One advantage of living in Southern Oregon is the profusion of local wildflowers and wonderful places to see them. Everyone knows about the wildflowers on Table Rock, but there are many other places to view our local flowers. And this should be a particularly fine year to catch the show.
"Because we've had such a warm winter, there should be profuse displays of wildflowers this year," says Kristin Biechler, treasurer/secretary for the Rogue Group of Sierra Club's Oregon chapter. She recommends Sterling Mine Ditch Trail in the Applegate as a prime area for viewing.
The Sterling Mine Ditch was built in 1877 to bring water from the Little Applegate River for hydraulic mining. A meandering loop trail a little more than eight miles long is a moderately easy hike, with turnarounds along the way for those who don't want to hike the whole length.
"It's a little steep for the first 50 feet, then it smooths out," says Biechler.
Sterling Mine Ditch Trail is off the Little Applegate turnoff of Upper Applegate Road, off Highway 238. Turn right at the ghost town of Buncom. Six miles up Little Applegate Road is the Bear Gulch Trailhead parking area. Half a mile further is the Tunnel Ridge Trailhead, and another mile and a half is the Little Applegate Trailhead. All three parking areas offer access to the mine ditch trail.
Carol Ingelson of Medford leads informal groups on Wednesday hikes for Sierra Club. They will be doing Sterling Mine Ditch several times this year. She also recommends Jacksonville Woodlands for wildflower viewing.
The woodlands are the home of Gentner's fritillary (fritillaria gentneri) a red, bell-shaped flower that is very rare. You can also spot miner's lettuce, shooting star, trillium, bleeding heart, hound's tongue, buttercup and many others.
Jacksonville Woodlands Association sells a brochure, "Visual Guide to Flowering Plants of the Jacksonville Woodlands," to help in identifying the local flowers. It costs $2 and is available in the tourist information center next to the post office on Oregon Street. They also sell a Jacksonville trails map.
The Beekman Loop through Beekman Woods, with its entrance behind Beekman House on East California Street, is a moderately easy, one-mile hike. Sixteen miles of more extensive trails wind behind the Britt Festivals grounds, with an entrance off Highway 238 just outside Jacksonville.
Ingelson says they'll repeat some hikes every two weeks to see new flowers blooming on the trails each time.
"You just have to go out and see what you can see," says Ingelson, commenting on the uncertainty of bloom dates. "If we see (the flowers), it's wonderful and if we don't, we still have a good time."
"The Siskiyou Crest Trail is a beautiful spot for viewing wildflowers," says Sonny Moore, information assistant at Star Ranger Station. (NOTE: You'll have to wait for the snow to melt to get there.)
National Forest Road 20 accesses the Siskiyou Crest Trail between Mount Ashland and Dutchman Peak. Take Interstate 5 to Exit 6 and follow directions to Mount Ashland Ski Area. Forest Road 20 starts at the west end of the second ski-area parking lot. About seven miles up 20 is Grouse Gap, which is a prime wildflower spot. It also has a nice picnic area.
The U.S. Forest Service has a new brochure by the Native Plant Society of Oregon called "Wildflowers of Mount Ashland and the Siskiyou Crest," which gives a map of the crest with eight good areas to visit, along with 82 close-up color photos of the wildflowers found there.
Ingelson recommends two good books for exploring further afield: "100 Hikes in Southern Oregon" by William Sullivan and "Oregon's Best Wildflower Hikes, Southwest Region" by Elizabeth Horn.
So if you have seen the wildflowers on Table Rock, this may be a good year to do a little exploring. Remember to take water, and a picnic lunch is always fun.