Hunting the Elusive Bitterroot, Kolob Terrace, Zion 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.

A small flower in with the Lewisia - Antennaria dimorpha (male) - Pussytoes

A small flower in with the Lewisia – Antennaria dimorpha (male) – Pussytoes

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!

The elusive Lewisia brachycalyx near Wildcat Trailhead

The elusive Lewisia brachycalyx

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 - Ranunculus ellipticus

Sagebrush Buttercup – Ranunculus ellipticus

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.

Back through Zion canyon to Tunnel East, and found the Miner’s Lettuce (Claytonia 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!

Miners lettuce - Claytonia perfoliata - at Tunnel East

Miners lettuce – Claytonia perfoliata – at Tunnel East

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