April hikes in the North Cascades have to be at lower elevations unless you want to break out your snowshoes or skis. On a rainy Sunday it made sense for my friend Brian and me to choose the East Bank Baker Lake Trail and head to Noisy Creek. Neither of us had hiked this section of trail before.
At only 800 feet elevation, spring was in full swing along the trail. We inhaled deeply as we entered the woods, sucking in the sweet scent of moist humus and conifers. Much of the forest is old growth, the usual mix of Douglas-fir, western hemlock, and western redcedar, the understory a tangle of mossy logs and thickets of vine maples, salmonberries, and huckleberries. Without a trail it would be tough bushwhacking. Continue reading →
Every now and then when I’m hiking in the mountains I run across a really cool plant. Over Memorial Day weekend I was out with a group of friends on the trail to Lookout Mountain and Monogram Lake, off the Cascade River Road east of Marblemount in the North Cascades. We came across more candystick (aka sugarstick), Allotropa virgata, than I’ve seen in one place in the 25 years I’ve been hiking in the northwest. Continue reading →
With the arrival of spring later this month come all sorts of early-blooming wildflowers. Candyflower is tasty as well as pretty. It’s also known as Siberian springbeauty and its scientific name is Claytonia sibirica. You’ll find it growing throughout the Pacific Northwest, except for the driest counties east of the Cascades. Look for it in damp deciduous woods or at the edge of conifer forests. It likes a little shade, but not too much.
Candyflower is closely related to miner’s lettuce, Claytonia perfoliata, which can also be found throughout most of the northwest. Both of these species are delicious spring greens. I like them raw, straight from the plant, and they’re a tasty addition to an early spring salad. Miner’s lettuce got its name because it was one of the few fresh spring greens in miner’s diets during the gold rush era. Continue reading →
Last Saturday I joined a boatload (literally) of Washington Native Plant Society friends for a field trip to Vendovi Island. It’s one of the smaller of the San Juan Islands, located a few miles south of the southern tip of Lummi Island and northeast of Guemes Island. Up until 2010 it was privately held. Then the San Juan Preservation Trust purchased it and has opened it to the public from May through September.
We’d hoped to enjoy spectacular meadows of wildflowers on a couple of west-facing balds, but with our very warm and early spring the flowers were well past their prime. There was still a little camas blooming, and quite a bit of harsh paintbrush, Oregon sunshine, and death camas. Continue reading →
Sunday morning Natalie said, “let’s go for a walk in the woods” and I suggested we hike the loop trail at the Stimpson Family Nature Reserve near Lake Whatcom. It’s an easy 3-mile loop through nice old- and second-growth forest, perfect for a quick getaway on a morning when light rain threatened.
Just a tenth of a mile up the trail there’s a viewpoint to a large beaver-built wetland. This is the view from the trail, with the wetland framed by western redcedars, Douglas-firs, and red huckleberries. The wetland plants are still brown, not yet having started their spring growth in the cold water.
Western Serviceberry, also known as Saskatoon (Amelanchier alnifolia), is a widespread shrub or small tree that’s found in almost every county in the Pacific Northwest. It blooms in April and early May, depending on elevation and temperature. As I write this on April 29 it’s in bloom right now on both sides of the mountains in Washington and Oregon. Continue reading →
How can you lose a lake? In the Chuckanut Mountains south of Bellingham you just bury the thing in a deep valley beneath a high sandstone cliff and ring it with lush Douglas-fir, hemlock, and cedar forest with a dense groundcover layer of salal, sword ferns, and low Oregon-grape. Add a muddy trail and you’ve got a perfect place to lose yourself for an afternoon.
That’s just what I did this afternoon under a sodden gray sky and chilly temperatures. Well, I didn’t actually get lost, but I did pay a visit to Lost Lake. Here’s the DNR map of the Chuckanut trail system I carried in my pack. You definitely want a map for the maze of trails up there, but it’s definitely worth it. Continue reading →
Thick, leathery, glossy, evergreen foliage makes salal (Gaultheria shallon) desirable both in the garden and in the florist’s palette. This time of year you won’t find either flowers or fruit on salal — those will come in the warm months — but the foliage provides a comforting green layer at the edge of woodlands. Salal is particularly common along the Pacific coast from southeast Alaska all the way down to Santa Barbara county, California. It also grows up into the middle elevations of the Cascade and Coast Ranges. Continue reading →
January 1st, New Year’s Day, I donned shorts and boots and headed for Oyster Dome. That’s the prominent rock outcropping rising a couple thousand feet above Chuckanut Drive at the south end of the Chuckanuts or the north end of Blanchard Mountain. It’s a popular hike, despite being steep and muddy. I went for exercise and to rekindle old friendships with the inhabitants of the winter forest.
The view from the top out over the San Juan Islands is spectacular. I made this photo handheld with my little Canon G12 pocket camera, planning to stitch the frames together later in Photoshop. Continue reading →