Lacey Valley Trail: northern section

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The Lacey Valley Trail has recently opened to the public.  It is located off Forest Road 07, about 8 miles west of the Little Truckee Summit on CA-89, in the Tahoe National Forest in Sierra County.  The trail and surrounding land are now owned and managed by the Truckee Donner Land Trust.  The north trailhead is near Webber Lake and the south trailhead is along Forest Road 86 about 1.2 miles north of the Pacific Crest Trail crossing.

I recently hiked this trail as a partial pre-check of a group hike I’ll be co-leading later in the summer. The write-up of the trail on the Truckee Donner Land Trust web site suggested that there would be numerous wildflowers “in season”.  Since the hike might be after the wildflower season I decided to check it out when I expected the wildflowers to be plentiful.  I was not disappointed! In fact, I saw so many beautiful wildflowers, some that I would consider to be less common, that I am creating two posts about the hike.  This post covers the first part of the hike, just to a crossing of Lacey Creek about 0.7 mile from the trailhead; see here for a description of the rest of the hike.

The trail itself is like an informal forest road, about 3.4 miles long.  It passes through two beautiful meadows, with forested areas surrounding the meadows.  This view shows the trail passing through the first meadow, signed as Lower Lacey Valley, with low peaks in the background still covered with remnant snow in early July.

image of view of the lower meadow on the Lacey Valley Trail

View of the lower meadow on the Lacey Valley Trail

The GPS track shows the trail generally following Lacey Creek in a south-southwesterly direction from the southwest edge of Webber Lake.  The orange dot shows the location of the trailhead.  (I recorded the additional track leading to/from the trailhead as I drove back to CA-89.)

GPS track

GPS track

The entire trail is 3.4 miles long.  As shown on the elevation profile, there is relatively little elevation gain/loss: just over 300 feet for the round trip.  Indeed, the Upper Lacey Valley is barely 100 feet higher than the Lower Lacey Valley.

Elevation profile

Elevation profile

I should note that the web site contains good directions for finding the trailhead among several roads near Forest Road 07 that could make things confusing.  In addition, there are prominent signs directing the way at at least two intersections.

I discovered that there were several interesting wildflowers in a small clearing near the modest trailhead parking area.  Among them were corn lily (Veratrum californicum), Bolander’s yampah, primrose monkeyflower, checkermallow (Sidalcea sp.), Nuttall’s larkspur, and some small gilia-like flowers.  There was also red sierra onion (Allium campanulatum), which I did not see along the trail.

image of red sierra onion

Red sierra onion

In addition there was Brewer’s lupine (Lupinus breweri), which can form almost a mat-like ground cover in good growing conditions.

image of Brewer’s lupine

Brewer’s lupine

I should note that I made extensive use of the online wildflower list to assist with identifications, especially when there might be multiple possible similar species present.

Once on the trail, it was not long before I began to see other wildflowers.  Indeed, there were not many wildflower-free sections on the entire trail!  One of the first finds was mountain violet (Viola purpurea), which is distinguished by a purple-maroon coloration on the back of the upper two petals.

image of mountain violet

Mountain violet

A short distance farther I found some crimson columbine (Aquilegia formosa) in a shaded but moist area.

image of crimson columbine

Crimson columbine

Next to the columbine was some Nuttall’s larkspur (Delphinium nutallianum), a brilliantly colored larkspur that I’d also seen at the trailhead.  I often have trouble photographing larkspur, so I was pleased to get a few good close-ups this time.

image of Nuttall’s larkspur

Nuttall’s larkspur

Also nearby was another wildflower that I don’t remember seeing before, and before I learned the correct identification I gave it an informal name – upside-down plant – since that’s how it appeared to me.  It turns out to be meadow rue (Thalictrum fendleri).  The blossoms hang down in a cluster from the main stem, which extends above the cluster.  Unusual, and certainly distinctive.

image of meadow rue

Meadow rue

As expected for the ecosystem, I found lots of aster, specifically tundra aster (Oreostemma alpigenum var. andersonii), also called alpine aster.  I still find asters and daisies to be difficult to distinguish, and this ID was facilitated by the on-line wildflower list.

image of tundra, or alpine, aster

Tundra, or alpine, aster

My next find was a cluster of three types of wildflower.  I initially paused my walking to enjoy several pretty face (Triteleia ixioides), which is a favorite.  Once I’d stopped I noticed two much smaller wildflowers, also favorites.  One was Torrey’s monkeyflower (Mimulus torreyi), shown here with my index finger serving as an always-available ruler.  The entire plant is less than 1” tall, and the blossom is about 1/4“ in its longer dimension.

image of Torrey’s monkeyflower

Torrey’s monkeyflower

Near the monkeyflowers there was some blue-eyed Mary (Collinsia parviflora), with slightly smaller blossoms.   These are classic belly flowers: best seen on your belly, or at least sitting down! – and a magnifying glass comes in handy.

image of blue-eyed Mary

Blue-eyed Mary

Shortly after these finds the forested area opened up into the lower meadow; see the first picture of this post.  A sign indicates the location of the former Johnson family homestead.  This is about 0.5 mile from the trailhead.

In the meadow there were numerous wildflowers that thrive on the seasonally wet conditions.  One was primrose monkeyflower (Mimulus primuloides), a cheerful bright yellow and larger than Torrey’s monkeyflower: perhaps 1/2” in diameter and a bit rounder in appearance.

image of primrose monkeyflower

Primrose monkeyflower

There was also some low-growing yellow cinquefoil (probably Potentilla sp.).  Most cinquefoils can be distinguished from similar-looking buttercups by the presence of sepals peeking out between the five petals.

image of cinquefoil

Cinquefoil

I was quite surprised to notice another belly flower growing in the middle of the trail: on the other hand, if it had been growing off the trail I would likely have missed it among the taller grasses.  It is called porterella (Porterella carnosula).  Like the similar-appearing downingias, it grows at the drying margins of wet places like lakes, vernal pools, and puddles.  I would pass numerous “active” puddles later in my hike.  I have seen these small (about 1/3” diameter) charming wildflowers only a few times previously.

image of porterella

Porterella

In the meadow, a few tens of meters from the trail, I noticed stalks of intense blue flowers that I immediately suspected – and hoped – were camas lilies (Camassia quamash).  I was delighted to confirm these seasonal Tahoe area favorites.  The meadow at the east end of Sagehen Creek Trail is a favorite place to find a large display of camas lilies, and I had been disappointed to hike there recently and not find a single bloom.

image of camas lily

Camas lily

A short distance later I noticed delicate pink flower spikes closer to the trail.  Upon closer investigation I could see that they were little elephant head (Pedicularis attolens), with a petal tube forming the trunk-like characteristic.  The little elephant head can be distinguished from a larger cousin by the smaller size of the blossoms; these were about 1/3” across.  I would see the “regular” elephant head later in my hike.

image of little elephant head

Little elephant head

Nearby there were other, more intensely hued, pink flower spikes.  The flowers reminded me of checkerblooms, though I’ve not previously noticed checkerblooms blooming in spikes.  Further research revealed them to be Oregon checkerbloom (Sidalcea oregana ssp. spicata).  There are many species of Sidalcea in the Tahoe area, many difficult to identify, but this one seems to be distinctive.

image of Oregon checkerbloom

Oregon checkerbloom

Near the trail there were also some meadow penstemon (Penstemon rydbergii var. oreocharis), with characteristic helicopter-blade-like whorls of blossoms.  I have seen this penstemon many times, but learned during my research that it is almost identical to another, the whorled penstemon, except that whorled penstemon has hairy flowers and meadow penstemon’s flowers are hairless.  This was a small lesson in the importance of details in the identification of wildflowers!

image of meadow penstemon

Meadow penstemon

About 0.7 mile from the trailhead I arrived at Lacey Creek.  I had read a description of the trail that indicated this crossing is usually wet until late in the summer – and there is no bridge, even logs, to facilitate getting across.  Because of this information I had brought my Crocs and a small towel with me, so I was able to change footwear and roll up my pant legs.  The water was bracingly cold and came about halfway up my shins.  I was glad to have brought hiking poles; they were not needed anywhere else but helped steady me with the surprisingly strong current.  The family shown in this photo was accomplishing the crossing in what I’d call the hard way: the dad carried each child across one at a time, getting his boots thoroughly wet, while cautioning the waiting children not to go in the water.  I think they were amused and impressed that I had brought footwear especially for the crossing!

image of Lacey Creek crossing the Lacey Valley Trail

Lacey Creek crossing the Lacey Valley Trail

My adventures on the southern part of the Lacey Valley Trail are continued in my next post.

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One Response to Lacey Valley Trail: northern section

  1. Pingback: Lacey Valley Trail: southern section | trailhiker

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