Date: May 27, 2023
Place: North Table Mountain Preserve, Oroville, California
Coordinates: 39.596029, -121.541825
Length: 2 miles in and out
Level: easy on top, moderate with the base of the waterfall
Last weekend Pappa Quail and I had the opportunity to go away for the weekend, just the two of us. Pappa Quail was too busy to weigh in on the planning and so I chose to go to Oroville, hoping to see some wildflowers there. The North Table Mountain Preserve is one of the best hotspots for wildflowers in California. The photos I've seen posted by others on this superbloom spring were absolutely spectacular. Not only that, but the waterfalls were running high and strong. Now, peak bloom there is in early to mid-April and the end of May is way too late to see either superbloom or waterfalls. I knew all that of course, but I didn't get the chance to go there in season, and I hoped that I could see some leftover bloom after the wet winter we've had.
I remembered having seen on my previous trip there mariposa lilies blooming by the roadside near the trailhead. My hope increased when I saw that they were blooming still on this trip. We didn't stop by the lilies on the way to the trailhead. This photo is from the way back after the hike).
|Yellow Mariposa, Calochortus luteus |
When we neared the preserve I sighed. Most of the table mountain top was already bone dry. Some greenery remained in the are of the trailhead near the giant oak tree. There was a patch of yellow flowers in the center of the green mat. It was the sight of spring hanging on for just a little longer.
|Near the trailhead|
Right by the trailhead there is a huge oak tree. As soon as we started down the trail Pappa Quail saw a few little birds flying into the tree and stopped. I walked further down the trail to the yellow patch and found that it was of mainly yellow monkeyflowers - a very water loving plant. In between the monkeyflowers were other wildflowers, mostly the modest variegated clover. Underneath the plants the earth was moist - water was still seeping from the earth at that place.
|Seep Monkeyflower. Erythranthe guttata, and Variegated Clover, Trifolium variegatum|
I waited for Pappa Quail for a few long minutes during which I saw him walk back and forth between the oak tree and the frying grass field on the other side of the trail. Eventually he motioned me to come over and when I did he told me that the little birds that he saw were Lowrence goldfinches, which apparently, are an uncommon sight.
He was very pleased to get some nice photographs of these rare goldfinches.
|Lawrence Goldfinches, male (top) and female (bottom)|
It was late in the afternoon, on the end of our drive from home that we arrived at the North Table Mountain Preserve. It was pretty hot still, and there were only a few other people about. We started down the path along the narrow creek line.
|Our hike as captured by my GPS|
The creek was well marked with the yellow line of the monkeyflowers, the thin line of surface water shining in the middle. Only a yard away from that life line of water the vegetation was dead and dry and the volcanic rocks bare and baking in the sun.
Well, almost dead and dry. Here and there, I could see on the rocks some annual plants that were still in the process of completing their life cycle, like the jewelflower that I usually note when it's blooming but is just as fitting its name when it fruits the line of hanging seed pods and the drying round leaves assume the color of gold coins.
|Jewelflower, Streptanthus sp. |
The trail followed closely the thin creek. I was glad to see that it was flowing still, even if a trickle. This creek is fed entirely by the little spring near the trailhead. It also supports that huge old oak there. I assume it dries out at some point. The vegetation near the creek was all green and lush, and looked like as if it never knew drought. Most of of the flowers here too were the monkeyflowers still but other species seemed more and more common the further down the trail we walked.
|Checker Mallow, Sidalcea sp. |
In some places the moisture spread somewhat farther away from the thin creek, supporting a wider belt of greenery. The distinct lines of color between the dry and bare to the green and blossom was very clear.
We contemplated going to see Phantom Falls, which we never had the chance to see before. Phantom Falls are at the north of the preserve and is the waterfall that usually stars on the online photos of the North Table Mountain Preserve. As we came upon the trail junction however, we met two hikers that were coming back from there. They told us that the waterfall was completely dry and that there was very little bloom left. Pappa Quail and I decided to save that hike for a different trip. Instead, we continued straight to Hollow Falls, where we went on all of our previous visits to the preserve.
The little creek and whatever water saved underground supports a few trees along the way. In turn, these trees support wildlife, including birds.
While Pappa Quail was looking for the birds I was looking for the flowers. Here and there between all the monkeyflowers I found other species of wild flowers.
|White Meadowfoam, Limnanthes alba |
The trail isn't long and soon we were at the top of Hollow Falls. The
thin trickle of water stretched all the way to the brink so we decided to go down to the base of the fall.
The trail down has always been a bit precarious and this time was no different. I walked very carefully on the less than foot-wide path that was at times very close to the precipice. Way below I could see one plant species that was certainly at its peak bloom - the California Buckeye tree.
Pappa Quail was already descending down while I appreciated the view. When I caught up with him I saw that he was focused on one of
the trees near the trail. I waited patiently until he was satisfied with
the photos he got of that little brown bird.
|Western Wood Pewee|
The lower part of trail downhill was more manageable and less scary. It was also more protected area, and much richer in vegetation. The west-facing side of the canyon cut by that little creek (which does run strong after powerful systems) was full of trees. Most were buckeye and oak, but I also spotted a few madrones.
Below one of the trees I spotted a single straggling clarkia blooming. All of its friends were already done with that phase.
|Woodland Clarkia, Clarkia unguiculata |
The buckeye however, were at their peak bloom. I love the chandelier look of these trees when in full bloom, all covered with the flame-looking inflorescences.
|California Buckeye, Aesculus californica |
The trail drops to the canyon bottom a bit downstream of he base of the waterfall. The 'stream' was nonexistent, though.
We walked to the base of the waterfall. A thin film of moisture glistened on the waterfall chute and the pond at the bottom was the size of a small puddle. We sat down on a fallen log in the shade of a luxurious buckeye tree, ate our snacks, and enjoyed the quiet solitude.
The North Table Mountain is made of volcanic rock that eroded with time and weathering. Looking up at the lip of the canyon at the place we descended from. There were pillars of basalt there, not completely formed into hexagons, but they did remind me of the Devil's Postpile National Monument. I was mesmerized by the moon floating above the rock pillars formation.
Above us floated also a red-tailed hawk. Pappa Quail didn't bother to point his camera at it, but I did. I wanted to remember it was there.
Eventually it was time to get up and go back. At the bottom of the canyon I noticed a weird looking buckeye tree. When I got closer I realized that the tree was covered entirely by wild California grape, and had only its blossoms poking through the vine cover.
|Grape-covered buckeye tree|
Pappa Quail started ascending but I had to get closer to check that grape-buckeye chimera. I wonder how can the tree get enough sunshine underneath the grape.
Near the tree bloomed some thistle plants of an invasive species. A swallowtail butterfly was enjoying the thistle flowers. It was heavy and flew slowly despite the heat. It didn't seem to mind my presence so close.
Back on the canyon lip I found a safe spot and gazed down to the base of the waterfall. I was impressed by how much thicker the vegetation was just below the table mountain top. Such a big difference that the angle makes.
We were returning on the same trail but going back I did notice some things that I had missed earlier, like this really tiny lupine, the only one I saw there that day.
|Lupine, Lupinus sp. |
We had a quiet walk back. There were even fewer people around now. A couple that found a romantic spot under a tree was there still. We passed them quietly and I thought to myself that this was a lovely spot to pass a few romantic hours.
We approached again the stand of trees that thrived on the little creek. Pappa Quail spotted another bird there and hurried over there to find it with his camera while I paced slowly along the creek.
Pappa Quail found the bird. It was a flycatcher, possibly the same one he saw there earlier.
I found something even more interesting (in my opinion, of course): a little garter snake that was swimming in the creek. I called Pappa Quail over and he came in time to see the snake too.
|Mountain Garter Snake, Thamnophis elegans |
All the other wildlife I saw near or on the water were bugs. Like this water walker that I frequently see in creek waterholes.
There were quite a few damselflies by the water as well. So little water, and so much life it supports! I wonder what do all these animals do when the water dries up in summer. It occurred to me that I don't know that the spring by the trailhead actually dries up, I simply assumed it does. I need to check it out.
We competed the rest of the hike and knew that we won't be back there tomorrow. We saw what there was to see, which was not much but also quite a lot, considering how late in season we were there. We decided to head up to the mountains on the morrow, for a change in scenery and to escape the heat.
On our way back to Oroville we stopped so I could take a photo of the mariposa lilies that I spotted earlier. On the other side of the road behind a fence was a pond with a few ducks. While I was giving attention to the mariposa lilies Pappa Quail looked at the ducks. The little pond looked lie a lot of water compared to the thin creek we just hiked alone.
Proximity to water is everything in the plant world. The grass near the road was too far from the pond, and very dry already. I was happy to see some brodiae flowers blooming in the dry grass and a snapped a quick photo before getting back into the car.
|Brodiae sp. |
The North Table Mountain Preserve is one of those places that have an incredibly short season in which the pauper becomes a prince. In recent years it had gained much popularity among flower seekers, and the crowds can be dangerous to the delicate beauty of this place. I was there before during a super bloom year
so I don't feel sad about coming again at the end of the season, as the prince slowly returns back to his pauper sleep. It has its serene beauty still, but without the crowds.