Place: Plumas-Eureka State Park, Blairsden, California
Coordinates: 39.742255, -120.701383
Length: 7.5 miles in and out
We had planned a camping trip at the end of May, a trip that we had to postpone. When eventually we could go, we needed a new destination, and I chose the Sierra Nevada area north of Truckee. The combination of fewer campgrounds available and too many people yearning to finally go to the outdoors made it unusually difficult to find a campsite. I wanted to camp by Davis Lake but all the sites there were already occupied when we arrived. We were lucky to find a site at the Upper Little Truckee campground, that I think may have been the last one available. My hiking plans didn't change however, and on Friday morning we set out north to the Plumas-Eureka State Park.
All indoor facilities were closed due to the COVID-19, but we did run into a couple of park rangers who instructed us on the local hikes. All gang-ho, I lead the way to the trailhead to Jamison Lake.
|Our hike as captured by my GPS|
|At the Trailhead|
|Naked Buckwheat, Eriogonum nudum|
|Leichtlin's Mariposa Lily, Calochortus leichtlinii|
After a short ascend the trail broke through the trees and we were hiking directly under the sun. There was a quick stop for everyone to adjust head covers and sunscreen and to gulp some water, and onward we went, continuing steadily uphill
As usual I trailed behind everyone, trying to capture everything that was blooming along the trail, no matter how small.
|Torrey's Blue Eyed Mary, Collinsia torreyi|
But there were other interesting sights besides the wildflowers: the kids had stopped and waited for me to explain to them about the strange round structures that grew on the small huckleberry oaks by the trail. These of course, are no acorns but galls - a growth induced by a parasite wasp to be a protective and nourishing nursery for her larvae.
The spring of 2020 was probably the best thing about this year in terms of wildflowers bloom. Unfortunately the rest of what was happening had prevented me from going outdoors and witnessing it in person. Until this hike I believed I had missed it all already. This trail however, was so rich in bloom that I quickly was making up for all I had thought I missed.
|Lemmon's Catchfly, Silene lemmonii |
|Productive Clover, Trifolium productum |
Wildflowers, mountains, and a waterfall were great, but to be happy Pappa Quail and the elder chika wanted to see bird. There were many to be heard, tweeting in the trees. Fortunately there were some who also posed.
While most of the birds in the forest where the common and expected, some species were a nice surprise for my family birders.
|Cassin's Finch |
|Sierra penstemon, Penstemon heterodoxus|
Despite our slow space we were making decent progress, and soon we were out of the park's boundary and in the Plumas National Forest area. I was saddened to see so many dead trees in the forest, evidence of how hard hit are the California forests by the combined assault of drought and boring beetles.
The first lake in the complex was Grass Lake and as soon as we reached it we stopped for a short break to enjoy the view and to relax.
The relaxation didn't last very long. My elder chika spotted a McGillivray warbler in the trees and both her and Pappa Quail plunged into the lakeside bushes to try and get a photo of this bird. They came back without a good photo of this one but with that of a cute west wood pewee, the one that did cooperate with the camera.
|Western Wood Pewee|
Grass lake is long and the trail along its shore is fairly level and for some time we didn't have to sweat up slope. The moist soil near the lake and at creek crossing supported different flora than what I've seen so far along the rocky path.
|Larkspur, Delphinium sp.|
I was happy to see the beloved crimson columbine blooming near a creek crossing, its bright red flowers standing out against the green.
|Crimson Columbine, Aquilegia formosa|
Behind the columbine - a more morbid sight of mayfly trapped, spread-eagled in a spider web. The trapped victim didn't move and I didn't know if that's because it was already dead or simply resigned to dying. The spider was nowhere to be seem.
|Mayfly caught in the web|
The trail slowly rose above the lake at a mild slope. Oceansray, Ceanothus, and other bushes in full bloom decorated the path like white, earthly clouds, infusing the air with their sweet fragrance.
Eventually the trail steepened and once more we were huffing and puffing up the hill. Once again I had to quicken forward to catch up with the rest of my family and friends. The called me up to look at a snow plant that they spotted. It was a very nice sighting, I had thought it was already too late in the season to see any and I was very happy to see this one.
|Snow Plant, Sarcodes sanguinea|
The pine trees were blooming too, their male comes dispensing copious amounts of pollen. I shook some of the pollen on my hand and licked it. It had a nice aroma but was fairly tasteless. The Maidu people, native to this area, used to collect the pollen and add it to their dishes for extra nutrition.
|Baker's Violet, Viola bakeri|
We reached Jamison reek again and needed to cross at a place too wide for a single hop. A large, shaved flat log was placed across the creek to serve as a foot bridge. The youth in our group dashed along the log without hesitation. I took it slower and more carefully, stopping in the middle to take more photos.
The trail steepened considerably past the creek, and once again, the flora changed and different species and colors decorated the pale, bare granite boulders and domes sticking through the thin mountain soil.
|Wavyleaf Paintbrush, Castilleja Applegatei|
When I spotted the first phlox I knew we finally reached the alpine region. I paused momentarily and inhaled deeply the fresh mountain air. Jamison Lake Complex isn't that high, being just above 6000 ft, but only yesterday we were at sea level and I could tell the difference in pressure, feeling lighter and clearer than I ever do in the dense, often polluted Bay Area air.
|Spreading Phlox, Phlox diffusa|
We climbed the last large rocky ledge before entering the lakes sink and I turned around to look at the view below. There wasn't a clear view down the Jamison Creek from there but I did get the exhilarating feeling of being on top of the world, looking down on the lower, forested domes and peaks.
Going slower is certainly better for seeing more things, that's for sure. And while my primary attention was to wildflowers, they were not the only interesting sights I've seen along that trail.
|California Mountain Ash, Sorbus californica|
One very interesting thing I saw was this blue lump of rock, completely different in color and texture from any other rock in sight, certainly not a granite. I'm trying to find out what it is and will update hear when I do.
There is very little top soil up where the granite domes dominate the scenery, and very few trees. In between the trees soil areas are covered with low shrubs of which one of the most common is the pine mat manzanita
I could no longer see my family. They had already moved on, leaving me and my friend behind. So focused on the pretty flowers I strayed off to one of the off-shoot trails and found myself staring at a lake without any familiar face in sight, until my friend came up behind me. She asked where was everyone and my first thought was that they had missed the turn and continued who knows where. When I pulled out the map however, I realized that it was me who took the wrong turn, and that the lake before me was Jamison Lake and not Rock Lake where I told everyone we'd stop for lunch.
We found the official trail intersection and as soon as I pointed at the right direction (the left turn), everyone rushed past me to get quickly to the lake. I tried not to linger behind and had only quick pauses, photographing without checking the results, hoping for the best.
|Sierra Lewisia, Lewisia nevadensis|
Rock Lake is very close to Jamison Lake and both are about the same elevation, yet it looks very different. While Jamison Lake is surrounded by vegetation and its water look dark and murky. Rock Lake looks like an alpine lake - a blue gem nestled between granite slopes with very thin vegetation and little shade. The water of Rock Lake was very clear and after filtration, very yummy too.We found a place to sit and I pulled out the little cooking stove and started preparing the lunch everyone was waiting for.
While I fixed lunch the kids went back and forth pulling water from the lake and Pappa Quail filtered it into the the drinking bottles. In between filtration rounds he took a second to photograph a bold squirrel that showed close interest in what we were doing.
|Golden-mantled Ground Squirrel|
After lunch I took a few moments to go down to the lake shore look around. What looked at first like a barren rock and gravel area turned out at a closer took to be well covered with plants. Small and inconspicuous, but living plants nonetheless.
|Mountain Pretty Face, Triteleia ixioides ssp. anilina|
|Bluntleaf Yellow Cress, Rorippa curvipes|
I was surprised to find out that we were not alone at the lake. Other hikes were sitting across the water, some busy with fishing rods. The water was very clear and very cold. My earlier thoughts of possibly taking a dip in the lake were gone.
We didn't stay much longer at Rock Lake. After lunch everyone was eager to get down already. I convinced them to swing by Jamison Lake and we did, coming from its other side to take a look, but we didn't stop there as I first thought we would. Any thoughts of possibly hiking also to Wades Lake, another lake in the complex that's a little further off, were discarded right then and there.
One we turned our backs on Jamison Lake it was all downhill on the same trail we came up on. My elder chika wanted to return to the same spot where we had stopped by Grass Lake on the way up - she wanted another opportunity to see the elusive McGillivray warbler.
Pappa Quail wasn't cool with me taki8ng so long coming up the trail so on the way down I darted forward, leaving dust for everyone else.
|Thimbleberry, Rubus parviflorus|
Pappa Quail on the other hand, did take his time documenting the birds he'd seen.
|Western Tanager, female|
It was getting late but the way down was much quicker. Especially that now I was less focused on imbibing the nature around me.
The one place where I did stop for a few long minutes was when I sighted a patch of coral orchids which I had missed on my way up. These flowers I wanted to give due attention to. After all, orchids are royalty among wildflowers.
|Summer Coral Root, Corallorhiza maculata|
For the most however, I didn't stop. Much of the photos I post here for the downhill hike I actually took on my way up.
|Mountain Pride, Penstemon newberryi |
It didn't take long to get back to Grass Lake, and while there I could sit and rest a bit with the younger chika and our friends while Pappa Quail and the elder chika disappeared in the bushes again to try and find the McGillivray warbler.
|Bog Orchid, Platanthera sparsiflora|
The McGillivray warbler eluded my family birders on that hike, but they did find a cute little Wilson's warbler there. Although that was no lifer, it still was a very nice sighting for them.
What was a lifer (first time sighting) for them was the warbling vireo they had found near Grass Lake. My birders were very pleased about that one.
It's about 2 miles from Grass Lake to the trailhead, and we covered this distance really quickly, with me leading nearly the entire time. I was happy to see again all the wildflowers I saw earlier but this time I didn't stop for photos - I had already taken all the photos I needed on my way up.
|Dusky Onion, Allium campanulatum|
As we neared the trailhead I slowed down again. The younger chika's knees were hurting and I helped her on her way down, letting everyone else pass us and seeing them vanish around the trail curves. I was glad I didn't push for Wades Lake ass well, it would have been too much for the kids, I believe.
|Rock Penstemon, Penstemon deustus|
Back at the parking lot we took some time to rest and drink. It would be nearly an hour drive back to our campsite and now that the hike was done, I felt fatigued and wanted too to get to the camp early and fix dinner before nightfall. For the morrow we had planned to go swimming at Lake Davis but our backup plan was to return to Plumas-Eureka State Park for some more exploration. I love this park and what it has to offer, as well as the surrounding national forest.
|Bulbous Blue Grass, Poa bulbosa, non-native|