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Enchanting times in the Applegate

APPLEGATE VALLEY — Old friends and new.

Yes, there were old friends and new people on a recent hike into the Applegate Valley's Enchanting Forest. But this time around, the old and new refer to other species — flowers. Flowers familiar and new, in a forest as enchanting as its name.

Our hiking group passed through forest openings brightly colored and enlivened with familiar flowers — larkspur, wild strawberry, balsam root, arnica, Indian paintbrush and, most abundantly and gloriously, shooting stars. I stayed lockstep behind a person knowledgeable who recited the names of those and other new-to-me flowers — blue dicks, hounds tongue and more.

The trail climbs through a forest of Oregon oak and madrone. In a half-mile the trail passes a much photographed sight — the remains of a bullet-riddled, paint-splotched trailside pickup truck. Farther on, as the trail makes a steady rise along Slagle Creek, are stands of Douglas fir, big leaf maple and Ponderosa pine. It's said the trail passes through one of Southern Oregon's few remnant, low-elevation, old-growth forests.

It was on the final steep climb to the trail's saddle when, separated from the others, my flickering eyes sighted a lone scarlet fritillaria, a flower native to southwest Oregon. Several years ago I'd seen some on a section of trail behind Jacksonville's Britt Garden. For some reason fritillarias — bell-shaped flowers that are scarlet colored and speckled with yellow insides — remain planted in my not-so-fertile memory garden.

Phase one of our hike ended shortly uphill from the fritillaria, where ownership transfers from Bureau of Land Management to private property. From the saddle we admired the view before doubling back. But instead of simply going 2.2 miles directly back to the trailhead, located where the pavement on Slagle Creek Road ends, we took a planned detour.

On the hike up, we'd passed a sign at the .7-mile mark for the 1.5-mile long Felton Memorial Trail. This time we took the turn, following a gently undulating path. The delights literally blossomed in the many openings, fields large and small bursting and pulsating with purple shooting stars intermingled with erect, leafy stemmed, magenta-colored Indian warriors.

Some sources say the name, Indian warrior, literally stems from the dark, wine-red, club-shaped flower because it resembles the headdress of an Indian brave. Botany sources say Indian warrior, or Pedicularis Densiflora in Latin, was used medicinally as a muscle relaxant and is smoked for its narcotic effects. The flower is native to Oregon and California in dense dry oak and pine forests, like those in the Enchanted Forest.

The out-and-back Felton Memorial Trail ends at a marble and metal plaque in the ground that commemorates three men — BLM employee Jeffrey Felton, pilot Dale Siegel and logger Karl Hansen — who died March 16, 1993, in a helicopter crash during a timber operation.

The return trip from the memorial offers two options: following the same trail back to the trailhead or, from the main trail, forking off on a short loop back to the trailhead. The 7½-mile route we followed can be shortened to about 4½ miles by doing only the Felton out-and-back. However it's done, openings along the return route offer views of the Slagle Creek valley and its many vineyards.

Our divine outing ended with lunch and wine at Schmidt Family Vineyards. Other nearby vineyards include Troon, Rosella's and Serra.

Spring is the season for wildflowers, some old favorites, other new surprises. And a forest trail that indeed is enchanting.

— Reach Lee Juillerat at 337lee337@charter.net or 541-880-4139.

Hikers head past on old, bullet-riddled car on the Enchanted Trail in the Applegate Valley. [Photo by Lee Juillerat]