Trekking for wildflower treasures | SierraSun.com

Trekking for wildflower treasures

Julie Becker
Special to the Sun

Every June, the wet meadows of Sagehen Creek burst forth in a splendor of blue…a sea of flowers…an expansive field of camas lilies provides a feast for the eyes. One could not fail to be impressed.

Scenes and wonders like this led to the publication of Wildflowers of Nevada and Placer Counties, California, an extensive guidebook created by the Redbud Chapter of the California Native Plant Society.

The botanists who began the project in 1999 originally had in mind a small spiral-bound book that would take two years to produce. But once they tasted the rich diversity of plant-life found in the two-county region, they couldn’t stop. Eight years later, in the fall of 2007, the book was published, with descriptions of 520 wildflower species and over 600 color photographs.

Outdoor enthusiasts don’t have to travel far to see the wildflowers in the book come to life. The trailhead for Sagehen Creek is 7.5 miles north of Truckee on Highway 89. Hikers walk about two miles on a mostly level trail to reach the famous Camas lily meadow, and a bit further to reach the wildflower protection area, where wildflowers bloom in profusion from late June to mid-July.

In the wet area of the meadow, many treats are in store: Pink bog mallows or mountain hollyhocks with their bowl-shaped flowers, magenta alpine shooting stars with their black pointed anthers and giant red paintbrushes with flower bracts ranging from bright red to pale red to orange.

Eveyone will enjoy discovering two species of elephant heads, with the larger species looking remarkably like its name…the upper petals create a trunk and the lower petals floppy ears. And not far from the elephants, safari trekkers are likely to see seepspring monkeyflowers, with their bright yellow blooms standing atop tall stems.

Another prime wildflower spot is Castle Valley, once again, easy to reach from Truckee. Travel west on I-80 to the Boreal Ridge exit. At the stop sign, turn right on the black-topped road and head uphill for trailhead parking. Walk along an old “jeep” road about one level mile to Castle Valley, and there, against the glorious backdrop of Castle Peak, is a wet meadow full of color in mid-July.

While elephant heads and giant paintbrushes can be found here, just as in the Sagehen Creek area, one is also likely to find gorgeous crimson columbines with their nodding tubular flowers, contrasted with abundant purple stalks of meadow lupine and vivid blue mountain larkspur as well.

Continuing toward Castle Pass, hikers will be drawn to the seeps and creeks flowing off Andesite Ridge, where two more species of monkeyflowers can be found. First of all, the spectacular Lewis’ monkeyflower, standing tall in clusters, with inch-long pink blossoms marked with yellow hairs down the throat. Nearby can be found a small yellow cousin, the primrose monkeyflower, nestled way down on the ground.

A third wildflower locale, among many in the region, is the trail to Summit Lake, accessed from the same parking spot as Castle Valley. Head east through the woods. After crossing a creek, the big reward will be an ample stand of alpine lilies, bright orange bell-shaped flowers with maroon flecks in the throat.

Continuing toward Summit Lake, the wildflowers keep appearing ” dainty white Macloskey’s violets and bright pink mountain pride penstemon. As the trail approaches the lake, hikers may see still another variety of monkeyflower, this time the tiny Torrey’s monkeyflower which will be carpeting the soil, and another species of penstemon … azure penstemon, whose bright yellow buds burst open into vibrant purply-blue flowers.

Obviously, the Sierra hold a veritable treasure trove of wildflowers, and all of the species mentioned above are described fully in Wildflowers of Nevada and Placer Counties, California. The book is available in several sites around Truckee and north Tahoe, including bookstores, nurseries and state parks. An up-to-date listing of stores can be found on the Redbud website: http://www.redbud-cnps.org.