Exploring Two New Meadows

Looking east across the Saddleblanket Bald meadow, you can see the alder thicket following the water as it drains from the wetland uphill.

While planning a trip to collect seeds at Elk Camp and Nevergo Meadow, I was showing my husband where I was going on Google Earth and happened to notice what looked like a small natural meadow less than a mile west of Elk Camp. It wasn’t far from a road that once led to an old trailhead for Saddleblanket Mountain. I remembered it being gated the last time I drove by, but it was only a half-mile or so to walk if it was still closed. Intrigued, I decided I should add it to my trip. The following day, August 15, I headed up to Nevergo Meadow by my usual route, south from Big Fall Creek Road 18. After a short stop at Nevergo Meadow, I drove south on Road 142 past the trailhead that hooks into the Alpine Trail near the Elk Camp Shelter. It’s only another 1/3 mile to Road 143, which deadends after 0.6 miles. The gate was actually open, and the road was clear and in good shape. I found out later it had been opened and brushed to use as a fire break. Thankfully last year’s Gales Fire never made it over to this area, though I passed burned trees on the drive up farther north.

The banks on the north side of the access road had all been cut out and the road cleared. This should make for easy access to this site for at least a few years.

I parked a little before the end of the road where the aerial image on my phone showed me I was nearest to the meadow. I only had to walk 500 feet or so south of the road through gorgeous old-growth forest before I popped out into this sweet natural meadow (click here for the location on Google Maps). This was turning out to be super easy! The meadow is sloped and a bit rocky but not too steep—I wonder how it stayed so open hidden in the middle of so much forest. It is about 3 acres and split by a thicket of shrubs following a water course. I also found a thicket of alders and a dry creekbed running by it just past the east end of the meadow, so there’s clearly moisture getting to this area.

It’s fun and challenging doing “forensic botany,” trying to identify plants at the end of the season and imagining what the habitat looked like when things were fresh. This brown patch of rocks was covered with dried Bryum moss, bluefield gilia, monkeyflower, and barestem lomatium. No doubt it will be lush and seepy next spring.

There were many interesting plants that should put on a beautiful show in the spring, though most were pretty dry this late in the season. Most notable was an abundance of spreading phlox (Phlox diffusa). Sulphur buckwheat (Eriogonum umbellatum) and barestem lomatium (Lomatium nudicaule) grew in the gravelly patches by the phlox. There was also lots of yampah (possibly Perideridia bolanderi with many-lobed lower leaves). Bluefield gilia (Gilia capitata), rosy plectritis (Plectritis congesta), and monkeyflower (probably what is now called Erythranthe microphylla) along with lots of moss indicate where it will be seepy here in the spring. It occurred to me to check the outcrops where it looked like it was seepy for Thompson’s mistmaiden (Romanzoffia thompsonii). Sure enough, the telltale tiny, two-sided, brown seed capsules were apparent. Can’t wait to see this next year!

This caterpillar is well camouflaged in the clusters of drying buckwheat flowers. It was so pale, it would have been hard to find had the ant not given its location away.

I pushed my way through the thicket that bisected the meadow. There was still some moisture underfoot and some blooming Cooley’s hedgenettle (Stachys cooleyae). On the far side the meadow slopes back up and is fairly well drained. A population of northern buckwheat (Eriogonum compositum) near the top looked like it might have some ripe seed. As I approached, I noticed some ants on the inflorescences. I was so focused on seed that I’d already forgotten to look for caterpillars on any buckwheat I came across. After some searching, I turned up two slug-like caterpillars! Most likely blues, but I’m not sure if they were acmon or dotted blues. While I saw some swallowtails, parnassians, and coppers still flying around, the parents of these caterpillars were no doubt gone. I’ll have to see which blues live in the area next year.

I came across several holes that were most likely those of boomers, AKA mountains beavers (Aplodontia rufa). They collect vegetation to eat later, much like pikas. They seem to favor having an old log as a roof. Unfortunately, one is far more likely to step in a boomer hole than to ever see one of these funny, beady-eyed creatures. I’ve only come across them twice in my many days in the Western Cascades.

Above this end of the meadow, the forest understory was denser than on the way in. Tangles of vine maples (Acer circinatum) made the going rough for a bit. But then it opened up into a wetland—clearly the source of the water beneath the alder thicket in the meadow below. The foliage was so tall that I had to move slowly and carefully, yet I still managed to fall into one hole. Still in bloom and attracting butterflies were Alice’s fleabane (Erigeron aliceae) and mountain thistle (Cirsium remotifoium). Just a little stretch of woods and I was back to the car. What a wonderful spot this turned out to be. I think I’ll call it Saddleblanket Bald from now on. It’s an easy site and will add even more interest and diversity to visits to the terrific Elk Camp area!

Another boomer hole with a neat array of plants outside the entrance and a variety of uneaten woodland species nearby. Apparently, the resident prefers other plants—in this case, some asters (probably Cascade aster, Eucephalus ledophyllus).

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2 Responses to “Exploring Two New Meadows”

  • Leigh Blake:

    Another great hike….do you contribute seed to NARGS?? I just got my order in…This was the first year that I had contributed…my meager finds…Much fun!! Love your little “Mountain Beavers”!! Ant tending Eriogonum caterpillar…very cool!!! Your plant knowledge is outstanding..I’m working on mine…so much to learn…

    THANK YOU!!

  • Grace Peterson:

    Happy New Year, Tanya. Here’s to a happy, healthy Mother Earth in 2023.

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