Butterfly Valley Botanical Area Nature Trail wildflower adventure

stats box

Butterfly Valley Botanical Area is a specially designated botanical area in the Plumas National Forest a few miles north of Quincy, California. It is about 500 acres in size. It was designated as a botanical area in 1976 and currently hosts a Nature Study of 5 species of plants including the California pitcher plant, also known as the cobra lily (more about this plant later).

I learned about Butterfly Valley in connection with a recent hike on the Pacific Crest Trail not far from Quincy, and immediately resolved to return for a wildflower visit as soon as it was practical. A formalized list of vascular plants found in the botanical area exceeds 500 species, including significant biodiversity. The most famous of the plants is the California pitcher plant, but the list includes some 4 insectivorous plant species, 12 orchid species, 24 species in the lily family, numerous ferns, etc.

My visit was somewhat late in the spring wildflower season and therefore was kind of a tantalizing introduction to this special place. I’m sure there were many more wildflowers a bit earlier, but still my visit was highlighted by numerous wildflowers, many still unidentified (by me, anyway). In this post I’m including pictures of some that I thought were pretty, interesting, and/or photogenic.

Recently the Forest Service has constructed a nature trail that loops around the heart of the Botanical Area. My GPS data recorded 3.1 miles not counting a deliberate backtrack. I spent nearly an hour tromping around in the area where the pitcher plants are, so the actual loop distance without this tromping around would be somewhat less. But who would come here and not spend some time marveling at the stars of the wildflower show?

Finding the nature trail turned out to be a bit of an adventure, especially since I’m not familiar with the local roads. The way that visitors usually get there is via Blackhawk Rd, less than 0.3 miles north/west of the Forest Service’s Mt Hough Ranger Station on CA-70. When I arrived in the area I went to the ranger station for information and was given (partial) directions and a map to access via Butterfly Valley Rd. Unfortunately I continued to refer to some information I’d found on the internet regarding the Blackhawk Rd entry route, while trying to figure things out with the Butterfly Valley Rd map. No wonder the mileages, turns, road markings (where present), etc did not agree!

Eventually I did a full restart after nearly an hour of driving around and scratching my head. And I turned on my GPS to at least record my path for my subsequent edification. The first GPS track shows the two driving routes. The orange track is my path from CA-70 to the trailhead I’d actually found while driving around, and the grey part of the track is my exit path, which shows the approach via Blackhawk Rd.

GPS track - driving routes

GPS track – driving routes

In any case, during my pre-hike drive I stopped several times to investigate wildflowers that I saw along the road. One of the first was some chicory (Cichorium intybus). I’d also seen some along CA-70 driving into the area, so was planning to stop as soon as I saw some off the high-speed road. I see chicory often in Wisconsin but had not noticed it in California.

image of chicory


There were several patches of brilliant pink everlasting pea (Lathyrus latifolius), also called perennial pea or sweet pea. I simply had to stop and investigate the colorful flowers!

photo of everlasting pea

Everlasting pea

Another bright pink flower also caught my eye. This one’s blossom is fluted, with a flare to an almost flat tip. I haven’t yet discovered what it is.

picture of tall bright pink wildflower along Butterfly Valley Rd

Tall bright pink wildflower along Butterfly Valley Rd

And yet another distinctive flower by the roadside was this one. The right picture shows the leaf structure at the lower part of the long stem, with separated platter-like layers of leaves. The left picture shows the pretty white blossoms.

image of tall white flower with layers of leaves

Tall white flower with layers of leaves

The information pamphlet provided by the ranger – so new that it is clearly labeled DRAFT – shows 3 trailheads for the Butterfly Valley Botanical Area Nature Trail. The Butterfly Valley Rd entry goes to the north trailhead, indicated as the orange dot on the GPS track. I decided to go around the loop in the counterclockwise direction, saving the pitcher plants for near the end of my mini-hike. The pitcher plant area is the dead-end part of the track at the upper center of the loop. There was relatively little elevation change, only about 260 feet, so I’m not including the elevation profile.

GPS track - nature trail

GPS track – nature trail

The trailhead, at the junction of Butterfly Valley Rd (PC [Plumas County] 417) and Bog Rd (25N47), is well-signed with a parking area for 3 or 4 cars. About 0.1 mile down the trail there is a Y junction; I went right to go around the loop counterclockwise. Most of the trail passes through forest. I passed some pincushion plants and a down log with some white fungus. Shortly I found what I think is leafless wintergreen (Pyrola aphylla). Notable characteristics include the red stem and inverted (nodding) flowers with 5 cupped petals.

photo of leafless wintergreen, I think

Leafless wintergreen, I think

I saw quite a few of this next flower all along the trail. They might be wild orchids, but I don’t know the orchid family well enough to make an identification. The flower heads have what I call an apartment house type of structure, with rows of bracts(?) denoting where blossoms will emerge. Note that the lower petal of each blossom has a fringed edge. Some plants had reddish flower heads, like these, while others’ flower heads were green – perhaps earlier in the blooming cycle.

picture of unidentified wildflower noted all along the Nature Trail

Unidentified wildflower noted all along the Nature Trail

The trail crosses Bog Rd at the south end of the loop, about 1 mile from the trailhead. There was signage at the road crossing for Beargrass Glade, so I decided to backtrack to see if I could find the feature that was prominent enough to have signage. My trail information mentioned finding a small trickle and then following it off-trail. I didn’t find a trickle, or any other evidence of moisture, near the right location so I abandoned the search and continued around the loop. At the Bog Rd crossing there is another trailhead. About 0.4 mile after the road crossing there is a T junction; it looks like a sideroad on the GPS track. I went left (north) here, to approach the bog area. Along the next section of trail I encountered some white brodiaea (Triteleia hyacinthina), or white wild hyacinth.

image of white brodiaea

White brodiaea

Approaching the bog the forest gives way to a meadow-like area, with plants that appreciate more sun. Here I found a shrub with pretty light purple flower spikes. The smaller flower clusters almost make a spiral pattern around the main stem.

photo of shrub with light purple flower spike

Shrub with light purple flower spike

Continuing along the trail, perhaps 0.3 mile past the T junction, I finally found my first California pitcher plant (Darlingtonia californica)! Pitcher plants use various means to attract insects into an opening under the hood. After that, the insect gets trapped in liquid that the plant stores inside the lower part of the leaf, and the insect decomposes and is digested. This is why the plants are designated as insectivorous.

picture of California pitcher plants

California pitcher plants

Another example shows the prominent leaf structure that extends from the main leaf. It certainly looks like a forked tongue! It is easy to see why these plants are also called cobra lilies.

image of pitcher plant

Pitcher plant

To be clear, the part of the plant that people marvel over is the leafy part of the plant. There is also a flower, which grows on a taller stem. Here is what the flower looks like: nodding, with yellow-green petals. The structure in the center is the fruit, or seed pod.

photo of California pitcher plant flower

California pitcher plant flower

The pitcher plants were growing among shrubs with long leaves and clusters of small white flowers.

picture of shrub with white flowers, growing among the pitcher plants

Shrub with white flowers, growing among the pitcher plants

In the damper areas near the bog – which was no longer very boggy – there were quite a few leopard lilies (Lilium pardalinum), with spectacular orange blossoms with large, backward-curving petals with maroon spots. The spots are only partly visible in this picture. These flowers are also, for some reason, also called tiger lilies; I didn’t see any stripes!

image of leopard lily

Leopard lily

In this area there was hedgenettle, some tiny blue-eyed Mary-like flowers (less than ¼ inch across), a couple of past-prime star tulips (Calochortus family), and what may be rein orchids (Piperia or Platanthera families). There were also some Macloskey’s violets (Viola macloskeyi).

photo of Macloskey’s violet

Macloskey’s violet

On my way back to the T intersection I took the very short spur trail over to Bog Rd, where the third official trailhead is located, then continued around the loop. On the east side of the bog area the trail is close to the meadow/bog, but mostly back in forest. Here I noticed quite a few more wildflowers, including pretty California chicory (Rafinesquia californica) and some mallow-like flowers.

After returning to my car, I drove out via Bog Rd and Blackhawk Rd, passing areas identified as Rubble Gap and Fern Glen. I stopped several times for brief explorations. Near the Big Blackhawk Creek crossing there were more leopard lilies, rein orchids, possible wild orchids, and ox-eye daisies (Leucanthemum vulgare). When I reached CA-70 via Blackhawk Rd, perhaps 2.5 miles southeast of Butterfly Valley Rd as shown in the GPS track, I began my 70-mile return drive to Truckee. Quincy hosts the campus of Feather River College, a two-year community college. Near the road to campus I noticed several groupings of everlasting peas, including some that were a lighter shade of pink.

picture of light pink everlasting pea

Light pink everlasting pea

Along the roadways there were several types of wildflower, some of which I tried to identify on-the-fly and others that required a careful stop on the road shoulder for a quick look. There were at least two, perhaps more, types of lupine (Lupinus), as well as johnny-tucks and, near Sattley, patches of smooth vetch (Vicia dasycarpa). One of the roadside stops revealed some yellow seep monkeyflower (Mimulus guttatus) and what I think are common madia (Madia elegans).

image of common madia, I think

Common madia, I think

Although this visit entailed a 150-mile round-trip drive from my local base in Truckee, the array of wildflowers – even almost off-season – made the trip well worthwhile. I look forward to return another time, closer to the peak of the wildflower season!

Posted in Plumas County, Plumas National Forest, wildflower hikes | Tagged , , , , | Leave a comment

Hunter Lake Trail

stats box

The Hunter Lake Trail – distinct from the Hunter Creek Trail, which is not far away – is in the Eastern Sierra just west of Reno, NV. It is in a strip of the Humboldt-Toiyabe National Forest between two sections of Mount Rose Wilderness in Washoe County. The trail is basically a forest road that climbs up into the National Forest; like many other forest roads, there are subsidiary roads here and there, some better signed than others.

Because I was leading a group hike without having hiked the trail before, I did a checkout hike about 3 weeks in advance of the official hike. This post is kind of a combination of the two hikes. In both cases, I took a somewhat different route on the outbound and return trips, on the lower part of the trail where there are quite a few alternate trails. For the official hike we went about 7 miles on the outbound hike and ended up returning by a shorter route following the main road/trail. The orange dot on the GPS track shows the trailhead, which is at the edge of a residential area with a modest amount of street parking.

GPS track

GPS track

As soon as you go up what amounts to a berm, there is a flat grassy area to the left where, on the checkout hike, I immediately noticed some white flowers and went over to investigate. It turned out that they were prickly poppies (Argemone munita). The flowers are reminiscent of matilija poppies that I see in the San Francisco Bay Area, but the prickly poppy plants are much shorter, perhaps 2 feet tall.

picture of prickly poppy

Prickly poppy

Near the prickly poppies I noticed more white flowers and was startled to discover that they were mariposa lilies. From my close-up photos I was able to identify them as Bruneau mariposa lilies (Calochortus bruneaunis). They actually look quite similar to the Leichtlin mariposa lily, but the purple anthers and subtle green stripe on the outside of the petals confirm the Bruneau mariposa lily identification.

image of Bruneau mariposa lily

Bruneau mariposa lily

At a Y intersection not far from the trailhead I went left, and this branch of the trail is relatively flat for 1.5-2 miles before beginning a steady climb for the remainder of the outbound trip. The elevation difference between the trailhead and the turnaround point for the hike was nearly 3000 feet. I should mention that we never found Hunter Lake. Someone we met near the trailhead told us there really isn’t a lake, so we didn’t look very hard for it. Instead, since the temperature was getting into the 90’s, we turned around when we felt we had accomplished sufficient climbing for the day!

Elevation profile

Elevation profile

On the day of my checkout hike I found more wildflowers than on the day of the official hike just 3 weeks later. In fact, the day of my checkout hike I encountered someone jogging up the trail and commented on the number of flowers I was seeing. He responded that, at that time, it was about as green as Reno gets. So I wasn’t really surprised that there were fewer flowers a few weeks later as the ground was getting drier and spring was transitioning into summer.

One of the unusual finds of the checkout hike was this unidentified white flower with interesting and intricate structures on the many flowers in the flower head.

photo of unidentified white flower

Unidentified white flower

There were several different types of yellow flower along the trail, and I’ve been having difficulty getting them identified. On the checkout hike, in the lower flat section, I first heard, then briefly saw, a couple of quail.

I have seen several different types of lupine in the Tahoe area. This one, perhaps longspur lupine (Lupinus arbustus), had relatively tall flower stalks, with whiter blossoms at the base than at the top of the stalks. Note that an insect seems to be about to land on one of the blossoms.

picture of lupine with an approaching insect

Lupine with an approaching insect

Also on the checkout hike, I noticed an unusual thistle that was not yet quite ready to produce blossoms, though it was getting ready. I believe it is an elk thistle (Cirsium scariosum var. scariosum), and I thought the rosette-like structure was striking.

image of elk thistle getting ready to produce blossoms

Elk thistle getting ready to produce blossoms

There was plenty of mule’s ear, some balsamroot (similar to mule’s ear but with different-shaped leaves), and phacelia, as well as checkermallow in some areas. I happened to notice a particular rock that had apparently been painted red, and a small lizard was sunning itself on top of the rock.

photo of lizard warming in the sun

Lizard warming in the sun

I also noticed a patch of pincushion plant with several small blossoms radiating out from the ball. I think it is called needleleaf pincushion plant or Great Basin navarretia (Navarretia intertexta ssp. propinqua).

picture of navarretia, or pincushion plant

Navarretia, or pincushion plant

A little over 6100 feet elevation there is an area where there was a fire within the last few years. There is an entire hillside where more than half the trees burned.

image of hillside with trees indicating the location of a recent fire

Hillside with trees indicating the location of a recent fire

There were some areas covered with a low-growing plant, like ground cover. I believe it is mahala mat (Ceanothus prostratus), actually a very low-growing shrub.

photo of mahala mat

Mahala mat

Below 6500 feet or so, the trail passes primarily through grassland and chaparral, with modest tree cover. Above 6500 feet there are sections with more variety: pine, chaparral, even some aspens. In addition to the quail I heard meadowlarks and wrens, and saw a few California sister butterflies. On the checkout hike I turned around just under 6800 feet elevation, where the trail curves around the side of the hill and enters a forested area. A little below that I passed some thistle plants that were a silvery color. On the official hike they were blooming with brilliant red flowers. I think they are snowy thistles (Cirsium occidentale var. candidissimum).

picture of snowy thistle

Snowy thistle

There were also some shrubs with oval-shaped clusters of tiny white flowers. One of the clusters was being visited by a bee. I haven’t yet identified this shrub.

image of shrub with white flower clusters

Shrub with white flower clusters

At about 7300 feet elevation there was a T intersection where we turned right to continue uphill. In this area there was quite a bit of phlox as well as some onion (Allium), though I don’t know the exact type.

picture of onion wildflower

Onion wildflower

Another flower that we saw in numerous places along the trail is penstemon.

photo of penstemon along Hunter Lake Trail

Penstemon along Hunter Lake Trail

As the group hike approached 7500 feet elevation we noted that the trail was apparently going up the side of a hill in front of us, and we could see a jeep descending the trail. A few minutes later we met up with the jeep just as we were about to make our way around a large puddle that had filled a slight depression in the trail. We asked the couple in the jeep if they’d found Hunter Lake; they said No, and we all agreed that the puddle might be as close as we were going to get to a lake that day!

photo of Hunter Lake – not exactly!

Hunter Lake – not exactly!

With increasing elevation the views of the surrounding area got more and more spectacular. Here is a view across the Washoe Valley south of Reno with the Virginia Range in the background.

image of view of the Washoe Valley and Virginia Range

View of the Washoe Valley and Virginia Range

Above 7500 feet there were several secondary roads with signage indicating that we were on road 41392. We passed 41392A, B, and C. When we came to D we stayed on what we thought was the main road, but my GPS track told me afterward that we had turned off the road that goes to whatever exists of Hunter Lake. In any case, when we got to 8300 feet elevation we decided to take a break on a small hilltop, enjoying some welcome breeze and views of the surrounding hills before making our way back toward the trailhead.

On the way down we bypassed the more circuitous route we’d taken uphill and followed the main trail to the trailhead. Around 5800 feet elevation there is a big intersection where we turned left to go around a hill. From this section of trail there was a great view of Peavine Peak about 9 miles away almost due north.

picture of Peavine Peak

Peavine Peak

There was also a nice view of the downtown Reno skyline.

image of Reno skyline

Reno skyline

From this point it was less than a mile back to the trailhead.

Considering that we had found the trail to be relatively rocky and with steeply banked sides in many areas, the hike was more difficult than the average 10% grade suggests. However, the views were excellent and, in season, the wildflowers are numerous and colorful.

Posted in Humboldt-Toiyabe National Forest, Nevada, wildflower hikes | Tagged , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Edge to Edge part 8: Skyline to the Sea Trail from Big Basin Park HQ to Waddell Beach

stats box

This hike, along Skyline to the Sea Trail from Big Basin Redwoods State Park Headquarters to Waddell Beach, is basically Day 3 of a popular 3-day through hike from Saratoga Gap to Waddell Beach on the Pacific Ocean. It is also the 8th – and last – segment of an 8-segment hike that I have been doing with a group of ice skating friends, from the edge of San Francisco Bay to the edge of the Pacific Ocean. We decided to call our adventure Edge to Edge.

Actually, most of the group completed the final section a year ago. Two of us couldn’t participate in that hike and had been planning for several months to do it together. A large part of the complication was arranging for rides to Big Basin and from Waddell Beach. There is a summer-season bus from/to Santa Cruz but that didn’t seem convenient, so we arranged family/friend rides. Eventually the details fell into place and we were ready to go hike!

This entire section is in Santa Cruz County, and the orange dot on the GPS track shows the starting point at Big Basin Headquarters. When we walked up to the ranger station window for a map, they knew right away that we were hiking one-way to Waddell Beach: being dropped off was the give-away clue.

GPS track

GPS track

The previous segment of our Edge to Edge hike had included a moderate climb from Waterman Gap to China Grade Rd before descending into the heart of Big Basin Redwoods State Park. This time there was a smaller climb to Middle Ridge Rd and an even smaller climb on the hikers-only trail between Alder and Horse Camp campgrounds at the lower end of Skyline to the Sea Trail. In addition, we had decided that, if we felt we had time and energy when we got to the junction with Berry Creek Falls Trail, we would take a 1-mile side trip up this trail to see two more waterfalls. Apparently Berry Creek and West Berry Creek run all year, even in a drought, so there would be water flowing over all three falls. That was a pretty good incentive!

Elevation profile

Elevation profile

This side trip added about 2.4 miles to the total hike distance, as well as about 300 feet of climbing.

At the beginning of the hike we decided to go the long way around the beautiful Redwood Trail loop near park headquarters, and this added about 0.6 mile to the total hike distance. It was a beautiful way to set the stage for the rest of the hike. The trail loops around past several exceptionally large old-growth redwoods, including Father of the Forest (estimated age: 2000 years) and Mother of the Forest (previously the tallest in Big Basin). Here a youngster is posing in front of one of the named trees, I believe Chimney Tree.

photo of old-growth redwood along Redwood Trail

Old-growth redwood along Redwood Trail

We noticed a pretty flowering shrub which turned out to be western azalea (Rhododendron occidentale). Our hike was the day after an unusual, but welcome, June rain shower, and we noticed droplets on some of the flowers and shrubs we encountered.

picture of western azalea

Western azalea

Some of the redwoods are impressively tall, as well as broad.

image of tall redwood

Tall redwood

After going most of the way around the Redwood Trail loop we were ready to set off down Skyline to the Sea Trail. Before long we started seeing violets, both yellow redwood violets (Viola sempervirens) and white two-eyed violets (Viola ocellata), the latter also known as western heart’s ease. The two dark purple splotches are the eyes.

photo of redwood violet (left) and two-eyed violet (right)

Redwood violet (left) and two-eyed violet (right)

There was also a lot of redwood sorrel (Oxalis oregana) growing beneath the redwoods, almost like a carpet in places.

picture of redwood sorrel

Redwood sorrel

We saw quite a bit of Solomon’s seal (Maianthemum racemosum) and hedge nettle (Stachys ajugoides) as well as some Ithuriel’s spear (Triteleia laxa). I was a bit surprised at the Ithuriel’s spear, since I tend to associate it with more open areas, i.e., a bit more sun. At one point, when we had stopped for pictures, we were overtaken by a group of young hikers, perhaps a summer camp group accompanied by counselors. They were immediately followed by another group of mostly seniors. I think both groups were doing a popular loop hike past the waterfalls and back to park headquarters. Not long after the groups passed us we arrived at Middle Ridge Rd, the highest-elevation point of the hike, about 1.6 miles from the start.

We heard one or more Swainson’s thrushes singing; the rising spiral-like song is hauntingly beautiful and always makes me feel that I am in a huge, remote forest.

Another redwood forest find was western trillium (Trillium ovatum). We saw quite a few of these distinctive 3-leafed plants among the redwoods. They were not actively blooming, but the flowering part of the plant was on a stem, and this is characteristic of the species.

image of western trillium

Western trillium

The trail is very well-maintained, but occasionally down trees have been left in place. In this case a notch was cut to facilitate hiking under the tree. I thought of it as a drive-through tree for hikers!

photo of drive-through tree for hikers

Drive-through tree for hikers

Another plant we saw frequently was Andrew’s clintonia (Clintonia andrewsiana), or red bead lily. A beautiful flower head is at the top of a tall naked (leafless) stem, with several large leaves at the base, here with fresh rain droplets.

picture of Andrew’s clintonia

Andrew’s clintonia

We also saw quite a few of these plants with small, delicate star-like blossoms. I’m pretty sure they are sugarscoop (Tiarella trifoliata var. unifoliata). I don’t know that it’s related to the flower’s name, but the blossoms reminded me of sugar granules being sprinkled onto some kind of confection.

image of sugarscoop


In this part of the park there is a network of creeks, and Skyline to the Sea Trail passes along Kelly Creek and West Waddell Creek.

Just past 5.2 miles from the trailhead we reached the junction with Berry Creek Falls Trail. First we hiked the short distance up the trail to the viewing area for Berry Creek Falls, certainly a highlight of this hike or of the popular loop hike the groups were on. There is undoubtedly more water flow in wetter years, but even with lower water flow this is a beautiful waterfall.

photo of Berry Creek Falls

Berry Creek Falls

After a short break we continued up Berry Creek Falls Trail, which climbs next to Berry Creek and West Berry Creek for about a mile before reaching Silver Falls. Along the way we passed some Pacific star flower (Lysimachia latifolia) and an as-yet unidentified caterpillar, as well as a beautiful cluster of horsetail (Equisetum).

picture of Silver Falls

Silver Falls

The trail continues to climb very steeply past Silver Falls, with steps cut into the rock and cable handrails. Shortly past the falls we reached what might be the lower part of Golden Cascade, where we turned around and returned to Skyline to the Sea Trail. While we were stopped for another short break – not because we needed another one, but because it was so beautiful and there was a bench – a Steller’s jay played hide-and-seek with us in the nearby redwood trees.

We continued down Skyline to the Sea Trail, which passes from old-growth to second-growth around Berry Creek. The forest is still beautiful. About 0.5 mile below Berry Creek there is a fairly large sign and the trail changes into a fire road. Shortly before the sign the trail crosses West Waddell Creek on what could best be described as a seasonal bridge: a couple of wide planks, easily removed if needed, spanning from each edge of the creek to a large rock in the middle. Then a more substantial bridge re-crosses the creek overlooking lush plants below.

The trail goes over a couple of small rolls, and overall the descent becomes quite gentle. Some of the down trees are decorated with colorful fungus; this is known as turkey tail (Trametes versicolor).

image of turkey tail fungus on a log

Turkey tail fungus on a log

At some point it started to rain lightly; this had been in the forecast so we were prepared, and donned light rain jackets. I also had a rain shield for my pack, which I deployed, more to try it out than for serious rain protection.

As we descended the forest gradually opened up, with small clearings and meadows near the trail. We passed clusters of forget-me-nots (Myosotis), a few globe lilies (Calochortus albus), and Fernald’s irises (Iris fernaldii). There is even a piece of equipment, apparently abandoned in place next to the trail (and, sadly, subsequently tagged by hikers). In one of the open areas we came across a few tall plants topped by stalks of white bell-shaped flowers, which I’ve been unable to identify.

photo of white bell-shaped flowers on the lower part of Skyline to the Sea Trail

White bell-shaped flowers on the lower part of Skyline to the Sea Trail

This section of trail is second-growth redwoods with some deciduous trees, and the mix gradually changes. There was a distinctive down tree, apparently suspended across the trail about 10 feet up in a configuration that I refer to as a good catch. Some investigation revealed that it was actually resting on another stump that acted as a fulcrum. Pretty amazing, but I guess the tree is not about to collapse onto the trail!

The trail passes Twin Redwoods and Alder campgrounds about 12.3 miles from the start; it would have been 9.3 miles without our side trips. Here a hikers-only trail branches away from the fire road, and there is a last climb through pretty forest habitat. We passed some wavyleaf soap plant (Chlorogalum pomeridianum var. pomeridianum) and quite a few trees draped in lichen; this is a particularly impressive example.

picture of lichen-draped tree

Lichen-draped tree

Through the trees lining the trail we could see a few wisps of ocean fog in the valley to our left, through which Waddell Creek runs to the ocean. We also encountered a few examples of this pretty flower, which I think is California chicory (Rafinesquia californica), or California plumseed.

image of California chicory blossom with some buds

California chicory blossom with some buds

As we descended from the highest point of the hikers-only trail we came to another highlight of the hike: our first view (of the day) of the Pacific Ocean, the endpoint of our amazing 8-hike journey.

picture of initial view of the Pacific Ocean

Initial view of the Pacific Ocean

The ocean view was so exciting, in fact, that I almost missed a group of canyon dudleya (Dudleya cymosa) blooming on the rock face immediately next to the trail on the high side. While researching the identification I learned that dudleyas’ stems grow from one side of the succulent leaf cluster at the base, while stonecrops’ stems grow from the center.

photo of Canyon dudleya

Canyon dudleya

I had provided our ride with a radio so that we could touch bases and let her know our progress, since our arrival time was at best an estimate. We had already checked in a couple of miles back, but she called again to see how we were doing: reveling in our first ocean view and sightseeing!

After about 1.6 miles on the hikers-only trail, it rejoins the road through the Rancho Del Oso portion of Big Basin Redwoods State Park, and the view across the valley opens up. Here we could see more wisps of fog floating over the valley.

image of fog along the lower part of Skyline to the Sea Trail

Fog along the lower part of Skyline to the Sea Trail

The trail passes through Rancho Del Oso and next to the Theodore J Hoover Natural Preserve. In this area we passed a few stands of plants with tall stalks topped by these striking red flower spikes.

photo of red flower spikes

Red flower spikes

As we walked along the last half mile or so we saw 3 or 4 bunnies venture onto the trail, then scoot away back into the vegetation as soon as they detected our presence. And as we crossed CA-1 to Waddell Beach our friend was waiting, enjoying watching the waves and a couple of sail-surfers zooming around in the breeze. Of course we continued across the sandy beach to do our ceremonial finger-dip into the Pacific. It was more than a little tricky to figure out how to get my fingers wet without getting my feet even wetter, as the waves alternately ran up the beach and then retreated.

picture of ceremonial finger dip in the Pacific

Ceremonial finger dip in the Pacific

If I look a bit awkward in the picture it might be because I’d loaded up my pack with at least 5-7 extra pounds of things I wouldn’t need, as training for an upcoming hiking trip.

This particular hike had been anticipated since the first segment of our Edge to Edge journey, and it was a beautiful and enjoyable final stage of that journey. I wonder where we will go next!

Posted in Edge to Edge, Santa Cruz County | Tagged , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Garin and Dry Creek Pioneer Regional Parks

stats box

After completing a nearly 6-mile hike in Chabot Regional Park, I decided to continue celebrating National Trails Day by doing a second hike in Garin and Dry Creek Pioneer Regional Parks. This second hike was basically another loop, on the High Ridge Loop Trail, with a short side trip on the loop trail to Gossip Rock. There were great views of San Francisco Bay and the nearby hills, and there were still some wildflowers, though this is clearly nearly the end of the spring wildflower season.

The GPS track shows an overview of the route, in which I went clockwise around the loop. The orange dot denotes the trailhead and main parking area for Garin Regional Park.

GPS track

GPS track

Garin and Dry Creek Pioneer Regional Parks are adjacent to each other, and there aren’t even signs that indicate the park boundaries, just cattle gates. I previously hiked in the central part of Garin Regional Park, so this was an opportunity to explore much of Dry Creek Pioneer Regional Park. The High Ridge Loop Trail climbs about 700 feet in elevation from the trailhead, and then after about 2 miles at the top of the ridge descends to an elevation lower than the start before climbing up and over a smaller hill to return to the parking area.

Elevation profile

Elevation profile

As the trail began to climb away from the trailhead I passed morning glories, mustard grass, poison hemlock, filaree, and poppies. I noticed spider burrows: basically small holes in the ground covered by thick webs. At one point I startled what I believe was a 1-inch-across spider that paused next to a plant on the trail – well-camouflaged – before scuttling to the next one and off into the grasses. There was some harvest brodiaea (Brodiaea elegans) among the grasses next to the trail.

image of harvest brodiaea

Harvest brodiaea

Before long I started passing yellow mariposa lilies (Calochortus luteus), perhaps some of the last of the season.

photo of yellow mariposa lily

Yellow mariposa lily

Over the hills farther inland from San Francisco Bay, a few high clouds accentuated the blue sky.

picture of cloud


Occasionally airplanes passed overhead on approach to Oakland International Airport, and a few hawks floated around looking for prey. Across the Bay to the west fog peeked over the Santa Cruz Mountain tops. Through a gap between hills on the east side of the bay I could see the downtown Oakland skyline about 18 miles away. At other places I could see the very top of Mt Tamalpais, about 35 miles away, just above the top of the fog layer. About 2.1 miles from the trailhead the trail passes an intermittent stream, and a small pond down the hillside was not-quite-dry.

At 2.2 miles from the trailhead there is a junction with Gossip Rock Trail, which goes east about ¼ mile and makes a loop around Gossip Rock. On the way out to the loop there was a nice view of Mt Hamilton, 25 miles and several rows of hills away to the southeast.

image of Mt Hamilton from Gossip Rock Trail

Mt Hamilton from Gossip Rock Trail

Gossip Rock itself is a small rocky outcropping on a knoll with a couple of stately trees growing among the rocks.

photo of Gossip Rock

Gossip Rock

From the loop trail there was an especially nice view across the southern tip of the Bay, with Quarry Lakes Regional Park (I believe) in the foreground 1000 feet below.

picture of view across southern tip of San Francisco Bay

View across southern tip of San Francisco Bay

After the Gossip Rock Trail, the High Ridge Loop Trail begins a steady descent. About ½ mile past Gossip Rock there is a T junction, where High Ridge Loop Trail goes right and enters a shady, forested area. In the shade I found some elegant clarkia (Clarkia unguiculata) still blooming.

image of elegant clarkia along a shaded portion of High Ridge Loop Trail

Elegant clarkia along a shaded portion of High Ridge Loop Trail

Another ½ mile beyond the T junction is a junction with Tolman Peak Trail. Sometime I would like to return and hike the Tolman Peak Trail, which climbs back up to over 1000 feet elevation and makes a loop around Tolman Peak. After passing Tolman Peak Trail, High Ridge Loop Trail descends a bit more to May Trail, and traffic noise from nearby, busy Mission Blvd becomes more apparent – and a bit jarring, since the surroundings still appear quite rural. High Ridge Loop Trail climbs up almost 300 feet on the way, parallel to Mission Blvd, back toward the trailhead. Along this section of trail I noticed some pincushion plants (Navarrietia) at the edge of the trail.

photo of pincushion plant

Pincushion plant

The ridge where I had just hiked was above a series of hills that were nicely illuminated by the late afternoon sun, with concentrations of trees along seasonal streams.

picture of hills and the high ridge of High Ridge Loop Trail

Hills and the high ridge of High Ridge Loop Trail

I found some lupine (Lupinus) almost hiding in the tall grass. The blossoms seemed a bit past their prime.

image of lupine


A small bird, unidentified, serenaded me, flitting among a couple of bushes and perching on a fence post. I got a picture but am not sure of the identification.

photo of small bird on a fence post

Small bird on a fence post

About 6 miles from the trailhead I approached Jordan Pond as I got closer to the parking area. The trail passes fairly close to the edge of the pond, but a view of the pond is mostly blocked by bushes. I noticed that some of the bushes were Himalayan blackberry (Rubus discolor) rather than the more common native California blackberry. The petals of Himalayan blackberry are rounder and the stamens form kind of a spray: very pretty.

picture of Himalayan blackberry near Jordan Pond

Himalayan blackberry near Jordan Pond

After passing the pond I arrived back at the parking area. This loop hike to the ridge above Mission Blvd was very enjoyable and seemed to be a suitable way to celebrate National Trails Day.

Posted in Alameda County, East Bay, East Bay Regional Park District | Tagged , , , , , | 1 Comment

Chabot Regional Park: central park loop

stats box

For this year’s National Trails Day, I decided to celebrate the wonderful selection and variety of trails in the San Francisco Bay Area by going on two hikes. The first was at Chabot Regional Park in the Oakland – San Leandro – Castro Valley area. I decided to follow what turned out to be a 5.8-mile loop beginning at the Bort Meadow Staging Area, going south-southeast along the Grass Valley Trail, crossing Grass Valley Creek to follow the Goldenrod Trail, and finally descending on Buckeye Trail to Bort Meadow and the staging area.

On the GPS track the orange dot denotes the staging area, or trailhead. I hiked the loop clockwise.

GPS track

GPS track

The first part of the loop is part of the Bay Area Ridge Trail, and I hiked it as part of my Ridge Trail circumnavigation. This time I was more aware of the wildflowers I saw along the way. In fact, I had been hiking less than 5 minutes when I noticed a wildflower I didn’t think I had seen before. It turned out to be ruby sand-spurrey (Spergularia rubra), which was growing like ground cover next to the trail. The blossoms are only about ½ cm across.

picture of ruby sand-spurrey next to the trail

Ruby sand-spurrey next to the trail

The Grass Valley Trail basically descends for about 1.5 miles before reaching a stone bridge that crosses Grass Valley Creek. Wildflowers I saw along the trail included poison hemlock, Italian thistle, morning glories, pink clover, wild mustard, scarlet pimpernel, pineapple weed, filaree, Scotch broom, blue-eyed grass, and a few poppies. In spite of the number of different wildflowers, the golden grass signified that the spring wildflower season was essentially over. I could hear a few birds calling out in the trees along the creek, and a few times I heard the eerily beautiful song of a Swainson’s thrush.

In the shaded area near the creek I noticed some late-season elegant clarkia (Clarkia unguiculata). There was also blackberry, a bit of vetch, and of course very healthy-looking poison oak.

After crossing the creek on the stone bridge, I turned left on Jackson Grade to climb up to Goldenrod Trail, which gains elevation as it winds along the hillside above and on the west side of Grass Valley Creek.

Elevation profile

Elevation profile

Coming up Jackson Grade I was aware of being able to hear activity at the marksmanship range that is in the park. There was milk thistle and yellow sticky monkeyflower along the trail here, and elsewhere.

I saw buckeye butterflies several times during the hike, but one sighting involved a pair. They were certainly not interested in posing for a picture! – but I was eventually able to get a picture of them when they were both relatively stationary, though obscured by some plants. (The one at the right is more obscured than the one at the left.)

image of pair of buckeye butterflies

Pair of buckeye butterflies

As I hiked up Goldenrod Trail I noted some brodiaea, which I later tentatively identified as harvest brodiaea (Brodiaea elegans). To me the flowers look similar to Ithuriel’s spear, but the brodiaea seems to occur at least sometimes as individual blossoms, while Ithuriel’s spear is usually seen in clusters, with each blossom on a stem several cm long.

photo of harvest brodiaea along Goldenrod Trail

Harvest brodiaea along Goldenrod Trail

Along this part of the trail, especially above 800 feet elevation, there were pretty views to the east of the hills beyond San Leandro Reservoir, which is hidden between rows of hills.

picture of view of hills east of San Leandro Reservoir

View of hills east of San Leandro Reservoir

I happened to notice several interesting-looking native grasses and other plants. This one had rather long hairs, which nicely reflected the sunlight.

image of native grass in a sunny spot

Native grass in a sunny spot

About 4 miles from the start, as the trail passed close to Skyline Blvd, I reached the Chabot Equestrian Center. I ended up going into the center instead of leaving it to my right. After a quick inquiry I was redirected back to Goldenrod Trail. There was quite a bit of creambush (Holodiscus discolor) along the trail.

photo of creambush along the upper part of Goldenrod Trail

Creambush along the upper part of Goldenrod Trail

The trail seemed to alternate between shady and sunny areas. In the shady areas there were pretty ferns and some hedge nettle. In the sunny areas there were some poppies, along with rattlesnake grass (Briza maxima) and cow parsnip. About 0.4 mile past the Equestrian Center there was a particularly nice view looking down at Grass Valley and the trail I’d hiked earlier.

picture of view of Grass Valley and its trail

View of Grass Valley and its trail

About 0.8 mile past the Equestrian Center the trail appears to tee at a road not shown on the park’s trail map. I turned right at the tee and, another few tenths of a mile later, right again on Buckeye Trail. Near the tee intersection I came across a few daisy-like flowers that turned out to be mayweed (Anthemis cotula).

image of mayweed


In nearby shady areas there were quite a few forget-me-nots (Myosotis latifolia).

photo of forget-me-nots


The Buckeye Trail is for hikers only and descends fairly steeply, almost 200 feet in about ¼ mile. This trail is in the forest until Bort Meadow is reached. Along the way some of the trees have interesting shapes, with branches like long arms reaching for sunlight.

picture of tree along Buckeye Trail

Tree along Buckeye Trail

The trail crosses a small gully, perhaps with a seasonal stream but now dry for the summer. I have never seen another footbridge that was constructed to ensure that only foot traffic could pass: it was very narrow.

image of very narrow footbridge along Buckeye Trail

Very narrow footbridge along Buckeye Trail

At the bottom of the hill the trail simply pops out at the edge of Bort Meadow and tees at Grass Valley Trail, where I turned right. Along Grass Valley Trail I noted some California everlasting (Pseudognaphalium californicum), which I had seen elsewhere but mis-identified.

photo of California everlasting

California everlasting

To return to the parking area I turned left to follow MacDonald Trail for a short distance, then turned right to reach my car. Although I had hiked a portion of this loop previously, it had been long enough in the past that there was a newness to the hike. It was an enjoyable to spend part of my afternoon on National Trails Day, and I proceeded to nearby Garin Regional Park for a bonus second hike of the day.

Posted in Alameda County, East Bay, East Bay Regional Park District | Tagged , , , , | 4 Comments

Pacific Crest Trail: Buck’s Summit to Belden

stats box

When I have an opportunity to hike a section of the Pacific Crest Trail as a point-to-point hike, I usually take advantage of the opportunity. This time a 19-mile segment hike was planned, and we had the minimum number of point-to-point hikers (4) to meet our hiking group’s informal guidelines for a safe trip. The idea was that we would hike in pairs, each pair starting at one end of the segment, meeting up somewhere in the middle, and exchanging car keys. The route was between Buck’s Summit and the tiny town of Belden, passing through Plumas National Forest, essentially entirely within Buck’s Lake Wilderness.

The GPS track shows an overview of the route, with the orange dot indicating the Buck’s Summit trailhead, where I started hiking.   In addition to my point-to-point hiking partner, 5 other hikers began an out-and-back hike from Buck’s Summit.

GPS track

GPS track

There was a bit of friendly debate about whether it was preferable to hike this segment northbound or southbound. The elevation profile illustrates the debate. Buck’s Summit is at an elevation of about 5500 feet, while Belden is at about 2300 feet. Most of the elevation change is accomplished in a steady 4000-foot ascent or descent in the 7 miles closest to Belden. The average grade is just under 10%, so pretty reasonable. The pair starting at Belden faced an ascent, starting in the morning with fresh legs. On the other hand, the pair starting at Buck’s Summit faced a descent, starting later in the day after hiking 12 miles.

Elevation profile

Elevation profile

Hike highlights included the beautiful scenery of Plumas National Forest, a couple of lakes, a glimpse of Mt Lassen, rain clouds in the distance (mostly), and lots of wildflowers. I will write a separate post about the wildflowers.

From Buck’s Summit the trail climbs pretty steadily, gaining 1500 feet to a high of about 7000 feet elevation. About 0.6 mile from the trailhead there was a pretty view across nearby ridges.

photo of view of nearby ridges

View of nearby ridges

The trail passes through different types of habitat, including chaparral, open deciduous woodland, and conifer forest. Especially in the conifer forest areas, most of the tree trunks have moss growing on them, but only above the 5-6 foot level of snow depth in a typical snow year.

picture of moss on trees indicating typical winter snow depth

The moss on these trees indicates typical winter snow depth

About 4.2 miles from the trailhead we reached a junction with Spanish Peak Trail, and shortly after that a junction with Right Hand Branch. About 4.8 miles from the trailhead we had a brief, and slightly hazy, view of Lassen Peak 40 miles away, with Lake Almanor almost directly in the same line of sight. The relatively small amount of snow on Lassen is due, of course, to the current drought conditions.

image of Lassen Peak

Lassen Peak

At 4.5 miles we passed Silver Lake Trail, and at 6.2 miles there was an excellent view of Silver Lake with its tiny island.

photo of Silver Lake

Silver Lake

In a couple of places the trail passes close to rocky outcroppings like this one.

picture of rocky outcropping near the Pacific Crest Trail

Rocky outcropping near the Pacific Crest Trail

After a brief shower some plants, like this lupine, had raindrops glistening on the leaves in the post-shower sunshine.

image of lupine leaf with raindrops

Lupine leaf with raindrops

Although we stayed dry for most of the hike, we could see rain clouds not far away, and at times there was low, rumbling thunder in the distance.

photo of mountain view with rain

Mountain view with rain

Over the next several miles the trail rolls up and down gently, descends 500 feet, and rolls some more. The last high point before the descent is where the trail passes Mt Pleasant, followed shortly by a sign indicating Clear Creek Springs. Many of the near-trail water sources are indicated by signs, as a help for through-hikers. I was particularly impressed that the short side trail to Clear Creek Springs was marked by a pair of cairns.

A bit farther along there was an interesting down tree across the trail, which I instinctively dubbed the over-under tree: As I approached it from the uphill side I was wondering whether I should go over or under it! The gap underneath seemed just a bit tight, so I climbed over, even though the top was about waist high.

The trail crosses a small tributary of Clear Creek and follows near the creek for a mile or so. Near a final creek crossing our two pairs of hikers met up and stopped for a short break, around 9.8 miles from the start. This was actually my only sit-down break of the entire hike, though there were numerous 30-second stops for photos.

At 11.1 miles is a junction with Three Lakes Trail. The closest lake is only ½ mile away, but I didn’t see it – or didn’t look at the right place. The trail started passing through chaparral and passed a sign indicating Bracken Fern Spring. Once again some of the clouds in the area were pretty dark, with rain streaking down into the hills.

picture of grey rain clouds

Grey rain clouds

Around 12 miles from Buck’s Summit, the PCT gently begins the long descent into Belden. At first the descent is rather gentle, as the trail winds around a hillside covered in chaparral.

image of Pacific Crest Trail descending along a hillside

Pacific Crest Trail descending along a hillside

Near a sign denoting Canyon View Spring there was an amazing view into the canyon of the North Fork Feather River, with the river some 3200 feet below. It was a bit humbling to realize that the descent, already in progress for 800 vertical feet, would not end until the river was reached.

photo of view into the canyon of the North Fork Feather River

View into the canyon of the North Fork Feather River

Below 5000 feet elevation the trail passes from chaparral into forest, and remains in the forest. Perhaps 500 feet lower a series of switchbacks begins. The official PCT description mentions 36 switchbacks, but I certainly did not count them! and they do not all show clearly on the GPS track. During the descent it started to rain lightly, and I donned some rain gear for the second time.

Occasionally there were sufficient windows through the trees to see and appreciate views, like this one of Red Hill, which had been passed earlier on at higher elevation.

picture of Red Hill

Red Hill

Later, a bit lower in elevation, there were pretty views of the serene North Fork Feather River.

image of North Fork Feather River

North Fork Feather River

Almost abruptly, there is signage indicating that the trail is leaving Buck’s Lake Wilderness, and there is a PCT register particularly used by through-hikers. The trail crosses two tracks of the Western Pacific Railroad. Currently, there is quite an array of maintenance cars and equipment occupying one of the tracks. We heard at least 3 or 4 trains pass during the latter part of the descent.

photo of Western Pacific Railroad tracks near Belden

Western Pacific Railroad tracks near Belden

After I crossed the tracks I got a little confused about which way to go to arrive at my car, which was only about 100 yards away at the time with my hiking partner waiting patiently. I walked back and forth along the tracks for a short detour before consulting the trail description to determine that walking down the paved road was indeed the correct path past the equestrian parking area where our hiking partners had left the car in the morning.

This was a beautiful hike in an area where I’d not hiked previously. Hopefully our group can figure out how to stage a point-to-point hike on the next section of the PCT to the north – which will start out with a long climb out of Belden back to higher country.

Posted in Pacific Crest Trail, Plumas County, Plumas National Forest | Tagged , , , , , | 1 Comment

Grouse Lakes Basin: Carr Lake Loop

stats box

Carr Lake is one of numerous lakes in the Grouse Ridge / Grouse Lakes Basin area in Nevada County north of I-80 and/or CA-20. The area is accessed via Bowman Lake Rd and National Forest Rd 17, followed by 4 mi on a dirt road best negotiated by a high-clearance vehicle with 4-wheel drive. The hike leader for this group hike had planned a 12-mile semi-loop from the Carr Lake trailhead. The hike became a little longer when we mis-interpreted a trail junction and hiked a 0.7-mile detour off the intended trail. This can happen when neither the junction topology nor the mileages agree with the available maps. It was a great day for a hike, though, and we enjoyed several lake views as well as Sierra views in the surrounding Tahoe National Forest.

The GPS track gives an overview of the many lakes in the area, and the orange dot at the lower left shows the location of the trailhead. We hiked the loop in a clockwise direction.

GPS track

GPS track

Almost immediately after leaving the trailhead we hiked past Carr Lake. It was a nice preview of the many – at least 7!! – lakes we would see along our path.

image of Carr Lake

Carr Lake

Next, only 0.3 miles farther, was Feeley Lake with a pretty reflection of Fall Creek Mountain only ½ mile away.

photo of Feeley Lake and Fall Creek Mountain

Feeley Lake and Fall Creek Mountain

About 1.3 miles from the trailhead we came to the trail junction that marked the beginning and end of the actual loop. This junction is between a small, unnamed lake and Island Lake. Across Island Lake we could see the Grouse Ridge Lookout Tower on the top of Grouse Ridge. The small, unnamed lake was especially serene, with another pretty reflection of Fall Creek Mountain.

picture of reflection in a small, unnamed lake

Reflection in a small, unnamed lake

Near this junction someone noticed a few fawn lilies, called plain (or purple) fawn lilies (Erythronium purpurascens). We would see these beauties in many places along the route. The petals tend to become delicately purple as the blossoms age.

image of plain (or purple) fawn lily

Plain (or purple) fawn lily

We saw a few patches of a bright green low-growing shrub with flower heads of small, bright pink blossoms.

photo of shrub with pink flowers

Shrub with pink flowers

We also passed several patches of velvety stickseed, or forget-me-nots (Hackelia velutina). At many places along the trail there were nice views of the hills and peaks surrounding the Grouse Lakes Basin. About 2.5 miles from the trailhead we noticed the Black Buttes, which are only 3-4 miles away.

picture of view of the Black Buttes

View of the Black Buttes

Another wildflower that we saw frequently along the trail was Lobb’s buckwheat (Eriogonum lobii var. lobii). Although there are many varieties of buckwheat in the state and the area, Lobb’s buckwheat is easy to recognize because the stems lie almost flat on the ground – prostrate stems – and the flower heads look like pink cotton balls.

image of Lobb’s buckwheat

Lobb’s buckwheat

Still on the northbound leg, about 3.3 miles from the trailhead, we came to Penner Lake. The lake color was an amazing, deep blue reflecting the clear sky. The water surface was calm, nicely reflecting the nearby hills.

photo of Penner Lake

Penner Lake

After another 1.5 miles of hiking we arrived at a junction that proved to be confusing for us. We were looking for a T junction, and what we found was more like a side trail to the right, making almost a U-turn. We decided it wasn’t our T junction so we continued “straight,” but when we checked our GPS’s again a bit later, we determined that we had essentially made a left turn instead going straight, so we turned around. Along this short section of trail we passed Rock Lake, and we decided to stop there for a break. It was a great place to stop and enjoy the view of Haystack Mountain behind the lake.

picture of view across Rock Lake

View across Rock Lake

After the break we returned to the confusing junction and continued in the direction we had not yet traveled. This section of trail shows – on two independent maps – as a fairly straight eastward segment. The map with mileages indicates just 0.4 mile to the next junction, where we would turn to the south. As is evident from the GPS track, the trail is not straight at all, but traverses several switchbacks – and was actually 1.4 miles long. Also, up to this point the trail had been remarkably level, with only short ascents and descents. This section was more of a steady descent and was to be followed by a longer ascent.

Elevation profile

Elevation profile

At the bottom of the descent we reached an expected trail junction and turned right to travel south. As we climbed, the trail started to follow the South Fork of Canyon Creek, which tumbled down the hillside. As we approached Shotgun Lake the creek path was so steep it was almost a waterfall. Shotgun Lake was yet another serene lake with pretty reflections of its surrounding hills.

image of Shotgun Lake

Shotgun Lake

After we passed Shotgun Lake we continued along the South Fork of Canyon Creek. There was good water flow in the creek, and we had two particularly interesting creek crossings. For the first one there was a good-sized fallen tree across the creek. As long as you were confident with your balance it was possible to get across remaining dry.

The second crossing was not as simple. There was another tree across the creek, but it had quite a few branches and was skinnier, and the few hikers who tried crossing that way had to work pretty hard to get across. Everyone else decided to cross in an area where there just weren’t any partially exposed rocks to try to hop across on. As people were deciding whether to cross with their boots on or off, one of our group called out “It’s ok to get your feet wet”. Like many others, I eventually simply sloshed across with my boots on, hoping that they would dry out nicely during the remaining 5 miles of the hike and that having wet socks would not have adverse effects on my feet.

photo of stream crossing: it’s ok to get your feet wet!

Stream crossing: it’s ok to get your feet wet!

In the next section we traveled through forest and past small, moist meadows. I saw pretty (yellow) mountain violets (Viola purpurea), (white) Macloskey’s violets (Viola macloskeyi), and a few shooting stars, probably Jeffrey’s (Dodecatheon jeffreyi). One of the small open areas was carpeted with corn lilies (Veratrum californicum).

picture of field of corn lilies

Field of corn lilies

Farther along there was a single patch of Torrey’s blue-eyed Mary (Collinsia torreyi).

image of Torrey’s blue-eyed Mary

Torrey’s blue-eyed Mary

Shortly before we reached the junction that marked the end of the loop portion of the hike, we passed by a hillside nearly carpeted in fawn lilies. We also had a pretty view of Island Lake, once again with Fall Creek Mountain in the background.

photo of Island Lake and Fall Creek Mountain

Island Lake and Fall Creek Mountain

From this section of trail, to the right of Fall Creek Mountain we could barely see the Sierra Buttes. They are only about 14 miles away, but the drive from today’s trailhead would be over 2 hours!

When we reached the end of the loop we retraced our path to the trailhead. The many pretty lakes in Grouse Lakes Basin certainly enhanced what would have been a pretty hike even without the lakes.

Posted in Nevada County, Tahoe National Forest, wildflower hikes | Tagged , , , , , | Leave a comment