Vulcan Lakes Trailhead

Shannon Browne | July 11, 2016

The Vulcan Lakes loop trail was not my intended destination as I drove over 30 miles through the coast range to arrive at the trailhead on the edge of the Kalmiopsis Wilderness.  I was headed north, towards Dry Butte and Salamander Lake to survey Brewer spruce.

A patch of Darlingtonia on the road just before the trailhead. 

It is approximately 4.5 miles from the Vulcan Lakes trailhead out to Salamander Lake. The trail stays along the ridge-line, traversing across the variegated and dissected Kalmiopsis Wilderness.  

After hiking through miles of standing dead snags (the area burned intensely during the 2002 Biscuit Fire) and fields of Kalmiopsis leachiana, the trail turns east, coming around the corner of Dry Butte. From here Salamander Lake is visible in a forested basin below. A small stand of trees growing down a ridge-line is visible approximately a half mile ahead.  It is on this north-east facing slope that the Brewer spruce has carved out an existence.

Evidence of the 2002 Biscuit Fire. 

They were growing on a very steep and scrabbly slope. I admired them from afar, after unsuccessfully attempting to scramble up to them.  I could only count 5. Although this is not an extremely robust population of Brewer spruce it is always interesting to visit where they grow.

On my return I attempted to find the trail to Vulcan Lakes, but lost track of the time after finding an abandoned mine site and continuing southward, missing the trail up to the Lakes.  I stumbled across a small tarn at the site of an old abandoned mine. I admired the Rudbeckia californica growing up to the edge of it and the shade of the tall cedars.

A small lake tarn along the Vulcan Lakes loop. 

Elk Hole Botanical Area

Shannon Browne | July 25, 2016

Elk Hole is an extremely remote part of the southern Siskiyou Mountains. The Botanical Area is about 250 acres, and was designated in 1995 for the southernmost existence of Alaska yellow cedar.

The conifer habitat here is quite diverse, as you hike the 4 miles up into the Botanical Area you pass through different conifer zones. Species sighted include Douglas fir, Port Orford cedar, western white pine, sugar pine, Brewer spruce, Shasta red fir, and Alaska yellow cedar.

Sawtooth Mt on the left. Elk Hole Botanical Area located in the basin below. 

Access to Elk Hole is from the Elk Valley Trailhead. Take the G-O Road (Forest Road 15) from the town of Orleans 30 miles; this road is completely paved. Turn left onto Forest Road 14N03, the trailhead is 1.5 miles down a rough road, high clearance and 4-wheel drive vehicles are recommended.

The area is most frequented by local American Indians for traditional ceremonies. There was a sign posted by the Six Rivers National Forest at the cutoff to Route 14N03 that spoke about this. One aspect of traditional ceremonies is seclusion. Be respectful if you come across native people. Do not approach or speak to them, be quiet, and continue moving swiftly past.

Views from between Flatiron Lake and Lake of the Newts. 

It was clear on this particular weekend in late July, we were the only people out there for miles. The temperatures were quite hot, and some of the smaller lakes were already dried up. Flatiron Lake, one of the larger tarns is about 1 mile (and then an additional .5 mile bushwalk off trail) from the trailhead.

We camped out the next lake which is unnamed on maps. There were so many rough skinned newts swimming, at any time I could count between 10-20 newts. I took the liberty of naming it Lake of the Newts. It was quite a charming place to enjoy the solitude of the region.

Lake of the Newts in the morning light. 

Note: the Boundary Trail beyond Lake of the Newts is not very well maintained. A fire burned through much of it in the last few years and the trail is lost in some places. Leave extra time to search for the path and rock cairns.

Rough skinned newts going for a swim. 

Babyfoot Lake Botanical Area

Shannon Browne and Jeanine Moy | published August 23, 2016

We were excited to do some reconnaissance into the 350 acre Babyfoot Lake Botanical Area, noting that it was originally designated in 1966 to protect the largest stand of Brewer spruce in the Siskiyou Mountains. What we found was a mixture of feelings: devastating, and promising.

Brewer spruce is a relict tree that was part of a much more extensive ancient forest over 10 million years ago. Today it exists only within the Klamath-Siskiyou mountains, and here only on high ridge-lines where the climate remains cooler.

Further reading revealed some unfortunate more recent events. Much of the Brewer spruce stand burned during the 2002 Biscuit Fire. There remain a few mature trees scattered along the lakeshore, along with a healthy population of Port Orford cedar and Douglas fir.

Devastating, was what we found at the trailhead, bearing witness to the removal of a 17-acre parcel in 2005 as part of the larger, highly contested, Fiddler Fire Salvage Timber Sale. The lines got blurred and somehow logging occurred within the Brewer spruce forest, which had been deemed ecologically important almost 40 years prior. Certainly a “serious mistake” as the Forest Service eventually conceded.

While studying population dynamics and seedling establishment of Brewer spruce. Babyfoot Lake showed relatively low recruitment, or seedling count, likely because of the severity of the 2002 Biscuit Fire.

Taking notes on floristic associates within the Hungry Hill Brewer spruce stand. 

Brewer spruce is not known to adapt well in fire environments, part of its clue to existence on high ridgelines, and within cooler north and east facing mountain slopes.

Most promising, was the east ridge above Babyfoot Lake, Hungry Hill,  that did not burn as intensely, and hardly at all on its eastern flank. Here, there was a very healthy stand of Brewer spruce. Of the 20+ Brewer spruce locations that Shannon has surveyed, this is by far the most healthy and prolific one!

Though the extensive forest of Brewer spruce that classified Babyfoot Lake is no longer, it is heartening to see such a healthy stand in the middle of a region that has experienced much adversity.

Brewer spruce seedling on the east facing slope of Hungry Hill. 

Whiskey Peak Botanical Area

Shannon Browne | July 18, 2016

What a special spot! I highly recommend this area to anyone with a good clearance vehicle. The drive alone out to Whiskey Peak, along Applegate Road and past the reservoir, is beautiful. Once you transition to Forest Road 1035 and start climbing in elevation, there is a viewpoint overlooking the Red Buttes Wilderness basin and the peaks of the Siskiyou crest.

Siskiyou crest peaks, from left to right- Red Buttes, Kangaroo Mountain, Rattlesnake Mountain, and Mount Emily. 

After a few more miles you come to Forest road 350, take this left. The trailhead is hidden up behind a steep road with an open gate (officially road 356). If you get to the Y where the road starts to head back down the mountain, you've gone too far.

The hike is a short 0.6 miles, although quite steep. Look for the foundation of the old fire lookout, which was constructed in 1922. The lookout was later abandoned when more sophisticated technology was available for monitoring forests.

Start of 0.6 mile hike up Whiskey Peak.

Whiskey peak is an area of botanical interest managed by the Rogue-Siskiyou National Forest. I can see why, there were so many beautiful wildflowers blooming along the road. Bright patches of pinks, reds, yellows, and white.

View west from the north flank of Whiskey Peak. 

As for conifers, I was delighted to find a healthy thicket of mountain hemlock, interspersed with Brewer spruce to the right as you walk up the trail. The Brewer spruce created the perfect shaggy tree silhouette through which you can view the surrounding mountain peaks and drainages.

Shaggy Brewer spruce.