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Flower show on Jeffrey Pine Loop

Come spring, the flowers start blooming in southwest Oregon's Illinois River Valley, and if you don't get out soon enough, you might not have the chance to see them all. That's because the flower season can stretch wide, and different flowers bloom at different times.

So, step into the spring bloom now with this easy half-day adventure just off Highway 199. And bring the whole family — the boardwalk and Jeffrey Pine trails are for everyone.

From Redwood Highway 199, about 3.5-miles south of Selma, drive west on Eight Dollar Mountain Road. The Eight Dollar Mountain Boardwalk trailhead is well marked about a mile from the highway. Up the hill are a couple of handicapped parking spaces and a vault toilet, as well as some interpretive signs.

Operated by the Bureau of Land Management, the wide path is raised above a 1,200-acre Area of Critical Environmental Concern (ACEC). Having a cleverly installed platform allows users to see this area without soaking their boots or jeopardizing wet, sensitive areas.

The 1/8-mile boardwalk boasts a monster-sized Darlingtonia fen, a long list of flowers and interpretive signs to help you identify them. Even if you don't see the flowers in bloom, study up because you might see them on the 1-mile Jeffrey Pine Loop that originates from the same trailhead.

The boardwalk trail was built to facilitate wheelchairs; the Jeffrey Pine Loop was not. But it's an easy hike and only one mile, plus it has some shade. From the trailhead, hike downhill for a short distance and head left at the first junction. Jeffrey Pines aren't the only thing you'll find here.

In early spring come for the purple shooting stars, Bolander lilies and other small flowers, followed by a waft of wild azaleas that grow near the water. Check out the old ditches built by hydraulic miners, too. Crews would divert water into flumes to create an immense amount of water pressure.

They'd use that pressure to blast the ground with giant water cannons, then sift through the loose material for gold and other heavy metals. While it was probably a productive method of mining, it occurred near wet areas prone to erosion.

Ever seen a kid blast a small mud pit into their parent's lawn with a garden hose? Now imagine taking the biggest fire hose you can fathom and doing the same thing to the side of a mountain. That's hydraulic mining, and it has a long history in the Siskiyou backcountry.

The trail enters a shady area and descends to the Illinois River's banks. The Jeffrey Pine Loop was recently built, so the reason you may see grass growing straight from the tread is because few people have hiked it.

Before the loop heads uphill and back to the trailhead, there is a junction with the Little Falls Trail. You can follow it west 1.25 miles to Little Falls, or go ahead and finish the 1-mile loop.

This itinerary has many possible extensions, including other nearby trails and a drive along the T.J. Howell Botanical Drive. No matter how you experience Eight Dollar Mountain, at some point you're going to wonder about the name.

There are tall tales about $8 shoes and $8 gold nuggets, but the truth is, nobody knows. Between the flowers, river, the relics and the history, Eight Dollar Mountain is begging travelers to write a story of their own.

Freelance writer Gabriel Howe lives in Ashland and is founder and chair of the Siskiyou Mountain Club. Contact him at howegabe@gmail.com.

Bolander's lily on Jeffrey Pine Loop. - Photo courtesy of Gabriel Howe