Staying Cool at Quaking Aspen Swamp

We hit peak bloom for the sundews. These are great sundew (Drosera anglica or perhaps hybrids of anglica and the nearby D. rotundifolia).

It wasn’t a big day for butterflies, and in fact a good percentage of the ones we saw had fallen prey to the sticky sundews. This looks like another thicket hairstreak (see previous report for a photo of a live one) or Johnson’s hairstreak.

Molly Juillerat e-mailed me to see if I wanted to go out on Sunday, July 16. It was supposed to be hot, around 90° in the Valley, not my first choice of a day for an outing. But I didn’t want to miss an opportunity to go out with Molly, especially as we both knew that since she’s the district ranger, if (most likely, when) a fire started in the Middle Fork District, she wouldn’t be able to go hiking and would have to focus on fire management. Whether from active fires or smoke drifting from farther away, these days one can’t count on hiking in the Cascades in August.

This turned out to be a good decision as the Bedrock Fire started the following weekend, on July 22. Molly had been out of state the previous week, and her dogs, Loki and Pico, had a lot of pent-up energy from being left at home and were also in need of a day in the mountains. We decided to head up to Quaking Aspen Swamp—an easy half-mile hike and a wetland with lots of moisture and no hot rocks to burn the dogs’ feet.


We’d missed the colorful sheets of pink mountain shooting star (Dodecatheon jeffreyi) and elephant’s head (Pedicularis groenlandica), but while not as flamboyant, sticky tofieldia (Triantha occidentalis) has its own charms.

Pico (left) and Loki (right) enjoyed poking around the wetland. No doubt there were lots of interesting wildlife smells they don’t experience at home. Loki’s favorite pastime is chewing on sticks, and he was working on an especially good one here.

At the time, I hadn’t noticed the web and tiny fly on this mud sedge (Carex limosa) inflorescence. The pointy graminoid on the left is a spikerush (Eleocharis sp.), which also grows in standing water.

Unlike most trips, the most exciting part of the day was the drive up. Normally, to get to Quaking Aspen Swamp (and Lowder Mountain, which shares a trailhead), we drive across the dam at Cougar Reservoir and follow Road 1993 all the way to the trailhead. Upon reaching the dam, we were surprised to see it closed due to some road construction (apparently, it will reopen on September 29). There’s a longer route up to Road 1993 via 2638 and 356 that I take to get to Horsepasture Mountain, now that the other end of Road 1993 has fallen apart. On our way up, we saw lots of wildlife. Along with the usual deer and squirrels, we were surprised when a barred owl flew right in front of the windshield. I’d never seen one before, but we got a great look at its boldly striped wings. That was exciting enough, but once we reached 1993 and were nearing our destination, we saw a large beige animal running down the middle of the road in front of us. “Strange deer” was my first momentary thought, but then I saw the long tail—a cougar!! Since it was heading directly away from us, we could only see its back end. We were shocked to see a cougar, especially in broad daylight—having gotten a late start, it was just around noon. Molly was driving, and I had my camera in my lap, but we only had a few seconds before it disappeared out of view, not that I would have had the presence of mind to take a photo. We were thrilled to have seen a cougar, but to be honest, we were both glad we were still several miles from the trailhead. Seeing it from the car was exciting, but seeing it in the bog with the dogs would have been distressing. Perhaps it’s a descendent of the cougar that gave nearby Cougar Reservoir its name!

We carefully made our way over to the open water in the center of the bog to look for aquatic plants and wildlife. There were some tadpoles and some salamanders at the bottom of the creek but no crayfish this visit.

Lesser bladderwort (Utricularia minor) is an uncommon carnivorous plant that floats around the edges of shallow ponds and small waterways, mainly in the Cascades but also occasionally along the coast.

Sticky tofieldia is a good nectar plant for smaller butterflies like this mylitta crescent.

By comparison, botanizing at Quaking Aspen Swamp was fairly uneventful and relaxing. There was one bit of excitement when we attempted to sit on a log in the shade to enjoy some lunch. It took a few minutes before we realized we had disturbed some yellow jackets. Poor Pico got stung on the foot, so we hightailed it out into the open. The meadow was wet enough that she could keep her feet in water. If that didn’t help with the sting, at least the dogs stayed cool. We intentionally stayed away from the northeast corner of the bog where on my last visit seven years earlier and also with Molly (see Highs and Lows at Quaking Aspen Swamp), I had fallen into a hidden sinkhole and ruined my camera. I did not want to repeat that! All in all, it was a great way to spend the beginning of the dog days of summer with some great canine companions and their mom.

Swallowtails, like this western tiger, are frequently seen nectaring on white bog orchid (Platanthera dilatata), a common wetland orchid.

Subalpine spiraea (Spiraea splendens) attracted lots of bumblebees.

Plenty of water for a hot, thirsty dog!

The woodland phlox (Phlox adsurgens) was at peak bloom in the forest. They come easily from cuttings, so I collected a few non-flowering stems from the ones with the prettiest flowers. In the wild, the stems are often decumbent, and the leaves are parallel to the ground to soak up the maximum sunlight. The cuttings are stuck vertically in sand, but over time, the leaves have turned so they are now again all parallel to the surface of the sand.

4 Responses to “Staying Cool at Quaking Aspen Swamp”

  • Kristy Swanson:

    Thanks for your pictures and relating your day. I love it. Pretty exciting to see a cougar. And good it wasn’t near where you would be with the dogs.

  • Leigh Blake:

    Just lovely…and EXCITING…a cougar!!! (Puma concolor..that one i know..raeding Craig Childs wonderful boks right now..and his experience with various wildlife,,great reads!) Beautiful photos…I’d love to see a book by you!!! It would be thrilling…and uplifting.. and on that note ..I am writing a book about creating boulders from scratch to make large outcroppings for our rock garden. Hope I’ll get it together to publish..
    I’m so grateful for all these beautiful and incredible trips you are sharing with me… Stay cool…don’t breathe the smoke…

    Many hugs!!, Leigh

  • Bruce Newhouse:

    Looks like another great trip! I read them all, and enjoy your writing, photographs and comments. Thank you so much!
    Your Carex limosa posting reminded me of one of the few pieces I have ever written:
    Hope the fires stay well away from your abode.
    Best, Bruce

  • Great article, Bruce! It’s one of my favorite sedges, too, both for its delicate beauty and its wonderful bog/poor fen habitat. Mud sedge doesn’t do it justice.
    Good news on the fire front. Yesterday, they lowered the evacuation levels on the Bedrock Fire, so they seem to finally have a handle on it. I can breathe a sigh of relief—even if I can’t breathe clean air yet! Unfortunately, the recent thunderstorms started some fires in the Calapooyas near some of my favorite places. Fingers crossed we actually get the rain they’re predicting this week!

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