Wildflower hunting: Donner Pass Rd; Steamboat, NV; and the Hunter Lake trailhead

This post describes three brief wildflower explorations in the North Tahoe / Reno area.  I didn’t get out of sight of my car during any of the explorations, but I found interesting wildflowers in each location.  I was experimenting with my photography: my regular camera had just failed mechanically and I hadn’t yet gotten a diagnosis or replacement for it.  So I was carrying a tablet for taking photographs.  I would say that the quality of the photos is certainly not as good as it would have been with my regular camera, but I was nevertheless able to enjoy and document my finds.

The first exploration was along Donner Pass Rd above Donner Lake on the way to Soda Springs.    I had a description of a pull-out about 2 miles up the road.  Although I did not find the specific flowers I was hoping to find, I did find an amazing belly flower: a flower so small it is best appreciated on your belly!  I discovered that, when using my tablet for wildflower close-ups, it can be useful to point to exactly what I want in the picture.  That way I can find the exact spot more easily to frame the photo and, as an unexpected bonus, my finger provides a convenient ruler.  The tiny flower I found is called whiskerbrush (Leptosiphon ciliatus) and it is only about 1/4 inch in diameter.  The petals each had a pink spot and yellow at the throat, and the entire plant was barely an inch tall.  This was an unexpected and pretty find.

photo of whiskerbrush along Donner Pass Rd

Whiskerbrush along Donner Pass Rd

In the same area there were also some white belly flowers, though my pictures were not clear enough to attempt an identification.  There was also a shrub with pink flower clusters, some mahala mat, manzanita, and other typical vegetation.  I had turned on my GPS at the west end of Donner Lake so that I could easily determine after-the-fact where I’d stopped for photos.  In this image the orange section shows my path up to the spot where I found the whiskerbrush.

GPS track for Donner Pass Rd

GPS track for Donner Pass Rd

Just before the short, narrow bridge I stopped again for a nice view of Donner Lake, nearly 1000 feet lower in elevation, with part of the Carson Range in the background.

photo of Donner Lake viewed from Donner Pass Rd

Donner Lake viewed from Donner Pass Rd

When I reached the top of the hill I turned off my GPS and returned home.

The next day I returned to a place I’d visited two days prior, right after my camera failed.  I had found a flower I was looking for, and I wanted to go back and get some pictures.  The location was near the small town formerly known as Steamboat Springs, Nevada, now simply known as Steamboat, about 15 miles south of I-80 in Reno.  I had directions to a wildflower viewing area near Steamboat Creek, not far from some buildings that either are, or once were, a mineral spa.  The GPS track image shows the area where I walked around in the context of nearby roads (Old US-395, NV-431, and NV-341).

GPS track for Steamboat, Nevada

GPS track for Steamboat, Nevada

To my delight, I was able to see my primary target wildflower before I even stopped my car.  This was because the flower looks bright pink and because there were simply masses of them just a few yards away from the road.  The flower is called yellow-or-purple monkeyflower or skunky monkeyflower (Mimulus nanus var. mephiticus).  The reason for the yellow-or-purple name is that the flower – already a species variant – comes in two forms, one purple and one yellow.  Obviously from the picture, this is the purple form.  The plant seems to be practically all blossom, and the blossoms are just about 1/2 inch in diameter.  It is one of the many types of dwarf monkeyflower; in fact, there are relatively few monkeyflowers that grow in bush form.

photo of purple form of yellow-or-purple (or skunky) monkeyflower

Purple form of yellow-or-purple (or skunky) monkeyflower

Based on the description of what grows in this area, I was hoping to see some yellow club-fruited evening primrose (Chylismia claviformis ssp. lancifolium), and it was nice that I found some more or less as soon as I walked into the monkeyflower area.  When researching this evening primrose I was surprised to learn that it is a subspecies variant of the brown-eyed evening primroses – whose blossoms are white – that I’d seen in profusion in Death Valley earlier in the season.

photo of yellow club-fruited evening primrose

Yellow club-fruited evening primrose

Another flower I expected to find, based on the description of the area, was the rayless daisy (Erigeron aphanactis).  Generally speaking, daisies are composite flowers, with both ray flowers and disc flowers.  The rayless daisy only has disc flowers, and the flower head almost looks like a button.  They were growing in clusters perhaps half a meter across.  The inset in the picture shows close-ups of several flower heads.

photo of rayless daisies

Rayless daisies

A local endemic flower I hoped to see is called Steamboat Springs buckwheat (Eriogonum ovalifolium ssp. williamsiae).  It is only found in the area around Steamboat: locally it is common, but its range is very limited.  I must say that, to me, it looks like other forms of buckwheat, but I do appreciate being able to find a flower that only occurs locally.

photo of Steamboat Springs buckwheat

Steamboat Springs buckwheat

About 100 yards from the small road I’d driven along I could see a small stream, which turned out to be Steamboat Creek.  I suppose the creek may be fed by some of the mineral springs in the area.

photo of Steamboat Creek

Steamboat Creek

As I simply wandered around the area between the creek and the road, I found a few other flowers.  In addition to birds foot lotus (Lotus corniculatus), which is not unusual, I found a few instances of what I believe to be a variety of milkvetch (genus Astragalus).  It looks a lot like Pursh’s milkvetch (Astragalus purshii), though that is a tentative identification since there are many types that are difficult to distinguish.

photo of a variety of milkvetch, possibly Pursh’s milkvetch

A variety of milkvetch, possibly Pursh’s milkvetch

Finally, I saw a few clusters of lupine, which I believe may be Torrey’s lupine (Lupinus lepidus var. sellulus).  Some of the plant’s characteristics (low basal leaves with tight, cylindrical racemes rising above) fit this plant to a tee, and it does occur nearby in Washoe Valley.

photo of Torrey’s lupine

Torrey’s lupine

Before I knew it I’d spent 45 minutes wandering around and enjoying the variety of wildflowers, most of which were first-timers for me.

Then I drove to another spot where I wanted to check out a few more flowers: the trailhead for the Hunter Lake Trail.  It was nearly on the way from Steamboat to a different trailhead where I planned to hike that day.  The Hunter Lake Trail trailhead is not far off Caughlin Parkway, which is near the western portion of McCarran Blvd in Reno.  The GPS track image shows the area around the trail head, with McCarran at the upper right and Caughlin at the top of the image.  Based on a previous visit to this trailhead, I expected that my exploration would involve less than 1/4 mile of walking, making it practically a drive-by event.

GPS track showing Hunter Lake trailhead

GPS track showing Hunter Lake trailhead

My first and primary target was to look for Bruneau mariposa lilies (Calochortus bruneaunis).  I remembered exactly where to look – not hard to find, essentially within view of my parking place – and there were quite a few beauties to enjoy.  Here is a cluster of three blossoms, with one hiding behind/below the other two.  The purple anthers distinguish this species from a similar one, Leichtlin’s mariposa lily (Calochortus leictlinii), which has white anthers.

photo of Bruneau mariposa lilies at the Hunter Lake trailhead

Bruneau mariposa lilies at the Hunter Lake trailhead

In the same area there is some prickly poppy (Argemone munita).  Although the plant looks quite different, the flowers remind me – at least somewhat – of matilija poppies (Romneya coulteri) and bush anemone (Carpenteria californica), both of which brighten up a multi-use trail where I walk regularly in the Bay Area.

photo of prickly poppy

Prickly poppy

Although these wildflower explorations and sightings involved practically no walking, much less hiking, it is sometimes a pleasant change of pace to be able to drive somewhere and see a variety of beautiful wildflowers.

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