Friday, November 8, 2013

It is the Journey: On Foot to Brush Mountain Lookout

Date: July 5, 2013
Place: Brushy Mountain, Willow Creek, California
Trailhead coordinates: 40.89232, -123.67503
Length: about 4 miles in and out
Difficulty: moderate-strenuous

"What's the point of hiking up a dirt road I can drive my car on?" I wondered aloud when the Six Rivers National Forest ranger at Willow Creek suggested that trail. Normally I wouldn't have asked that question. But it wasn't me who voiced it, but a tired mom who didn't have much sleep because the campsite was way too close to the busy road, and that had struggled all morning with the chikas who didn't have much sleep either and were in no mood for hiking.
"Well," said the ranger gently, "You get to see all these things along the way ... " He had reminded me what hiking was all about and I am grateful, for it was a wonderful hike and we did get to see beauty that we wouldn't have otherwise, had we chosen to drive up the mountain instead.

Brash Mountain is has a fire observation tower at its peak, where observers take shifts looking out for fire. The observer left the visitor center before we did. After deciding on walking this trail after all, we followed suit. When arriving the lower gate, however, we parked the car and started ascending on foot.

Douglas Fir
It was a very hot day and we were grateful for the deep forest shade that covered most of the trail. There wasn't much of an undergrowth, but this vine caught my eye:
Coast Man-root (Marah oregana)
It looked much like a cucumber plant and indeed, it is of that family. I wasn't tempted to taste it, though.
Coast Man-root (Marah oregana)
The trail ascends mildly but constantly. At points, the forest breaks open and sunny patches revealed quite a few wildflowers.
 Hypericum formosum St. John's Wort

Harvest Brodiaea (Brodiaea elegans)

But the true prize of this hike I found in the deep shade of the forest undergrowth, about three quarters of a mile up the trail: a phantom orchid!
Phantom Orchid (Cephalanthera austiniae)
For a long while Papa Quail and I knelt in every possible position to try and get the best possible close-up of this ghostly and delicate flower. It was at that point that all my doubts about hiking up a trail that could be driven have evaporated completely. Had we driven to the lookout we would have missed this member of the royal family of plants.
And we would have missed the pretty butterflies that hovered between the flowers.
Pale Swallowtail visiting a Snowy Thistle (Cirsium occidentale)
One of the butterflies rested momentarily on the elder chika's arm. She was thoroughly thrilled :-)
California Sister butterfly
The day grew hotter, the ascend seemed to go forever and the chikas grew whinier. At some point they sat down to rest and I left them in the care of Papa Quail and continued along to see if the end is in sight.
Taking the turn, I got nearly to the top. Seeing the view, I called the rest of the family and they heaved themselves onto their feet and continued all the way.
Exhausted with heat (the climb wasn't that bad, really, but the temperatures were in the high 90's), we collapsed under a tree below the lookout tower. The observer got out and motioned us to come up to the tower, but it was only after a good, long rest and some food that we managed the last lag of the ascend: the stairs of the lookout tower.
Trinity River, the south fork. 
The lookout tower and the observer are there to detect wildfires at their early stages and to alert and direct firefighters accordingly. The observer was more than happy to see us there and shared her stories with us while the chikas played with her tiny dog.
The view, to all 360 degrees, was wonderful.
The Trinity Alps. One of these days I'll go back there.  
We stayed up at the peak for a long while, but eventually had to  come down. Although we walked slowly, the yards were flying fast and we were descending quickly into the thick of the forest. I did stop, however, when a flash of red color caught my eye: a Silene laciniata growing by the trail. so close, that I can't imagine how I had missed it going up.
I had seen this beauty just a day before in Black Sands Beach, but there it was too far up the cliff. This time I could look at it from very close.
Cardinal Catchfly (Silene laciniata)
And since I've already stopped for the Silene ...
Whitevein Shinleaf (Pyrola picta) hiding under green poison oak.
It was early in the afternoon when we got back to the car, tired, sweaty, and hungry. This hike was very enjoyable and I totally recommend it to visitors in the area. I would also strongly recommend a following visit to Kimtu Beach of Trinity River at the town of Willow Creek to cool off after this hike. And that is exactly what we did.
A spider web in mid-air


  1. very nice flowers and view. It was worth to walk it...

  2. מקסים, למרות החום הכבד...
    הסחלב זו מציאה מעולה, אני זוכרת שפרסמת אותו בפייסבוק
    והציפורנית האדומה ממש מקסימה!!

    1. Thank you! It was a prized finding, the orchid. The other flowers were very pretty too :-)