Saturday, April 17, 2021

Cathedral Hills

What a difference a few months can make! I had first visited Cathedral Hills in late December and the paths were frosted with ice and the woods were mostly brown. Despite those failings, I had been impressed enough with the park that I volunteered to lead a Friends of the Umpqua outing there and about 20 of us set out from the Sky Crest Trailhead. Within a few yards into this hike, a veritable army of showy and ornate red Indian Warrior wildflower plumes were marching into battle to champion the cause of turning green forests red. Clearly, this spring hike would in no way resemble my comparatively drab December foray.

Indian Warriors wins "Best Wildflower in Show"

I'm not sure how a vibrantly colored plume of a wildflower became known as Indian Warrior but it's a more intriguing moniker than pedicularis densiflora, its scientific name. The warriors grow a foot or so high and are parasitic when convenient, usually in the presence of manzanita or madrone. Just like some children, the plants are perfectly capable of living on their own but will parasitize when given the opportunity. In this case, the opportunity presenting itself is when the aforementioned manzanita and madrone root systems are nearby and readily available to be tapped into by the Indian Warriors. If it seems like I've done some undue research on these remarkable plants, it's because I'd never seen them before until I spotted my first specimen about two inches into the hike.

Elegant cat's ear

Even without the eye-catching Indian Warriors, this would have been a good wildflower hike. The terrain was dotted with thin stands of madrone, oak, manzanita, and assorted conifer trees. The vegetation underneath the trees was grassy and green, with wildflowers adding some additional colors to the rampant greenery. Bright magenta-colored shooting stars were displaying their floral pyrotechnics, aided and abetted by small fawn lilies of some sort. California red bells were a thing, and so were dark purple larkspurs to go along with all the other usual springtime suspects.

Trail through oaks either benign or poison

While the wildflowers and spring greenery would have made this a great hike even in poor weather, we enjoyed the extra luxury of hiking on a superb spring day. The sky was colored a deep blue, the air was crisp and clear, and the temperature was mild and perfect for hiking in. The bright sunlight accentuated the virtual rainbow along the trail, ranging from orange-trunked madrones, burgundy-limbed manzanita, bright green oak leaves just leafing out, and the floral rainbow dominated by the scarlet Indian Warriors. There was some reddery to counterpoint the greenery unfortunately, and I refer to the oily red new leaves of poison oak, which was everywhere. Fortunately the wide and well-groomed trails kept the evil itch-spawning plant at bay.

Brought them all back, too!

As leader in charge of this hike and the only one of twenty Friends of the Umpqua members with any knowledge of Cathedral Hills Park, it was incumbent on me not to misplace any of our hikers, an easy thing to do given the plethora of trails and intersections thereof. I'm going to give myself a well-deserved pat on the back here, for having the wisdom and foresight to supply all participants with a map and cue sheet. That way, all the speedier hikers could go on at their own pace while we laggards lagged behind at our own laggardly "speed". I'm glad to report that due to and under my awesome leadership, nobody got lost.

Trail on a wooded ridge crest

Basically our route, beginning at Sky Crest Trailhead, contoured around the east side of the park, dropping down to popular and busy Espy Trailhead. After eating lunch at the ruins of some old structure overgrown by vegetation, we tackled the lone uphill portion of this hike, heading up to the aptly named Sky Crest Trailhead. Here the Outback Loop traces a route atop a ridge photogenically wooded with tall manzanita bushes and scraggly oak trees. Brief openings in the manzanita and trees provided vistas of nearby Peak 3792 and the distant mountain ranges escorting the Rogue River to the sea.

California ground cones were common
only in one spot (that we noticed)

As we crested the high point of the hike, Diane noticed a ground cone blooming underneath a stand of madrone trees. And then we noticed another and another and another, and so on and so forth. There literally hundreds of them, looking like, well, looking like pine cones on the ground, which would be quite the trick for the non-coniferous madrones. Ground cones do not have chlorophyll, so they parasitically attach themselves to the root systems of madrone trees, just like the plentiful Indian Warriors. With so much leeching and grifting off the madrones taking place, it's a wonder that they thrive as they do.

Macro lenses make tiny baby stars look
much larger than they really are

This was the first time that any of my companions had ever hiked at Cathedral Hills and all were duly impressed, with several telling me that they'd have to make this a regular spring destination. Despite the accolades, my tip jar still remained empty but to be honest, enjoying a superb woodland hike with good friends was payment enough!

Shadows play upon the trail

For more photos of this hike, please visit the Flickr album.

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