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.

Birding on the Bike Path

It’s been a dreary, drizzly winter in southern Oregon, and there have been few chances to get out on the trail. A consequence of that, for this blog, is a lack of anything substantial to write about. No trips; no hikes; no story. All our driving has been routine and mundane. In a sense, this is a good thing: it demonstrates perfectly that an electric car is just a car – like any other car, except that you fuel it up in your own garage, and you don’t have to take it in for oil changes. The Bolt is a perfectly competent vehicle for all the normal purposes any car would be used for – but, of course, that is the problem. There is nothing more boring than competence.

So I am happy to announce that we did actually get out of town and take a hike on Friday. Well, a little way out of town, and a sort of a hike. It was a mostly gray day, but there was a bit of blue sky and, though rain was expected, it wasn’t yet falling: so at about 2 PM we jumped in the car and headed for the Bear Creek Greenway, the bike path that runs from the north end of Ashland to just beyond the Jackson County Fairgrounds in Central Point. Someday it is expected to stretch all the way from the county park at Emigrant Lake to the banks of the Rogue River, but those plans have been on hold for a while. But the 25 miles that have been completed are already a pleasant place for an afternoon spur-of-the-moment outing.

We began at the Pine Street trailhead, at the edge of the fairgrounds and just off the main Central Point exit from I-5, and strolled south. It was gray where we were, but if we looked east, we could see snowy Mt McLoughlin shining brightly under an almost-blue sky. Occasional bikers and other walkers passed. The temperature was a comfortable 50ºF.

A small pond tucked between the paved path and the freeway held interesting reflections.

A mile or so south of Pine Street there is a large pond east of the path, and a small wildlife-viewing pavilion has been built there. We made that our goal for the day. It didn’t disappoint: the pond was busy with birds. Large flocks of canvasbacks and Canada geese; a few mallards; a scattering of other species. I spotted a small brown duck I couldn’t identify, and eventually realized that it wasn’t a duck at all; its shape and behavior were ducklike, but its beak was narrow and sharp. A bit of research later determined that it was a pied-billed grebe, a species I had not knowingly seen before. Not a red-letter day by birdwatching standards, perhaps, but a great relief from staying indoors. And the rain held off till we got home. Enjoy the pictures.

Pied-billed grebe.
Male canvasback.
Male (top) and female (bottom) canvasbacks, and a scaup.
Canada geese.