Gayle Madwin (queerbychoice) wrote,
Gayle Madwin

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Snake Lake

This past weekend, Susan and I went camping at Snake Lake in Plumas County. We chose it partly because it's at an elevation of 4,200 feet, which we were hoping would be high enough to be above the heat of the Sacramento Valley. It was 111 degrees Fahrenheit (44 degrees Celsius) at our home when we returned on Sunday afternoon. However, it was 96 degrees Fahrenheit (36 degrees Celsius) at the campground on Saturday afternoon while we were there, which is not really cool enough to be comfortable either. So I think that as an attempt to escape the heat, the trip was a failure; we would have been better off staying home where we have air conditioning.

Another reason we chose Snake Lake was because it's near Butterfly Valley Botanical Area, which I wanted to visit while we were there. This was kind of a flop too, in that we never succeeded in visiting Butterfly Valley Botanical Area. We did drive from our campsite at Snake Lake to nearby Smith Lake, and the southern end of Butterfly Valley Botanical Area extends to approximately the northern shore of Smith Lake. But we ended up on the southwestern shore of Smith Lake rather than the northern shore, and there were no interesting plants there, and it was much too hot for either of us to feel like walking all the way around to the northern shore just on the off-chance that the plants might be more interesting there. However, back at our own campsite on Snake Lake, I did find a huge number of plants that I'd never seen before, so I think the unusual botanical diversity that Butterfly Valley Botanical Area was established to protect was somewhat evident even beyond the boundaries of the official Botanical Area.

But let's start with the drive there. We took the Feather River Scenic Byway, so we were driving next to the Feather River North Fork for most of the way. We stopped once to get sodas from the ice chest for each of us and admire the river. Here is Susan with Boston.

On the opposite side of the road from the river was a huge cliff of solid rock.

Our campsite was directly on the lake, which wasn't entirely a good thing. We were utterly terrorized by mosquitoes, so much so that even though it was 96 degrees, we took to wearing long pants and often even long sleeves just to minimize the amount of skin exposed to mosquitoes. Susan suffered mild heatstroke as a result. Both my hands had more mosquito bites on them than fingers. Luckily, we had come prepared with vast amounts of Benadryl cream to stop our allergic reactions to the mosquito saliva and make the bites shrink to tiny red dots. This made the onslaught bearable, though still annoying.

Because of the heat, we left the privacy flap off the roof of our tent most of the time, so that everything above the black strip at the bottom of the tent was just mosquito netting. You'd think mosquito netting would be good for keeping out the mosquitoes, but it was amazing how many bugs of all kinds managed to fly into the tent anytime the door was opened even slightly. The first night we arrived, we had several large bumblebees and yellowjackets crawling around on the roof of the tent, and at one point we must have had at least 30 mosquitoes in the tent at once . . . they kept landing on the inside of the netting in groups of six or seven within a few inches of each other, and I kept trying to kill entire groups with a single swat, and ending up just scaring them all off to new perches where they were harder to squash.

Boston became utterly obsessed with the beavers in the lake. When we called her over and over, she never even glanced at us - she had eyes only for the beavers. Trying to catch them, she swam all the way out into the middle of the lake. The beavers slapped their tails on the water to splash at her, and she lunged for them, but they dove underwater and she had no idea where they'd gone. After a while, she found a shallow spot to perch on in the middle of the lake, just sitting there, with only her head above the water. She spent virtually the entire night in the lake, the first night we were there - she came onto land only twice, for about 15 minutes each time. We wanted to keep her in the tent, but Boston is a remarkably dextrous dog who has absolutely no difficulty opening tent zippers anytime she feels like it. Each time she came in to visit us, she shook a few gallons of dirty lake water off herself and all over the tent, then promptly let herself right back out of the tent again and resumed her beaver-hunting vigil in the lake. (I tried to take pictures of the beavers, but they only came out after it was too dark for the pictures to turn out well.)

Ganymede, however, took no interest whatsoever in the beavers. He's afraid of water. He did wade all the way into the lake once when we first arrived, but this served only to convince him that he never wanted to wade any deeper than his ankles ever again. We decided that his complete disinterest in beavers confirmed that we chose the right name for him.

The lake also harbored an entire orchestra of frogs, which Boston unsuccessfully chased in the daytime when no beavers were available, and a flock of Canadian geese, which Boston showed no interest in.

I, of course, was busy hunting for plants. In our campsite I found lanceleaf selfheal (Prunella vulgaris)).

The next place I explored was the path to the outhouse. The dogs followed.

I found whitevein wintergreen (Pyrola picta).

And little prince's pine (Chimaphila menziesii).

We collected some firewood from near the outhouse, and then explored the rest of the campground. Small meadows along the lake produced clouds of white flowers.

I don't know what they were, but they were obviously in the aster family.

The bushes directly bordering the lake were mostly rose spiraea (Spiraea douglasii).

A low cement bridge separated the main part of the lake (where the campground is) from this shallower, narrower portion that has no trails around it. I never explored this part of the lake, but here's what I saw of it from the bridge.

Pacific mountain dogwood (Cornus nuttallii) was blooming on the other side of the bridge.

There was a single campsite on the other side of the bridge, beautifully isolated from the others. Unfortunately, people had recently trashed it. In addition to the huge pile of litter you can see here, the picnic table was covered with paint and other gunk from a paintball fight. If you do this to the campsites you camp in, you have no business camping!

There was a trailhead sign next to the trashed campsite, so I took the dogs a short distance up the trail, which led uphill, away from the lake. The plants on the trail weren't very interesting, though. It was mostly just trees and a thick layer of pine needles on the ground. I went back to the trashed campsite and took a different trail, which continued around the edge of the lake. This trail led me through all manner of botanical wonders! It started out with fairly ordinary plants, such as blooming thimbleberries (Rubus parviflorus).

And sulfur peas (Lathyrus sulphureus).

And largeleaf avens (Geum macrophyllum).

But very soon, I began seeing more interesting plants. Like dwarf wood rose (Rosa gymnocarpa).

And columbines, which Ganymede had a great time cavorting among.

The path narrowed, and the plant life began to look rather like a rainforest. I found myself surrounded by Shasta leopard lilies (Lilium pardalinum).

I also found Sierra bog orchids (Platanthera leucostachys).

And California corn lilies (Veratrum californicum).

The dogs waded near the Shasta leopard lilies.

The leaves that covered much of the lake were native watershield (Brasenia schreberi).

We saw a large beaver lodge near the shore.

The path ended near some Indian paintbrush, but the dogs and I forged ahead a bit farther, through the thin spots in the underbrush. (I initially explored this area without Susan, because she was suffering mild heatstroke on Saturday. On Sunday she accompanied me on the path, but she stopped when the path ended.)

The dogs found a meadow to cavort in.

And I found naked mariposa lilies (Calochortus nudus) in it.

Boston waded in every little inlet.

And Ganymede occasionally, very tentatively, joined her. But only at the shallow edges.

Various tiny streams flowed into the lake. Wherever there was a trickle of water flowing, the ground was covered with wild ginger (Asarum lemmonii).

We came to a humongous fallen tree that blocked our way. It was far too tall to climb over - taller than I am - so we walked to the base of it and tried to go around. (The fallen tree is on the right. The smaller mass of roots on the left is just a piece that broke off when it fell.) But the foliage on the other side of the tree turned out to be so thick that we gave up and returned to our campsite.

Susan was feeling well enough when we returned that she drove us to nearby Smith Lake, where we failed to find Butterfly Valley Botanical Area and also failed to find any particularly interesting plants. It was a short trip. The weather was stiflingly hot. Susan did pick up some firewood while we were there, though. We had no need of campfires for warmth at night, but she needed a fire to cook dinner - barbecued chicken and corn on the cob.

When we returned, Susan rested in our campsite while I took the dogs on a short walk along the main road just outside the campground. Both of us, in our separate locations, were frightened when we heard rifle fire nearby - someone was hunting in the campground illegally. The rifle shots were closer to me than to Susan, and even closer to where Susan mistakenly thought I was walking. Both of us were picturing the dogs and me getting shot. I returned to the campsite fairly quickly, after photographing just two plants. The first one is Western joepiweed (Ageratina occidentalis), a relative of the common garden plant grown in the eastern United States. The Western one isn't commonly grown, because it isn't adapted to low elevations, but it was much better looking than it appears in the photograph, where the pink flower clusters blend into the pine straw below and virtually disappear.

The second one is some sort of blue beardtongue, but much less showy than the one in our yard at home.

After returning to our campsite to reassure Susan that we hadn't been shot, the dogs and I explored the other end of the campground (the opposite direction around the lake than the path we'd previously taken). The campsite next to ours had a little patch of perennial sweet pea (Lathyrus latifolius), which I was disappointed to realize is not native.

I picked this stalk of it for Susan, who kept it in a mug of water on our picnic table.

The sweet pea was growing with red clover (Trifolium pratense), which is also not native; these were almost the only non-native plants I saw there, and I saw them only in that one campsite. I continued on the dirt road through the campground, which passed under the arch of this tree. The indistinct cloud of green on the ground under the tree is horsetails.

Further on, I found waxy checker mallow (Sidalcea glaucescens). Near here, I also saw another species of native orchid - northern coralroot (Corallorhiza trifida), but the orchid looked brown and sickly and I didn't get a good photo of it. I did get this photo of the checker mallow.

The dirt road ended when it met a perpendicular paved road. I turned right on the paved road to continue around the edge of the lake. This lupine was just around the corner, and I was so eager to photograph it that I failed to notice that I was kneeling in a huge swarm of ants to do so. When I stood up again, the ants were all over my jeans. Huge ants, not normal ants.

I brushed them off and continued. I found a single campsite on the paved road, isolated about a mile from all the others, with its own private single-stall outhouse, and wished we had seen it earlier so we could have claimed it as our own. It also had a wider view of the lake than ours did, because it was in a sort of meadow, with fewer shrubs blocking the view than our campsite had.

There were many meadows on this side of the lake. I was most excited to find camas (Camassia quamash), which the native Maidu people cultivated for food. They ate the bulbs that it grows from. The camas are the blue spikes in the meadow. They'd be easier to see if the flowers were open, but they were mostly closed up.

I did find one open camas flower in one of the meadows, though.

Some of the meadows were full of white rushlilies (Hastingsia alba) - the white spikes of tiny flowers visible here.

I saw lots of Sierra morning glories (Calystegia malacophylla), though only a few were blooming.

And I recognized the peach-colored flowers of annual mountain collomia (Collomia grandiflora) from the photographs I'd seen of it growing in Chuck B.'s San Francisco garden.

I reached the end of the path and returned to our campsite, and the next morning we went home. But not before Boston made it clear that she wants to go camping at Snake Lake as often as possible, so that she can continue her beaver hunting.

On the road out of the campground, I asked Susan to stop the truck so I could photograph these blue cluster-lilies.

At my request, we took a different road back home than we had taken to the campground. Along the way, we passed through a huge field of nothing but narrowleaf mule ears (Wyethia angustifolia) near the tiny town of La Porte.

Tags: native plants, photographs, susan
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