Early Flowers at Cathedral Hills

Wildflower season has finally arrived in southern Oregon. Two weeks ago, we took the Tunnel Ridge trail in the Siskiyou foothills south of Jacksonville – an excellent early-season wildflower hike, most years – and saw nary a flower. This week, though, in the Cathedral Hills just outside Grants Pass, the story was different. There was a scattering of milkmaids (Cardamine californica) along the two trails we took. There was a concentration of grass widows (Olsynium douglasii) along one ridge. And Indian warriors (Pedicularis densiflora) were popping out of the ground everywhere.

Indian warrior (Pedicularis densiflora) in early shoot stage

The weather was still cool early this week, with nighttime temperatures dropping into the 20s, so we didn’t leave Medford until after lunch. Reveling in the sunshine, we avoided the freeway, staying on back roads for all of the 45-minute drive to Grants Pass. We entered Cathedral Hills through the Sky Crest trailhead, the northernmost of the area’s several trailheads, and my personal favorite. The parking lot was nearly full, but I was able to find a spot for the Bolt. We climbed into the woods via the Sky Crest trail, then turned east onto the Sky Crest Loop. (You approach the trailhead along Sky Crest Drive. Someone in Grants Pass really likes that name.) The Indian warriors showed up almost immediately, in large bunches but mostly immature; they are semiparasitic on the roots of members of the heath family, including madrones and manzanitas, which are common in the open mixed oak/madrone woodland that covers the Cathedral Hills.

Indian warrior in nearly full bloom
Milkmaids (Cardamine californica)
Madrone (foreground) and California black oak.

Completing an amble along the Sky Crest loop, we crossed the Timber Riders trail and picked up the Madrone Trail (aren’t there madrones everywhere here?) a few feet further along. The trail climbed gently from this junction to a ridge with big views of Grants Pass through open oak woodland; plenty of Indian warriors; and a lovely collection of grass widows, which hadn’t shown themselves at all on the Sky Crest loop.

Grass widow (Olsynium douglasii).
Grants Pass from the Madrone trail.

We wandered slowly along the ridge, savoring the views and shooting photos of the flowers. All too soon (though it was approaching 4:00 PM) the trail dropped off the ridge through a series of switchbacks, back to the Timber Riders trail and a short hike to the parking lot, which was now almost competely empty. Overall distance, between 2-1/2 and 3 miles. Overall time, about three hours. Overall experience, beyond measure. It stayed with us all the way home.

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