Hunting the Elusive Bitterroot – Kolob Terrace April 2012


I had been meaning to do a flowerwalk for a couple of weeks, and finally shook free for a day, so I headed up to Kolob Terrace. It has been quite dry the last couple months, and this is my first year studying the bloom after a dry winter. I expect the bloom to be quite a bit less than what it has been the last four years – wet years.

I was not prepared for what I found — what I found was amazing. Places that the last couple of years had been bursting with flora – nothing. I stopped at the Right Fork Trailhead – not a single bloom in sight!  Left Fork Trailhead – same story. Wildcat Canyon Trailhead – a place where I had previously seen 20 species within 50 feet of the parking lot – nothing. Amazing.

The elusive Lewisia brachycalyx near Wildcat Trailhead

I’ve been hunting the elusive Bitterroot (Lewisia brachycalyx) in Zion for a couple year now. I saw ONE plant a couple years ago, near the start of the Subway, but none since. Thus my choice of destination today, but now the question was – would there be anything?

I was here to at least get a short hike in, so I grabbed the camera and decided to walk the trail at least as far as the swamp, where the trail crosses a creek about 3/4 mile in. The trail is in the full sun and it was darn HOT; darn hot at 10 AM even, especially for April! I sauntered up the trail, seeing one scraggly Uinta groundsel and no other blooms. About half a mile in I was feeling quite discouraged until… oh my!… right there on the side of the trail – the Lewisia I had been hunting – and along the trail for the next quarter mile – more and more of the little guys.

I tried a few handhelds and knew they would not do. So, back to the car, drink a pint of water, grab the tripod and some quarters, trot back to the Lewisia place. Start shooting!

One of the problems with these small, close-to-the-ground flowers, is that Tom Jones’ bad back and has to be close to the ground too. So I hunkered down in the sunlight and worked the blooms, bracketing for exposure and depth of field, and amazed to find these beauties out here in plain sight. Growing in with the Bitterroot was a smaller, inconspicuous flower, and I had to work that too. Nearby was a stand of Buttercup I had not seen before – Ranunculus ellipticus – so I worked them too. Funny, seeing exactly 3 species, and them all being new to me. Awesome!

Sagebrush Buttercup

Returning to the trailhead, looking closely, another very tiny flower presented itself – so I tried some of that too, but man, by now it was STEAMIN’ hot, and perhaps did not apply enough patience.

Hopped in the car and drove up to Lava Point to see how the roads were looking up there. There were a few patches of ice still on the road out to the point, but they were melting fast and the road is passable to all but the sportiest of cars. The gate to the West Rim Trailhead road was closed, but not locked – I thought this curious until I realized the snow on that road started about 20 feet down it – yeah, that’s got a couple more weeks to go.

Out to Lava Point and again, not a sign of a flower. A couple toppled old fir trees will require some NPS chainsaw work, but otherwise the road was in fine shape. Nice views from up there. I also drove over to the Oak Creek side of things and roads there are in fine shape. Kolob Creek where it crosses the road seems to be down at a low level of flow – 5 cfs? Hard to tell from there. It really HAS been a dry year.

The road to West Rim Trailhead, Ap 22nd. No go!

Back to town, then toward home, with a few stops at the “usual” suspects to see if anything was in bloom. Lower Pine Creek had only a few Zion Milkvetches going, and a Lotus plebeius New Mexico bird’s-foot trefoil or two. Up at Tunnel East I found a few nice tidbits – this little blue weed that is common on disturbed ground in Springdale, a single-leaf Ash in bloom behind the restroom, and a new species for me, Miners lettuce (Montia perfoliata). Again, an awkward position and the hot sun prevented me from getting the “money shot”. At least, that’s my excuse and I’m stickin’ with it!

Hard to believe, these kinds of temps in April, in Zion. 97 degrees F in Springdale today – yikes! Could be a very hot, very dry summer, and my expectations for the wildflower season are low – very low.


About Tom Jones

Tom is the progenitor of Tom's Utah Canyoneering Guide, Utah's premier canyoneering information resource, and Imlay Canyon Gear, America's #1 maker of canyoneering-specific gear. If he's not canyoneering, he's probably snuggled up with a good book.
Posted on Apr 22nd, 2012 Flowerwalk, Tom Jones, Wildcat Trailhead, Wildflowers  ,  ,  ,  ,

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