Spring Break ’15 And Beyond -Hunting the Dwarf Woolly Meadowfoam

Before Spring Break, I had never heard of a Dwarf Woolly Meadowfoam, and if I were forced to make a guess as to what it was I would probably hazard that it was some hipster shade of paint that you could use to be as stylish as IKEA. Instead, I learned that it is a sub species of the Woolly Meadowfoam (i.e. Limnanthes floccosa for all my readers well versed in their botany) flower that is found in southern Oregon and northern California. What would cause men to leave their homes and seek out this particular plant, you may ask? Well the dwarf variety is unique in that it is only found on the Table Rocks, which are two geologic structures near here that are so named due to their flat tops.

View of Lower Table Rock
View of Lower Table Rock

My curiosity had been piqued over spring break, thanks to a simple conversation and a hike with Michelle, a fellow film student at SOU. The conversation began with discussing how the Table Rocks formed, her claiming that they were formed by a volcano, and I scoffing and dismissing this notion because they were not volcanic in structure. If they were from volcanoes, I presumed, they would have been conical shaped, rather than the flat topped protrusions that they were.

Michelle, Brittney (Michelle’s chum from childhood), and I summitted Upper Table Rock, which is so named due to its relative location on the Rogue River, not due to it’s elevation as I had thought. At the top, fields of small yellow flowers dotted the relatively flat landscape, as well as many small igneous rocks that made hikers wary and also made me rethink my theory of the formation of these formations.

It turns out, the rocks were made by volcanoes, but not in the way I would have expected. Ages ago, a large volcano erupted and lined the Rogue Valley with a thick layer of sediment. In time, the layer of volcanic material eroded, and the only structures that did not erode are, in fact, Upper and Lower Table Rock. .

The view from the top is spectacular, looking out at the Rogue Valley and the farmlands that partition the land below. At this height, some 800 feet above the valley below, hawks soar at eye-level and one stands above the tops of the trees. We sat with our feet hanging over the edge, and ate oranges and pop tarts, and talked of life. We commented on the sheer variety of flowers (we had seen roughly five different types on the hike up and on the top), and Michelle mentioned that one of these was endemic to this area. My nerd began to show as I peppered her with questions about which flowers those were and how this “this area” truly was.

When I got home, I did a little research and found it was the dwarf woolly meadowfoam (which, I found, is difficult to say five times fast) that was found only on the Table Rocks. I didn’t remember seeing it, so I decided to go back. I had a relatively short window to find them, as they flourish beside the vernal pools atop the rocks, which I imagine will dry up as soon as summer’s heat hits in full force.

This time I was alone and armed with a camera. The hike up is not too difficult, as evidenced by the fact that it is such a popular hike, especially among parents with small children. Whereas last time we stayed on one portion of the top, this time I decided to venture farther. Essentially, Upper Table Rock is ‘U’ shaped, and the majority of hikers spend their time on one small part of one of the prongs. I learned how both the flatness and the distances were deceptive: small mounds rose and fell and near the edge of the rock small ravines separated different land masses. Walking from one end to another is no easy task, and after hiking an hour I feel as if I had only gone halfway across (remembering that it is ‘U’ shaped, the prongs are narrow, but to travel from the top to the bottom is what I am talking about). There were plenty of small pools, each lined with a gathering of different wild flowers (including about four not pictured, but none were the dwarf woolly meadowfoam.

A Red Bell
A Red Bell
Miniature Lupines
Miniature Lupines
Common Camas
Common Camas

Far off in the distance, I saw a bizarre white building, so of course this was where I headed. On the way, I found what had once been a wire fence, but now all the wires were on the ground the sign denoted it as BLM (and therefore public) land, so I thought nothing of it as I stepped over it and towards the white structure. On my way, I found a small depression of land, with scattered oak and madrone trees, but the grasses beneath were noticeable different. I went to investigate, and found the plant’s were ones that flourished around water! After making the mistake of stepping into the marsh-like land, I circled the area slowly, until I came upon a tiny, solitary white flower. It was so small it’s a wonder I didn’t simply step on it (my shoe and sock was wet, which in turn dampened my disposition). No larger than a dime, as I looked closer I was filled with elation – this was it! This one flower was the dwarf woolly meadowfoam! It was unmistakable. I can’t really say why I felt so triumphant after finding such a tiny flower, but I think it had to do with the fact that in an entire day of hiking, I had only seen one small and shy flower. It made me wonder how many even were growing out here, especially since they could be found nowhere else in the world. IMG_3751

After congratulating myself and snapping this picture, I had to continue on, to discover the mystery of the white building. I discovered it had something to do with air traffic control, a conical shaped obelisk atop a flat, nondescript building surrounded by wooden fences that warned people to keep out, but the graffiti on the building suggested the security may not have been as tight as the formidable signs would suggest. I found there was also some overgrown tire tracks, which also was surprising, for I didn’t know of any roads that lead up to the top.

I followed this for some time, until unwittingly stepping into another wet area, and decided to forge my way back. The only item of note on my way back was the fact that I entered a small, thickly wooded grove that had a layer of poison oak at the base. I tried to circumnavigate the grove, and ended up in a labyrinth of small shrubs that were still just taller than me. As I forged a path that seemed to head in the right direction, finally I came out into a clearing and realized that I was nowhere near where I thought I was. My only guess is that I entered some sort of time/space portal that was in the shape of a grove, and that I somehow transported to a different part of the top of Upper Table Rock. That or somehow I was disoriented enough to lose where I was.

I made it back down, pushing my way through hordes of school children, and thought about the area I went to. By my estimates, probably only ten percent of people who hike to the summit would go to the area where I went. The majority are content to stay on the one part, which is still quite scenic. However, I think that wherever there is open land that is unfamiliar, there will be people like me, who may get lost in small woodlands, but who will explore and satiate their own curiosity, and could end up finding a different type of treasure.

So, readers, I suppose I want to impart that you should stay curious, and keep exploring until you cannot anymore. Until next time, enjoy your journey.

 From my first venture up to Lower Table Rock, with the ever happy Sara

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