Still More Botanizing in Southern John Muir Wilderness
June, July, and August 2016
by Bill Finch
I hiked the fewest days this year since returning to California 30 years ago. Returning to jogging has improved my fitness level and hiking is as much fun as it has ever been. But, unfortunately, my wife had some health issues that prevented me from spending as much time in the mountains as usual. I managed to get in four hikes, all centered around an ongoing botany project in Sierra National Forest.
Spanish Lake 13-14 June 2016
My first trip was to Spanish Lake. I was curious to see how the Rough Fire had affected the area. Fire maps were spot on. Crews managed to keep the fire from burning north of the Crown Valley trail and east of Spanish Lake turnoff from the Crown Valley Trail.
The burn here was more intense than in most of the areas next to the trail.
At Spanish Lake I looked at my watch and realized that our wedding anniversary was two days away. So much for a four day trip. I returned home the next day thanking my lucky stars that I had remembered the big day.
A little snow lingered on the slopes above Spanish Lake.
Woodchuck Lake 12-15 July
In mid-July I spent four days in the Woodchuck Lake area mapping distribution of Lewisia leeana and recording observations of other plants in the area. The ridge northeast of Woodchuck Lake hosted many L. leeana plants and some other unusual plants as well. Dwarf alpine Indian paintbrush flourished on the ridge top. The view toward Mt Goddard from the ridge was spectacular.
Mt Goddard from ridge east of Woodchuck Lake, dwarf alpine indian paintbrush in foreground.
I climbed the gentle mountain north of Woodchuck Lake which hosted a few L. leeana on its lower flanks and crossed over to the spur jutting from its northern flank. West of the spur are exposures of a metamorphic roof pendant with geology similar to that found in the Dinkey Lakes area.
Metamorphic roof pendant from spur off hill north of Woodchuck Lake, Courtright Reservoir in the distance.
I returned by descending one of the tributaries of the south fork of Woodchuck Creek. I was rewarded with the densest stand of pink flowered pussypaws I have ever seen, backed by an exposure of the three million year old basalt which crops out here and there in mostly granitic Woodchuck Country.
Pink pussypaws on flats in front of basalt outcrop.
Cinquapin Lakes 27-28 July 2016
In late July, I left the trailhead west of Courtright Reservoir for Chinquapin Lakes. A documented observation of L. leeana on the east flank of Eagle Peak drew me to explore the area in hopes that I would find more of it nearby. I arrived at Nelson Lake in mid-afternoon.
Nelson Lake near outlet looking west toward ridge separating it from Chinquapin Lakes.
After a short break I headed over the ridge toward Chiquapin Lakes. I was disappointed to find no L. leeana on the ridge . The basin on the other side was very dry. There were few flowers still blooming and no signs of L. leeana. I camped near Upper Chinquapin Lake.
Upper Chinquapin Lake.
As I was heading back home the next morning, I encountered a vocal pika. According to experts, he was living way out of his range.
Spanish Mountain 24-27 August 2016
My last hike was in late August and by then it was very dry. On my way to upper Geraldine Lake, I encountered hillside broomrape, way out of its range. It is a chlorophyl free parasite taking its nutrients from a host plant (in this case rabbitbrush) and it lacks leaves and chlorophyll. Although it was past blooming time, I encountered many L. leeana plants. The densest stand I have ever seen was on the north flank of Spanish Mountain. In addition, I made my first observation of western anemone which looks like it might have come from the imagination of Dr. Suess. Views from the summit of Spanish Mountain were through the haze left by yet another forest fire. Geraldine Lake and the Obilisk could be seen to the east.
Geraldine Lake and Obilisk.
The view to the south was into arguably the deepest canyon in North America. Damage from the Rough Fire appeared to be spotty.
Kings Canyon from Spanish Mountain.
On the hike home, I passed by Lower Geraldine Lake with Spanish Mountain in the background.
Lower Geraldine Lake.
Despite spending less than two weeks in the mountains, I managed to enjoy a wonderful summer. I posted more than 400 observations to iNaturalist including 78 of Lewisia leeana.