Peak Bloom

Every sport has its own Grail moment – its own ideal, defining event, which players strive toward and spectators applaud. For golfers, it’s a hole-in-one; for baseball players, a triple play; for basketball players, a three-point shot that hits nothing but net. For surfers, it’s the perfect wave.

For wildflower addicts, it’s peak bloom.

Wiggins’s tiger lily and tower delphinium at a spring in Grouse Gap.

“Peak bloom” is technically defined simply as the time when the most flowers are blooming, but that stark sentence doesn’t begin to capture the term’s nuances. It is different for every place; for a given place, it is different for every habitat; for a given habitat, it is different for every year. A wet year will delay it; a dry year will bring it on early. A rainstorm at the wrong time may defeat it completely. The conditions that trigger blooming can vary dramatically from species to species, so the actual mix of flowers present at peak bloom for a given locality is almost always different each year. Depending on that mix of species, the display may be soft and muted, or it may be a riotous extravaganza of color and form. Or anything in between.

All this is by way of explaining why, only two weeks after our most recent previous trip to Mt Ashland, we were back again last Thursday. The push came from our longtime friend and fellow wildflower fanatic Diane Meyer, via a post on Facebook. Diane had just come back from the mountain with a camera full of pictures. “If you plan to visit Mt Ashland,” she wrote, “go NOW.”

We went. It didn’t hurt that we could do it as a half-day trip, which allowed us to get to the weekly Medford farmers’ market in the morning.

There is not much to say about the actual hike. We left Medford under a heavy overcast that was expected to get heavier, so it was a surprise to find the mountain basking beneath blue skies decorated by little puffy clouds. We parked the Bolt at the Mt Ashland Campground, dropped down the hill to the Pacific Crest Trail, and followed it around to the trailhead just off Road 20 in Grouse Gap; from there we climbed cross-country to the long, rocky ridge that juts west from Mt Ashland at the Rabbit Ears – picked up the mountain-bike trail along that ridge – took the trail back to the Mt Ashland summit road – and walked the road back to the car. Total distance was a bit over three miles, not much by our standards. The flowers on the ridge were disappointingly far past peak (remember what I said about different habitats?). The flowers in the Grouse Gap meadow system were….well, prepare yourself, and then check out the pictures.

Along the Pacific Crest Trail in Grouse Gap.
Along Road 20 near its junction with the Mt Ashland summit road.
Tower delphinium along the Pacific Crest Trail in the Grouse Gap meadows.
Mt Shasta across a field of Alice’s fleabane in Grouse Gap.
Clockwise from upper left: coyote mint, monkshood, orange agoseris, Oregon checker mallow.
Sulphur flower and Siskiyou owls’ clover.
The Grouse Gap meadow system, from the Mt Ashland summit road. Sulphur flower overrunning just about everything in sight.

Deep Blue Lake

Wizard Island from the overlook at the junction of Rim Drive and the North Entrance Road.

ON July 31 – the day before I was due to turn 77 – Melody and I spent a full-day touring Crater Lake National Park. We’re lucky to live less than 80 miles from this spectacular park, whose creation year (1902) puts it among the oldest national parks in the world, and we’ve been going there several times each year since 1970. We haven’t tired of it yet. I don’t think we ever will.

This particular trip was primarily planned because smoke from the Milepost 97 fire near Canyonville, Oregon had made the air unhealthy in many of the places we usually go, but had largely bypassed Crater Lake. But I’ve also been wondering, ever since we got the Bolt, how it would fare on a full Crater Lake day. We’d taken it to the Rim Village overlook and back (see https://drivingonsunlight.net/2019/05/06/the-story-so-far/), but the park includes much more than Rim Village. There is a road – Rim Drive – all the way around the rim of the caldera that holds the lake, with side roads to several other points of interest, including one of the highest spots reachable by car in the entire state of Oregon. Since buying the Bolt in December, I’ve preached that an EV is perfectly adequate for all uses anyone would normally put a car to. Taking Rim Drive its entire length, plus as many of the side roads as we could fit into one day, would add many extra miles over our previous visit; but for outdoor enthusiasts such as us, it would certainly qualify as “normal use”. How would the Bolt’s battery hold up?

So let’s deal with that question, first. We left home with less than a full battery – we usually charge to 95% instead of 100% (there are reasons), and I forgot to make my usual adjustment for longer trips. I drove the 72 highway miles between Medford and Crater Lake as I have always driven them, a few miles over the 55 mph speed limit, with bursts up to 75 and a bit over for passing out-of-state tourists gawking at the big trees. We covered almost every road in the park (we left out only the road from Rim Drive to the north entrance, and the last few miles of the road to the Pinnacles, neither of which we had time for) – a total distance of 195 miles. We got home with 30% of the battery remaining, and 103 miles left on the range indicator. If you have had any doubts about an electric car substituting perfectly for a gasoline car in all normal circumstances, please lay them aside.

Wall-to-wall flowers in the Castle Crest Wildflower Garden


Otherwise, the trip was a mixed bag. We got to Mazama Village, where we had planned to have brunch, just as the breakfast line was closing. (We were standing by the counter preparing to order when they suddenly announced that breakfast was over and took all the food away. We were the only ones waiting.) The small collapsible tripod I was carrying to try out for flower photos kept pinching me, leaving me with a blood blister on one hand and a cut thumb on the other. I left my camera bag behind at one stop (the camera wasn’t in it, so I lost only my spare camera battery and cleaning cloth, but still…). But the scenery and the flowers overwhelmed all of that. Looked back on, it was a simply glorious ten hours. Enjoy the pictures. You can follow the course of our day in the captions.

Melody enjoying the view of the lake from the upper floor of the snack bar/gift shop in Rim Village. We put together a brunch from the snack bar and ate it here, looking out over the lake.
We took Rim Drive counter-clockwise, which put us at the Castle Crest Wildflower Garden first. This is not a tended garden, just a trail past a set of springs emerging from the base of Castle Crest. The upper picture is Lewis’s monkey flower; the lower is a white bog orchid. See also the picture inset into the last paragraph of the text.
Vidae Falls – our next stop.
The short trail to Sun Notch is probably my favorite in the park, and leads to a wonderful view of the lake. This is Applegate Peak from the Sun Notch meadow. The rim is marked by the line of trees at right.
The lake from Sun Notch, with the Phantom Ship front and center. You can see why the first Europeans to stumble upon the place, in 1853, named it Deep Blue Lake.
Where the Rim Drive crosses Dutton Ridge a mile or so beyond the Sun Notch parking area, it reaches its highest point (though not the highest point reached by road – keep reading). The flowers here are characteristic of alpine and subalpine areas. Clockwise from upper left: Applegate’s paintbrush, pumice paintbrush, dwarf mountain lupine, Cascade aster. Pumice paintbrush is found only high on volcanic peaks in the Cascade range.
Plaikni Falls is the destination of a relatively new trail off the side road to the Pinnacles, east of the lake. The flowers here are similar to those found at Castle Crest.
The red flowers here are of two different and unrelated species, western columbine and scarlet paintbrush. The yellow is arrow-leaf groundsel; the blue (upper right corner) is Jessica’s stickseed.
Bleeding heart at Plaikni Falls.
The highest point reachable by road in the park is the Cloudcap Overlook, at the end of a side road from the northeastern section of the Rim Road. Elevation here is 7960 feet. Naturally, I had to get a shot of the Bolt in the parking lot. For an unencumbered look at the view, see the photo at the head of this post.
Flowers at Cloudcap are decidedly alpine. Clockwise from upper left: royal penstemon, cushion buckwheat, woolly senicio, and Ashland cinquefoil, .
Silver raillardella is rare in Oregon; it’s found primarily in the high mountains of California and western Nevada. This one was growing by the Cloudcap parking lot.
Our last extensive stop was at the Merriam Point overlook, at the junction of the North Entrance Road and Rim Drive. It features a stunning view of Llao Rock.
One last flower shot: Anderson’s lupine in its white phase, photographed at Merriam Point.