither Thea nor Angela had ever been to Blair Lake, and as it is only about a mile and a half from where we turned onto Road 730, we made a quick stop to see the lake and a short walk out on the Blair Meadows trail to see the other species of green bog orchid, Platanthera sparsiflora. I had a terrific day and hope my companions did as well. I won’t wait so long to return to the Road 730 area. Hopefully, I can get back up there before the flower season is over.

We came across this dense mass of Oregon grape (Berberis) seedlings in the forest. We surmised someone, probably a bear, must have eaten a lot of berries. No doubt their scat also nourished the tiny seedlings.

3 Responses to “Beautiful Spots on the Road to Spring Prairie”

  • Margaret:

    Thanks for sharing your outstanding photos. I wish my old legs could climb up the steep slopes you trek. Alas, I must be satisfied with reading your descriptions and viewing the photos. But that’s not a bad thing. I enjoy it and walk flatter trails.

  • Wilbur Bluhm:

    Very interesting! Thank you!

  • Leigh Blake:

    FABULOUS!!! So few man made rock gardens can do this justice!!! Great photos…We are tring to finish this garden we started in 2016 …and seeing the NATURAL ONES here..are so inspiring>>>I’m so grateful you include me on these hikes…Lupinus lepidus lobbii…one of my favorites…someday I’ll get it to grow in this garden..

    And…my Orobanche uniflora!!! WHY did they change the name?? Oh…I know…to keep us on our toes!!! HUGS!!

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