Early spring at the Springs

Mar 19, 2013
Last Saturday seemed like a perfect day for an early spring adventure. After months of snow and fun in the snow, I was ready for a change.

Last Saturday seemed like a perfect day for an early spring adventure. After months of snow and fun in the snow, I was ready for a change. Saturday morning dawned warm with nice sunshine and the promise of spring. So off we went.

The Alder Springs Trail is off of Holmes Road, down by Lower Bridge Way, tracing the path of the old Santiam Wagon Road. The gate at the trail does not open until March 31, so to reach the trailhead, you have to bike the remaining five miles of road. We unloaded our mountain bikes, walked them up the hill then rode on the dry, flattish road all the way to the trail head.

I am NOT a bicycle rider but it was a great ride, along the top of a canyon, through the sagebrush, in the sunshine and with views of ALL the Cascade Mountains, snow covered and sparkly.  We got to the trailhead, had a snack, locked our bikes to a juniper and headed down the trail to Whychus Creek.

Spring had sprung on the trail! Littered sparsely in the dry, flat, sandy, lava rock, the Gold Stars are already out. Gold Stars (Crocidium multicaule) are short, little yellow flowers. They are one of the first spring wildflowers and they weigh in at only six inches tall with yellow petals that are about ¼ inch long. These flowers aren’t super lovely individually, but in a sandy field, the spring populations can be dense and the bright yellow carpet of flowers is a sure sign of the warmth to come. Gold Stars look like little yellow squat soldiers, the first warriors to brave a new season

Winding down into the canyon, we heard a Canyon Wren (Catherpes mexicanus). This bird sings sweet, descending liquid notes echoing off the canyon walls. Canyon wrens are one of the least studied birds in Oregon partly because they have inaccessible habitat in cliffs and canyons. Some of these birds are resident, but some are migratory. When they are singing so sweetly, it means that breeding season is here. Once you hear the song of the Canyon Wren, you never forget it. For me it is the easiest bird song to recognize!

We put on our sandals at Whychus Creek. I fling my boots on my left shoulder and follow my husband across the rushing creek. The water was up to my knees and it was….OH SO COLD. A delicious freezing cold that was bracing to say the least. Not for the faint of heart!

The two mile hike to the confluence went quickly. The narrow trail is lined with thick grasses, and is still muddy in a few places. At the confluence of Whychus Creek and the Deschutes River, we had our lunch, sat in the sun, watched four people hike the Scout Camp Trail across the canyon. We relaxed under the ponderosas at rivers edge before it was time to head back.

On our return, we walked back along the creek, crossed Whychus Creek again and headed up out of the canyon towards our bikes. I stopped for a rest on the rocky ridge and happened to look down, and just at the edge of the rock was a little clump of Prairie Star flower (lithophragma species). This plant is part of the Saxifrage family. It is another one of the first flowers of spring. You find it on the dry sagebrush-steppe, on rocky ridges near grassy hillsides. It has very weak, almost translucent, reddish stem up to 12 inches tall. The flowers are white to pinkish and are deeply lobed. Ending our hike with this delicate and sweet flower was another sure sign of spring. 

The best part of our hike: there was not ONE person on the trail! There are only a couple weeks left before the gate opens and once it does, it can get crowded at Alder Springs. Jump now for a great adventure!

Taylor, Ronald J. Sagebrush Country, A Wildflower Sanctuary: Mountain Press Publishing Company.1992
Marshall, Hunter and Contreras. Birds of Oregon, A General Reference: Oregon State University Press, Corvallis, Oregon.2003