The Phacelia that wasn’t. Or maybe was.

If I had any doubts left about the adequacy of the Bolt’s range for anything Melody and I want to do, they were certainly put to rest by last week’s outing. We drove to a trail nearly 100 miles from our home, over two passes one way and three the other (slightly different routes), plus making a stiff, winding climb to the trailhead, a bit over 6,000 feet above sea level in California’s Scott Mountains. Three of the passes were on the freeway, and were taken at freeway speeds, including the highest pass on the entire Mexico-to-Canada length of Interstate 5: Siskiyou Summit, between Ashland, Oregon and Yreka, California. All this, and we still got home with 30% of the battery left. And this is summer, which means that our solar panels are providing pretty much all of our electricity. Which means, in turn, that we spent the whole day powering the car on sunbeams instead of fossil fuel. I simply couldn’t be more pleased.

And the hike itself was wonderful, the best outing we’ve had so far this summer. It began at Kangaroo Lake, a gem of a mountain lake, tucked up under a high granite wall in the Scotts – a subrange of the Klamath Mountains that top out at over 8,000 feet and form the divide between the waters of the Trinity and Scott Rivers. We started on the Fen Trail, which begins at the lake and climbs 600 vertical feet in a little over a mile to a low spot on the divide, where we picked up the Pacific Crest Trail and took it east to the 7,100-foot saddle over Bull Lake. The weather was mixed clouds and sun, which kept us cool but didn’t obscure our view of the distant granite spires of the Trinity Alps, in the rugged heart of the Klamaths (although it did prevent us from seeing what has been described as a “picture-postcard view” of Mt Shasta across Bull Lake). There were still a few snowfields around, and all the mountain springs were alive. And of course there were the flowers.

Clockwise from upper left: Mountain pride, Fendler’s waterleaf, azure penstemon, Beckwith’s violet.
Mt Eddy lupine
Cobra lily (California pitcher plant)

Of course, there were the flowers. These were the Klamath Mountains – pretty much ground zero for wildflower lovers in the western United States. They have two things specifically going for them. They were glaciated less extremely than other western ranges; and they contain large areas of peridotite and other ultramafic rocks, rocks composed primarily of minerals containing heavy concentrations of magnesium and iron. These factors have given the Klamaths a much larger-than-average number of endemic species – plants that grow no place else in the world. Some are there because they thrive on ultramafic soils, which tend to kill many plants; others are pre-ice-age relics that managed to survive the cold in the Klamaths, but no place else. Among the endemics are the carnivorous pitcher plant, or cobra lily (Darlingtonia californica), which thrives in the acid water of fens by eating insects and small frogs; the Mt Eddy lupine (Lupinus croceus), whose brilliant yellow flowers stand out in a genus that produces mostly purples and whites; and the Siskiyou phacelia (Phacelia leonis), a pale blue flower on a nearly invisible stem that floats in ghostlike masses a few inches above the rust-brown gravels of high peridotite ridges. And then there is the Scott Mountain phacelia, which is not a phacelia at all. Or maybe it is. Stay tuned.

Siskiyou phacelia

The trip began, as our trips south usually do, with breakfast at the Breadboard in Ashland; then it was up and over Siskiyou Summit, under gray skies that we hoped would burn to blue before the day was done. We chose the route along the Shasta River to avoid the freeway’s climb over the Anderson Grade, and were soon sorry: the bridge over the Klamath River along that route is being replaced, and we were stuck on the old bridge for 20 minutes waiting for a flagger to give us the go-ahead (this was the reason for our different return route). Eventually, though, we did reach the Gazelle/Callahan Road, climbed up and over Scott River Summit, and made the 2000-foot ascent up Rail Creek to Kangaroo Lake. A quick jaunt along the lakeshore for photos, and then we hit the Fen Trail.

Almost immediately we spotted the Scott Mountain phacelia, although I have to admit I thought it was something else. It looks very much like a distantly-related plant called the California hesperochiron, and that’s what I thought I was seeing. But as I knelt to photograph it, I thought, “That doesn’t look quite right;” then I looked up, and spotted the information placard a dozen yards or so further up the trail.

Scott Mountain phacelia

The placard gave us part of the plant’s story; I have since pieced together the rest. The Scott Mountain phacelia was first collected in 1936 on the summit of Scott Mountain, by a wildflower enthusiast named Ella Dales Cantelow and her husband, Herbert, who sent the dried plant to a friend of theirs, a botanist named Thomas J. Howell. Howell was pleased by this “remarkable new phacelia”, and named it Phacelia dalesiana in Ella’s honor. It was soon established that it had a very limited range, growing primarily on ultramafic soils, and only in the Scott Mountains and adjacent parts of the Trinity Alps. It was also noticed that it wasn’t quite like any of the other phacelias. In 1953, it was placed in a new phacelia subgroup, named Howellanthus (after Thomas Howell); more than a half-century later, it was still the only member of that subgroup. In 2010, a San Francisco State University graduate student, Genevieve Weldon, published a paper coauthored by the eminent botanist Robert Patterson which suggested that the subgroup Howellanthus should become the genus Howellanthus. Given Patterson’s status, the change rapidly gained acceptance, and the botanical world had a new genus.

Or not. Browsing through the literature just this morning, I noticed that one online naturalists’ reference, iNaturalist – which changed the plant’s genus along with everyone else soon after Weldon and Patterson’s paper came out – had recently changed it back. Botanists’ food fights being what they are, I think I’ll refrain from dipping into this one any further. But I do think we should probably keep “phacelia” in the common name.

The Scott Mountain phacelia was the highlight of the day, so I’ll just describe the rest briefly. The Fen Trail lived up to its name, passing multiple fens, most of them full of Darlingtonia; it also provided a spectacular viewpoint, on a granite knoll overlooking Kangaroo Lake.

Snow blocked the trail a little way below the ridge, forcing us into some steep cross-country scrambling, which was rewarded by a ridgetop full of flowers and big views southwest to the distant, snowy Trinities. It was three miles via the PCT from there to the saddle over Bull Lake, and none of it was dull, from the rocky peaks above us to the flowers and snowfields at our feet to the four small lakes we passed along the way, all of them well below the trail. The sky cleared, although not entirely: I was hoping to see that world-class view of Mt Shasta over Bull Lake from the saddle, but all I got was a bit of the mountain’s base peeking out from the skirts of some of the few remaining clouds. But we did get a great view of Mt Eddy, and we had a wonderful time, no matter what genus that phacelia eventually turns out to belong to. Check out the pictures.

Bull Lake and Mt Eddy. Mt Shasta’s base can be made out to the left of Mt Eddy, above the black shadow on the far ridge.

The Lake on Mt Ashland

If you know where to look, there is a small lake on southern Oregon’s Mt Ashland.

Top: the lakebed this year. Bottom: the lake full of water on July 4, 2011. The two pictures were taken from about the same place.

Let me qualify that. It’s not actually a lake, it’s more like a large vernal pool. And it isn’t directly on Mt Ashland, it’s on the west wall of Grouse Gap, the big meadow-filled basin that lies just west of Mt Ashland. Mt Ashland forms Grouse Gap’s east wall. But if you get to the right place at just the right time – most of the way, but not all of the way, through the snowmelt season – there is, in fact, a lake there.

Wednesday of this week wasn’t the right time. We were too late: the lake had come and gone, which is the way we commonly find it. We’ve been able to get there when the lake was full only once. But it’s always fun trying.

Yesterday’s hike started early, with breakfast at The Breadboard in Ashland shortly after 7:00 AM, followed by a drive up I-5 and the Mt Ashland Ski Road to Forest Road 20, which heads west from the ski area along the crest of the Siskious, a high landscape of rocky peaks, lingering snow, and wildflower meadows – but very few lakes – to Dutchman’s Peak. By 10:00, following a couple of stops and some really slow driving along heavily-potholed Road 20, we were ready to walk.

Mt Shasta from Grouse Gap.

We began on the Pacific Crest Trail, heading west from the Grouse Gap trailhead through meadows and woods to the rocky opening, near the big switchback on the gap’s west wall, where we knew we could see the lake if it was there. It wasn’t, but we decided to go down to look at the lake bed anyway. From the dry lake, we worked our way cross-country to the real goal of the day – a large rock outcrop on the west ridge of the gap we’d been to once before. The combination of rock scrambling, flowers, dramatic dropoffs, and huge views dominated by the double white cone of Mt Shasta make it one of my favorite spots in the Siskiyou range.

Flower photos and granola bars dominated the next hour.

The outcrop, with Melody seated at its base.
Clockwise from upper left: showy polemonium, cliff penstemon, bitter cherry, Nuttall’s violet.

We kept to the ridge on the way back, climbing up and over the unnamed rock knob at its crest and coming down to the high saddle that’s converged on by both the PCT and Road 20 to cross the ridge – the trail and the road are perhaps fifteen feet apart at that point, so you have a choice. We chose to walk the road for a bit. There’s a spring full of buttercups, on a steep, open hillside of small streams lined with kalmia, in the bend where the side ridge we’d been on joins the main east/west backbone of the range, and we often use that hillside to drop from the road to the trail, some distance below. A deep draught of the good juice of the Earth from the spring, a visit to the kalmia – the blooms were fading but still lovely – and we were soon back to the car, ready to head down the mountain and rejoin the rest of the human race.


This is an electric-car blog, so I’ll put in a word here about the great advantage of an electric car over an ICE – internal combustion engine car – for mountain driving. It is 36 miles from our home to the Grouse Gap trailhead, with a 5600-foot elevation gain, most of it in the 20 miles between the Highway 66 freeway interchange in Ashland and the trailhead. Climbing those 5600 feet requires extra energy, in either an electric car or an ICE. What’s different about electric drive is that, on the descent, you gain a fair amount of that extra energy back. An ICE will just burn more gasoline – if only enough to keep the engine turning over and available.

The screen that reports a running total of the number of kilowatt-hours drained from the Bolt’s battery pack since its last complete charge holds the key figure, here. That screen read 16.1 kwh at the trailhead. It read 13.2 kwh at the Highway 66 interchange, meaning that almost three of those depleted kwh had been put back in – the car had only borrowed them. By the time we pulled into our garage, sixteen miles further along, we had used up those three regenerated kwh plus one more – the screen reading was 17.2. We’d used a net of just over one kwh to travel 36 miles. That’s the equivalent, roughly, of 750 mpg in an ICE, on cheaper fuel. Add the Bolt’s rough-road cred – full torque available at all speeds; clutchless application of that torque (allowing finer control for dealing with potholes, puddles, and rocks); and seven inches of ground clearance (two inches more than a typical sedan, and only a little over an inch and a half less than a Subaru Outback), and I can’t for the life of me figure out why anyone would want to drive anything else.

The Bolt at the Grouse Gap trailhead, with Mt Shasta in the background. Lead photo: Mt Shasta over meadow larkspur in Grouse Gap.

Reelfoot’s Lair

Hiking Grizzly Peak in the Cascade-Siskiyou National Monument

It isn’t really Reelfoot’s lair. Old Reelfoot, the last known grizzly bear in Oregon, was shot in 1890 near Pilot Rock, sixteen miles south of here in a different part of the Cascade-Siskiyou National Monument. It was another grizzly, unnamed in the accounts, who mauled a hunter on this mountain in the late 1850s and gave it the name Grizzly Peak. But the story has been attached to the wrong mountain for so long that it still seems appropriate to honor Old Reelfoot with the name of this account. After all, Grizzlies have a huge home range. It’s probable that he visited Grizzly at least once in a while.

He wouldn’t have traveled most of the way in an electric car, however.

We hiked the Grizzly Peak trail most recently on June 13, 2019. We made a full day of it, traveling first 12 miles north of Medford to Eagle Point for breakfast at the Barbed Wire Grill, then east up the Brownsville Road and Highway 140 40 miles to the Great Meadow near Lake of the Woods, where I had heard that a major camas bloom was happening. It was. Most of the west end of the immense meadow was covered with the purple flowers of Great Camas, Camassia leichtlinii. Thousands of Camassia leichtlinii. They made a spectacular show in the early morning light, under the high peaks of the Mountain Lakes Wilderness, and I was immensely grateful to Kimberly Hill, whose pictures of the meadow on the Oregon Wildflower Facebook page the day before had alerted me to their presence.

Then it was on to Grizzly down Dead Indian Memorial Road, named to honor three Native Americans whose bodies, dead from unknown causes, were found along its course in the mid-1850s (the settlers honestly thought they were being respectful). We stopped briefly by Lake of the Woods, where I walked the trail out along Rainbow Bay for some photographs of Mt McLoughlin across the water; then we didn’t stop again until we reached the Grizzly Peak trailhead, coming in by way of the upper end of Shale City Road, through an area we have long known as “Elderberry Heaven” for the great number of elderberry bushes that grow there beneath a glorious view of McLoughlin’s snowy cone. The road to the trailhead was in better shape than I’ve seen it for years; it didn’t even begin to challenge the Bolt’s considerable abilities as a backroads vehicle.

Checker lily

The hike itself took most of the rest of the day. The Grizzly Peak trail is a six-mile loop with a 750-foot elevation gain, most of it in the first mile, and as we age into our late 70s it is beginning to be a challenge. But it is worth it for the wildflower show. The trail begins in a verdant conifer forest, a northern-coast-range type forest of tall trees and rich green undergrowth, inexplicably transported to a mountain in the southern Oregon Cascades: then it traverses a loop around the edges of a high plateau covered with a graceful mix of forest and meadow. We took the loop counter-clockwise this time. Views opened out toward Medford and Roxy Ann, looking tiny and lost in an immensity of space. The scar of the 2002 Antelope burn held even more views, across green slanting meadows laced with wildflowers beneath the black snags of the burned trees, a sign that the forest is recovering well. The best view was saved for the far end of the loop. We climbed a steep hillside to the west summit, through paintbrush and balsamroot and fields of rosy plectritis, to cliffs that look out over hundreds of square miles of landscape. The view stretched from Mt Shasta in the south past Pilot Rock and the high peaks of the Siskiyous to the Rogue-Umpqua Divide in the north. A fine place to munch granola bars and contemplate how very, very small you actually are. And maybe wonder how Old Reelfoot might have felt, sitting in this very spot, 130 years ago.

Clockwise from upper left: royal polemonium, Jessica’s stickseed, sulfur flower (with passenger), and Siskiyou onion.

Statistics: we covered about 120 miles on sun-generated electrons, using roughly 27 kwh of the 60 we had available. That works out to about 4.4 miles per kwh – good enough to take us another 145 miles, had we wanted to do that. The car’s EPA-rated range is 238 miles. On this trip, we were actually getting around 265. A small difference, but I’ll take it.

Dutchman’s Peak from Grizzly Peak. Rosy plectritis in the foreground.