Hiking the Elkhorns

By Observer staff May 31, 2013 11:04 am

Plant enthusiasts will have a chance to explore high elevations when the Native Plant Society of Oregon has its annual meetings in July. (Gene Yates photo)
Plant enthusiasts will have a chance to explore high elevations when the Native Plant Society of Oregon has its annual meetings in July. (Gene Yates photo)

Native Plant Society plans busy weekend for those willing to hit the trails of Eastern Oregon’s local mountains 

There is a lot to draw people into the mountains of Eastern Oregon.

Some people like to hunt. 

Others like to fish.

But some really like to stretch their legs and see the local mountains close up.

That last group of people will have plenty of opportunities to hit the trails this summer, with a series of hikes set up by the Native Plant Society of Oregon. 

The Elkhorns will be the special focus of several field trips scheduled for July 27.

The field trips are part of the annual three-day meeting of the society at the Geiser Grand Hotel in Baker City starting July 26.

According to a spokesman for the society, the trips will be led by local people who are familiar with the plant life along the routes. Several of the field trips will be in the Elkhorn Mountains. 

This is the first time the NPSO is focusing their trips on the Elkhorns. 

The Wallowas have been a focus in years past, along with other mountain ranges across the state.

“It’s a great opportunity for local people to learn more about the flora of the Elkhorns,” said Susan Geer, president of the William Cusick Chapter of the NPSO.

“The Elkhorns are isolated from the Blue Mountains. In every small mountain range there is bound to be unique plant species.”

Botanist Gene Yates will hike the Elkhorn Crest Trail from Marble Pass through the southern portion of the Elkhorn Crest National Recreation Trail. 

The trail winds through upper mountain big sagebrush, fescue and elk sedge communities before gradually gaining elevation and going through whitebark pine and subalpine fir along the ridge and upper slopes.

“The specialness of these field trips focus on high elevation,” Geer said.

Crawfish Lake

In the Crawfish Lake area of the northern Elkhorn Mountains, it will be botanist Roger Ferriel who will be taking people through the subalpine and wetland plant areas of the Blue Mountains. 

The forest in the area includes Engelmann spruce, lodgepole pine and subalpine fir.

Hoffer Lakes

Another botanist, Jerry Hustafa, will take a field trip  through the Anthony Lakes area around Hoffer Lakes. The trek will visit an easily accessible subalpine lake at an elevation of 7,400 feet and moist meadows, along with boggy areas and perennial streams.

Van Patten Lake

Just south of  the Union-Baker county line will be where Geer heads when she takes a short but steep hike near Van Patten Lake. The hike will offer a chance to view Parry’s arnica, heather and mountain heath, as well as yellow columbine and white-flowered rhododendron in the meadows above and around the lake.

Olive Lake

Another field trip will go in the vicinity of Olive Lake in the Greenhorn Mountains.

Botanist Joan Frazee will take the trail that winds through a mixed conifer forest, marshy meadows containing a variety of sedge species, along with grape fern and moonwort species. There may also be a species of showy moss visible along the trail.

Bigelow Lakes

Mark Darrach, a botanist/geologist, will lead a field trip in the Bigelow Lakes Botanical Area of the Greenhorn Mountains. 

The field trip will start around the Vinegar Hill Scenic Area and see the impact of glaciers on the Greenhorn, Strawberry and Elkhorn mountains. In addition, there will be a field trip to Big Lookout Mountain southeast of Baker City led by ecologist Berta Youtie and seed collector Siri Jackman.

The trail will offer a chance to see Snake River
goldenweed in bloom, as well as excellent mountain views.

Geer said that anyone can sign up for the field trips, but attendees must be members of NPSO. Cost is $25 and is open to all at any time. 

And don’t think you have to be a plant enthusiast to join the NPSO or the
field trips.

“It’s even better if you know nothing because you are surrounded by people who are knowledgeable about plants,” Geer said.

The deadline for early, discounted registration is Saturday, while late registration is accepted until July 1.

For more information about the annual meeting and for registration forms, log on to http:/williamcusick.npsoregon.org.