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MailTribune.com
  • Botany in the Boulders

    Hike from Rough & Ready Botanical Wayside to Seats Dam provides beauty and diversity
  • Rough & Ready Creek is known for its spring display of rare, diverse and endemic flowering plant communities. Botanists come to the Botanical Wayside located off Highway 199 just north of O'Brien, and the more adventurous seek the watershed's higher reaches.
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  • Rough & Ready Creek is known for its spring display of rare, diverse and endemic flowering plant communities. Botanists come to the Botanical Wayside located off Highway 199 just north of O'Brien, and the more adventurous seek the watershed's higher reaches.
    But after the flowers bloom, the botanical wayside, managed cooperatively by the U.S. Forest Service and Bureau of Land Management, becomes little more than a rest stop. Which is a mystery, considering that the creek's channels are most accessible in the late summer and early fall when stream flows are low. And large, deep pools glisten in the sun, inviting swimmers even into late October.
    This 5-mile, difficult to strenuous cross-country hike is only for hikers who are well acquainted with their compass, map and balance. Wear ankle-supporting shoes for rock hopping, and bring sandals for walking in the creek. Download and print the O'Brien 7.5 Minute Series map for free from maps.usgs.gov. Most of this route, which is available online for GPS and Google Maps users, is inaccessible during the wetter months of the year.
    From the Rough & Ready Botanical Wayside on Highway 199, head west on the well marked path. The first quarter-mile or so follows a path groomed well enough for a stroller, but the rest requires a measure of fitness. The mouth of the creek may be at a meek trickle, but don't be fooled. Hydrologic paradise exists just higher up.
    The groomed path terminates just past a picnic bench, but a dim road continues upstream. Disregard the first two faint junctions heading left, south and toward the creek. You will find yourself heading northwest and away from Rough & Ready.
    About three-quarters of a mile into the hike, while heading northwesterly, pass a creek and head southwest on the unmarked road back toward Rough & Ready Creek. The closed road follows this diversion all the way to its source, Seats Dam. Keep an eye on your map and compass and don't get confused in this hypnotic maize of antiquated, unsigned roads.
    Seats Dam, which should first be located on the USGS map, is just above a huge display of bedrock exposed by the suspended flow. The geologic display is nothing short of fascinating, and probably a terminus for raging rock hounds.
    Seats Dam, complete with a rope swing, is a popular spot for locals to visit on hot days when the Illinois River feels like a bathtub. The deep pools below and above the dam are ideal for swimming. Keep heading upstream on the creek's north side, over Parker Creek, which offers views of the Cascades and a display of old-growth trees. In these riparian pockets, the vegetation suddenly seems happy — a stark contrast from the trees and shrubs that appear to barely push themselves out of the arid, red soils of Rough & Ready's open plain.
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