Tuesday, August 25, 2020

Because the First Time Was Not Enough: Hiking the Museum Trail at Plumas-Eureka State Park

Date: June 21, 2020
Place: Plumas-Eureka State Park, Blairsden, California
Coordinates: 39.756551, -120.698020
Length: 3 miles in and out
Level: easy

The third weekend of June 2020 was the first time we could finally go on a family recreation trip since the COVID-19 breakout. The restrictions were lifted just enough for us to go an a camping trip with close friends to the north region of the Sierra Nevada range. We camped at Little Truckee campground and on the first full day of our trip we hiked to the Jamison Lake Complex from the Plumas-Eureka State Park. On the following day we went swimming at Davis Lake but when we were done with that there was plenty of daylight time still, so we decided to go back to Plumas-Eureka and hike another trail there, a shorter and easier one this time - the Museum Trail, from the park's headquarters to the park's campground.   
Our hike as captured by my GPS 

I believe that the main consideration tipping the scale toward returning to this park was the elder chika's desire for another chance to see the McGillivrey warbler that eluded her the day before. Regardless, we were all on board with that choice and so we drove back to Plumas-Eureka and parked near the park's headquarters, where the Museum trailhead was. 

The trail was indeed a fairly easy one, without too much elevation changes. We started into the conifer forest where there weren't much wildflowers to see. 

Almost immediately however, Pappa Quail and the elder chika were spotting birds. Now it was their turn to linger behind while everyone else ket striding up the trail. 

Western Tanager, male 

Even familiar birds, common in the Bay Area, captured the attention of my family birders.

Spotted Towhee

The trail gradually neared the creek. The trail leveled, the vegetation thickened, and the conifers were replaced by willows. All of a sudden there were many more wildflowers along the path and although I was at the lead this time around I felt compelled to pause near the colorful bouquet that nature displayed for me. 

Larkspur, Delphinium sp.

 A short, partially obscured trail diverged from the main path, leading to the Jamison Creek. I stood there briefly, enjoying the sight of rushing water. A few little birds were chirping in the bushes by the creek and I mentioned it to Pappa Quail and our elder chika as I returned to the main trail.

Jamison Creek 

My two birders went to look at the river and had vanished into an alternate universe for a while. I did not see them again until we got to the turning back point at the park's campground. 

House Wren 

It was there by the creek that they finally saw their prized sighting and my elder chia's lifer, the McGillivrey warbler. 

McGillivrey Warbler

There were other birds there two. I don't know exactly how long they were in the bushes by the creek but apparently that was the best spot to bird-watch along the entire trail. 

Orange-crowned Warbler

Back on the main trail I slowed down a bit, feeling less obligated to to linger, I relapsed back to my habit of stopping by each wildflower, even common flowers that I've seen on many hikes before, including yesterday's hike. 

Crimson Columbine, Aquilegia formosa 
A movement by the trailside caught my eye - it was a cute little garter snake. It was also very cooperative and paused as I took photos of it.  Later , when Pappa Quail and our elder chika joins the rest of us at the turning back point they told me that the snake was still there when they were coming up the trail. In fact, the snake posed for them too, and Pappa Quail's photo is better than mine so I post his here.
Sierra Garter Snake 

After the snake encounter the trail emerged from the trees and begun a slow ascend along the creek bank. The view opened up a little more and I could tell that the shadows were lengthening. 

Jamison Creek

I gave up the lead for wildflowers again, this time for the Ceanothus bushes that perfumed the air with their dense, sweet fragrance. 

Buck Brush, Ceanothus cuneatus 

After inhaling as much as I could the sweet Ceanothus I hurried up the trail following my friend and the kids. On the way I crossed another side creek where I stopped short when I saw some bog orchids blooming in the dense creekside greenery. Orchids are always worth the stop. 
Sierra Bog Orchid, Platanthera dilatata var. leucostachys 

I was glad I stoped at that location because there were other wildflowers to see there. Shortly past that creek the trail plunged once again into the woods where nearly all bloom was gone. 
Narrow-leaved Lotus, Hosackia oblongifolia 

I arrived at the campgrounds picnic area where my friend and the kids were waiting for me. We sat there for some time, snacking and chatting until Pappa Quail and the elder chika came up the trail with some exciting stories about the birds they had seen. My elder chika was super excited to add a lifer to her list of birds and had to tell us all about it several times over. I was very happy for her, but after a few minutes I got up and went to the road bridge and gazed down at the water of Jamison Creek rushing below me. 
Jamison Creek

While Pappa Quail and the chika were taking their rest and snack I checked my own photos on the camera screen and found that my photos of a coral root orchid I've seen on my way up near the campground didn't come out right. So I took my camera and went down there to try again for a better shot of this pretty orchid. 
Summer Coral Root, Corallorhiza maculata

After some debate we decided to return back the same trail rather than following the paved road to the park's headquarters. It was getting late in the afternoon and we would have a 45 minutes drive still back to the Little Truckee campground where we were staying.

The way back was much faster. Although this trail doesn't have serious elevation changes, it was still going downhill on the way back. Besides, I have already seen all the wildflowers along this trail, right?

Well, not exactly. Some things become visible when looked upon from the opposite direction. 
Small-leaved Horsemint, Agastache parvifolia 

We stuck together better this time around, striding down the trail, pacing out the descending evening. I rushed across the boardwalk that stretched over the bog by the creek but my elder chika remained behind. She'd seen a bird there. 

The bird sh'd seen in the bushes was a grosbeak, the kind of pretty, yet elusive bush bird that is fairly common yet difficult to see, let alone photograph. She did it though, her patience paying off. 
Black-headed Grosbeak

The rest of the hike passed quickly. I hardly stopped anymore, except to make sure that all the kids were within eye sight, and to get another shot at sights that didn't come out right on my way up the creek. 
Sierra Gooseberry, Ribes roezlii 

One of the places I did stop and even left the trail for a few steps was where I had seen a lily blooming down by the creek off the trail and didn't photograph it on the way up hoping I'd see more of them in a more convenient setting. Well, I didn't see any other lilies on that hike so when I returned to that spot I took the time for a close up of this pretty lily.
Shasta Lily, Lilium pardalinum var. shastense 

It was late when we finally arrived at the parking lot and we still had the long drive back to our campground, but I was happy that we came back to this park for a hike instead of lazying by Lake Davis or getting early to the campground and kill time there. Not that I don't like aimless socializing, but my reference is almost always to explore new wilderness areas. After the long COVID-19 enforced break I was really hungry for it, and the Plumas-Eureka State Park had truly hit my spot.  
Dusky noon, Allium campanulatum 

Thursday, August 20, 2020

Escaping Reality in the Magical World of Plumas Eureka State Park and the Jamison Lake Complex

Date: June 19, 2020
Place: Plumas-Eureka State Park, Blairsden, California
Coordinates: 39.742255, -120.701383
Length: 7.5 miles in and out
Level: Strenuous

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

The trailhead is at the Jamison Mine Complex, which an old mining site. From there the trail leads up the mountain, out of the park's boundaries, and into the Plumas National Forest.
At the Trailhead

The trail immediately starts uphill, in a mostly mild slope. Almost immediately too, my family birders started hearing, then seeing birds.
Hermit Thrush
I too found soon that I was walking through a beautiful mountain garden. There were wildflowers everywhere.
Naked Buckwheat, Eriogonum nudum

Only a short distance into the trail I was already lingering behind, stopping at every flower I saw. But when I heard my family calling me urgently I came up running to see the mariposa lily they have found for me. It was the only one we've seen along the trail, and a damaged one it was, but a mariposa lily nonetheless.
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.
Oak Gall

 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 

The others were less enthralled by the flowers. They were enjoying the scenery for sure, but only gave attention to the biggest and brightest blossom, while I was stopping at each and every one of them, literally. I was having a great time.
Productive Clover, Trifolium productum 

Still within bounds of the state park, we could hear the rushing water of the waterfall. A short side trail leads to a view point of the waterfall itself, a narrow strip of white water falling into unknown depth because the bottom was obscured by vegetation. The sound of it however, didn't indicate a much further drop.

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.  
Mountain Chickadee

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 

I enjoyed the birds too, their songs, their spring activities, and them being all over the place, making the forest a very lovely and lively place indeed.
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. 
Grass Lake

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.
The trees thinned out as we ascended higher toward the granite sink of Jamison Lake and the other lakes of that complex. Looking up I felt the thrill of being in the mountains again, coming up the stairway to heaven. 

Clearly I wasn't always looking up. In fact, I spent most of my hike time searching the ground for more wildflowers, and I sure found them.
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.
Jamison Creek

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.
It was mid day already and the sun was bearing down on us directly from above. we all wanted to reach the lakes and take a break. Thinking that Rock Lake would be the farthest we'd get to I told everyone that we should have our lunch break there. After saying that, they all bolted up the trail leaving my friend and me behind to enjoy the view a bit more before following them up at a slower pace.

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

Like its bigger relatives, this manzanita also blooms in bunches of white, bell-shaped flowers, and I was fortunate to be there at the right time to see it.
Pine Mat Manzanita, Arctostaphylos nevadensis 

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.

Jamison Lake 

Sighing, I motioned my friend to turn around and we backtracked to the main trail I deviated from. Not before I clicked a few shots of the lake and the nearby blooming bushes.
Bitter Cherry, Prunus emarginata 

I found Pappa Quail a little further up the main trail and he was upset because the kids had decided to climb a large rock and left him all alone and not sure where to go next. He didn't like that I took so long to catch up and getting the jist of things I avoided telling him that I got off track. Instead I got busy calling the kids down from the rock and moving on to Rock Lake.


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. 
Rock Lake 

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 

All these little plants were blooming too. Some blossoms were so tiny that I had to get down on my knees to have a closer look.
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.
Rock Lake 

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.
Jamison Lake 

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. 
I didn't take many photos on the way down. I did most of the photographing on the way up anyway. Still, I would snap quick shots here and there, hoping that some would come out right.  
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.
They didn't find the warbler that day, but I found another orchid and was very pleased with myself. Seeing three orchid species on a single hike makes a very good hike indeed!
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.

Wilson's Warbler 

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.
Warbling Vireo

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