Thursday, July 30, 2020

Tire Mountain

In spring, expansive green meadows and vibrant wildflowers draw throngs of admirers to the vibrant slopes of Tire Mountain. Simply stated, Tire Mountain is one of the best wildflower hikes in all of southern Oregon and is certainly worthy of all the attention and worship. However, when summer arrives, the meadows dry out, the flowers become seeds, and the cruelly fickle hordes of hikers abandon Tire Mountain, leaving the humble mountain bereft, loveless, and lonely. But, having visited Tire Mountain recently, I can state the mountain in summer still puts on a show and is definitely deserving of some adulation after the spring floral fireworks have faded into yesterseason.

A beautifully shaded forest
I had taken a week and a half off of hiking due to a stupid tweaked back so I wasn’t really expecting to stride athletically up and down steep trails with nary a drop of perspiration. It was no surprise then that my legs were complaining pretty much at the start when the trail angled uphill through a dark and shady forest. Accordingly, I adjusted my gait to a more measured hiking rhythm and life was pretty comfortable hiking-wise from there on in. Because of my relaxed pace and my well known proclivity to stop frequently for photography, my six comrades left me behind and basically I hiked as alone and lonely as Tire Mountain on a warm summer day.

 Slime mold appeals to my little boy sensibilities
At the start, the forest was lush and green, with ferns and many other verdant plants brushing up against hikers’ legs as they walked by, it was a good thing there was no poison oak in the area! A few plant species served up some desultory floral offerings such as ram’s horn pedicularis, inside-out flower, and Scouler’s harebell. Not as attractive, but maybe more interesting, were splotches of slime mold, looking all the world like dog barf, which would explain why one particular species of slime mold is actually called dog vomit slime mold.

A bit of a cliff hugger, here
The first mile and a half or so of the hike is a workmanlike climb through the forest for the sole purpose of getting into the large meadows higher up. Advance notice of the meadow splendors to come was given when the trail passed through a series of smaller pastures where the thick forest started thinning out. Those lovely erstwhile green meadows of spring were now acres and acres of dry brown grass, parching underneath the hot summer sun. The terms "wildfire season" and "summer" can be used interchangeably in southern Oregon and while no fires were burning nearby, smoke from our neighbor to the south (California) hazed up the nice view of the North Fork Willamette River valley seen from intermittent open spots in the forest.

Peace in a forest canopy
As the trail gained miles and elevation, vine maple began to assert itself in the forest, making for a nice shady hike underneath the green canopy of leaves illuminated by the bright July sun. In places, thick patches of ocean spray bushes were blooming underneath the trees, making both bees and butterflies happy. Several small seeps ran across the trail, the water from the springs turning the local greenery even greener. 

One single farewell-to-spring
As stated, the expansive meadows that make Tire Mountain so renowned were no longer green. However, farewell-to-spring, a member of the clarkia family, was putting on a fantastic display, making the meadows still a worthwhile destination in summer. Cups of the pink flower with its distinguishing red splotches colored up the hillsides, bringing all hiking to a screeching halt while the camera busily engaged in taking photos of flower after flower. Ookow and elegant brodiaea contributed their own little brand of lavender to all the pink and red emanating from the clarkia en masse.

In the deep dark woods
The latter portion of the hike (or “life after meadows” as we like to call it) was a steady uphill walk to the summit of Tire Mountain. The forest was sublime here, and the hike took place in the deep dark interior thereof. While uphill, the grade wasn’t too taxing which was fine with me and my sore back. That would change about a half-mile from the finish, when the path went legitimately steep on us as it switchbacked up to the Tire Mountain summit. The trail had not seen recent maintenance so we had to clamber over a series of fallen trees and maybe a landslide or two.

Tire Mountain
As an end destination, Tire Mountain's summit underwhelms. There used to be a lookout here but it has long since been removed. The brushy summit is ringed with trees which effectively block any would-be view. But we do hike here for some extra miles and a sense of destination and after meeting both those objectives by reaching the summit, we immediately turned around and ate lunch in the deep dark forest below the mountain top.

"Time to carry me! "
The obvious line of humor in closing would be something about being tired on Tire Mountain but I’ve worked that one to death in prior blogs, no sense rehashing that jaded and faded old pun. Maybe I could go with a slight variation on the theme with "I hiked Tire Mountain and was tired. I then hiked Tire Mountain again and was retired!", but we'll let canine friend Arlie have the final word. Using nonverbal communication much more eloquent and expressive than any prose I could conceivably come up with, he theatrically threw himself down at the trailhead, his whole body posture saying “I am so tired!”

Worst camouflage ever!
For more photos of this hike, please visit the Flickr album.

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