To and Around the Lyons Creek Trail, 07-07-23

There was so much to look at during this trip, I know I’ll probably forget something. It was a long day for me, but FUN. My friend and fellow naturalist Roxanne and I documented over 130 species, including over 30 new-to-me “lifer” species. I got up around 5:30 AM, and got myself and my dog Esteban ready for when Roxanne picked us up for a drive to Lyons Creek Trail in the El Dorado National Forest.

To get to the trail is a straight-shot drive up Highway 50 East to Wrights Lake Road, then drive up that road for about 4 miles to get to the well-marked trailhead. You have to make a left turn onto Wrights Lake Road across the freeway with oncoming traffic, so be careful there if you go. And that road is paved but very narrow, so don’t drive too fast.

A few days before going on this trip, I checked out Charlie Russell’s Lyons Creek Wildflowers webpage. I gave me a heads up about the trail and what sorts of flowers we might see there. So helpful!

Roxanne was right on time [as per usual] and we stopped for coffee before heading up Highway 50 to our destination. Along the way, we stopped at the little Bridal Veil Falls on the rights side of the highway. It still had a good amount of water flowing through it.

“…The 150 foot waterfall pours down on massive polished granite boulders… The fall is on Esmeralda Creek, and flows into a  large picturesque pool, dotted with boulders around the border. The creek and falls lie along the Mormon Immigrant Trail, and the Pony Express Trail…”

As you face the falls, there’s a seep that runs along the parking area and the highway to the right, where there was the majority of the plant life today, including alumroot, columbine, sweetclover, and Seep Monkeyflower (the first of four monkeyflowers we saw for the day).

To the left of the falls is a steep cliff face and boulders, and on the ground to the left of that was a collection of Yellow-Faced Bumblebees flying low over and crawling on the ground. Roxanne and I surmised they were “puddling”, collecting water and minerals for themselves and/or for their hive from the moss and rock faces.

“…Like honey bees, B. vosnesenskii are eusocial, colony dwelling bees. Mated queens emerge in early Spring to scout suitable nesting sites, often setting up shop in abandoned rodent dens or other dry hollows in the ground. The queen will raise the first generation of workers, taking care of all the foraging, incubating and tending to the young. Once a workforce has matured, the queen’s function becomes solely reproductive. Mature colonies range from 200-300 individuals…” Bee and Bloom

“…This bee species prefers a select set of genera for foraging purposes. These include: Lupinus, Cirsium, Eriogonum, Phacelia, Clarkia, and Ericameria…” Wikiwand

The cliff face, next to where the bees were, was unusually dry, so the lichen (especially the Dog Pelt and Emery Rock Tripe) which usually clings to it were all desiccated. Rox and I know that some of the adjoining cliff was significantly altered during the torrential spring rains which cause mud- and boulder-slides, and we wondered if there has also been alterations to the water flow at the top of the cliff which in turn affected the waterfall. Where the rocks had formerly gotten a regular supply of splash from the water fall to keep them moist, that splash no linger exists [even though the flow of the waterfall is still healthy]. The loss of the spray also impacted a lot of different plant species which may or may not return. It will be interesting to see how this spot changes with the seasons now.

We then continued up Highway 50 and stopped briefly at a spot where we could see the South Fork of the American River. There were pink and white Sweet Peas, Yellow Salsify, Black Oaks, and Mountain Phacelia, among other plants. The phacelia was the first of three different kinds of phacelia we saw today.

We were then on the road again and found the turn out for Wrights Lake Road, I was very excited to see what we might see.

“…The best wildflower viewing is along the first section of trail between the Lyons Creek Trailhead and the junction with Bloodsucker Lake Trail. Peak flowering time is late June through July. The many wildflowers include alpine lily, Sierra larkspur, western columbine, Leichtlin’s mariposa lily, yampah, spiraea, and bigleaf lupine. At the lakes, enjoy red mountain heather and labrador tea…” US Forest Service

Continuing up Wrights Lake Road, we came to an area where we could see a lot of Deerweed, buckwheat, and other plants, so Rox pulled the car over and we started looking around, taking photos. I immediately set eyes on what, at a distance, looked like a long collection of bright yellow seeds hanging from the side of the flowering head of some kind of heavy grass species. [Can you tell that botany is NOT my specialty? Hah!]

As I got closer, I was surprised to find that I was looking at the under side of an enormous yellow caterpillar, a kind of hornworm. A quick check at iNaturalist proved it was the caterpillar of the White-lined Sphinx Moth, Hyles lineata. This particular moth goes through about 4 instars before pupating (in the ground). In the first photo below, you can see three of the instars on one plant. The largest caterpillar we found was about 4 or 5 inches long!

“…Larvae can occasionally occur in tremendous numbers and can move in hordes in search of food, consuming entire plants and covering roadways in slick masses. Such explosive outbreaks, especially common in the dry country of the west, provide moths that emigrate to colonize more northern areas. There are normally at least two generations per year, with multiple generations in warmer climates…”Wisconsin Horticulture

In the video below, you can see the 5th instar caterpillar wading through and ignoring the deerweed as it goes in search of buckwheat plants.

Also below, is a video of an adult White-Lined Sphinx Moth that I saw at the Sacramento National Wildlife Refuge in 2017. The moths are very large; about the size of a hummingbird, but “fatter”.

“…The flight of sphinx moths is a marvel, for while hovering or accelerating the wings beat so fast that they emit a fluttering buzz — wingbeat frequencies are typically 41 cycles (up and down) per second. To achieve the rate of wingbeats required for hovering and agile flight, white-lined sphinx moths raise their body temperatures higher than that of humans (98.5 degrees); when evening air temperatures are in the range of 60 to 90 degrees, sphinx body temperatures are maintained between 104 and 108 degrees…” University of Colorado

We were so fascinated by the caterpillars that it took a while before we actually started looking at the flowers and other plants in the area again. Here we found more monkeyflowers including the regular yellow Seep Monkeyflower and the tiny pink Brewer’s Monkeyflower

As we drove along, I was seeing a lot of plants on the roadside that I thought were Miner’s Lettuce gone to seed, so I didn’t pay too close attention to them. Then Rox mentioned that she had posted a photo of a plant like that to iNaturalist, thinking it was Miner’s Lettuce and someone pointed out that it was actually a jewelflower plant that was past its prime. Well, then you can be sure I was paying closer attention! Within seconds I found a plant that still had a few lingering flowers on it. Jewelflowers are (visually) one of my favorites, so I was very excited to find some so late in their season.

Among the insects and arachnids that we found along the way included grasshoppers, Bee-flies, Bristle flies, bugs, Stretch Spiders, a Wolf Spider carrying her spiderlings on her back, and a new-to-me metallic green beetle: Boreal Long-Lipped Tiger Beetle. It was at my feet and when I tried to get closer photos of it, it flew off.

And there were butterflies, too, of course along the road and on the trail. Most of them were very uncooperative, but I did manage to get a few photos, including some of the new-to-me Hoary Comma. I’ve seen those in books and always admired their sculpted wings, but I’d never seen one live before.

I guess, also along the insect line was the fact that we saw LOTS of galls on the manzanita trees created in reaction to the Manzanita Leafgall Aphid. There was such a variety in forms, though, that we wondered if maybe there were other various species or subspecies at work. We saw the typical red leaf curling galls, but also saw solitary green pouches and crowds of folds and pouches. Russo doesn’t mention that, but I understand that a lot of gall formers are not necessarily studied in that kind of depth.

“…The manzanita leaf-gall aphid, Tamalia coweni, is a widespread species native to the west coast of North America. This aphid engineers conspicuous red galls on manzanitas (Arctostaphylos species) that serve as domiciles and enriched food resources. As a specialist, Tamalia species are closely associated with rare and endangered manzanita host plants across California landscapes including isolated mountains in the Mojave desert, along coastal chaparral and woodlands, and inland mountains and valleys…” California Conservation Genomics Project

The other insect that made its presence abundantly obvious was the mosquito. We stopped where we saw other different flowers on either side of the road. A mini-waterfall and seeps were there, and the moisture meant the mosquitoes were thick. I had insect repellent, but had left it in the car when I went to look at the flowers, so I got chewed up by the skeeters before I could apply the repellant: on my arms, my hands, my face…and my back and chest right through my clothing! Yikes! In that area, though, we found a lot a lot of new-to-me wildflowers.

Among the flowers we saw were Mountain Bluebells, gooseberries, several kinds of monkeyflowers, irises, Big Deervetch, larkspur, and Jessica’s Stickweed. That was a brand new one for me. At first, I mistook it for Pacific Houndstongue, but the leaves were “wrong”.

As we continued up the road to the trailhead, we noticed that the flowers got smaller the higher we went. An interesting observation, it seemed most obvious in the size of the columbine flowers.

When we got to the Lyon’s Creek Trail trailhead, which is at about 6,700 feet in elevation, we parked by one of the large boulders that sit at the boundary of gravel parking lot, I was pleased by how well things were marked. [Sometimes, you go to a trail and you can barely find the trailhead, or walk the trail if it isn’t well maintained.] We sat on the boulders in the shade and ate our lunch. I was a “bad mommy” and had forgotten to bring Esteban’s water dish, so Rox suggested that I cut down one of our paper coffee cups and use that. It worked perfectly, and Esteban appreciated the extra hydration. Thanks, Roxanne!

When we got on the trail (which was well-marked and relatively easy to walk on for the first part of it, with little elevation gain), we found there was a LOT of larkspur, Five Spot, and Purple Honeysuckle [that was just starting to bloom], along with some Pretty Face, buttercups, and lots of Mariposa Lilies. The Corn Lilies weren’t in bloom yet. Both sides of the trail were lines with Lodgepole Pines.

I could only walk the trail for a short while before the elevation and summer heat got to me, and I needed to go back to the car. I sat with the A/C blowing on me and Esteban while Roxanne completed more of the trail. She stopped when the ground got too muddy and slippery (nearer to the creek). I’d like to go back to this location earlier in the morning and/or on a cooler day when I could get further along the trail, I want to see a Bog Orchid!

Roxanne returning to the car from the trail

We could hear birds along the way, including Steller’s Jays, but I wasn’t able to get any kind of photos of them. I saw, for example, a Green-Tailed Towhee singing next to the car, but as soon as I lifted my camera to get a photo of him, he flew off. So frustrating. That was a lifer bird for me!

Roxanne brought me samples of lichen and fungi she found on our trip, so there was a lot of diversity in species to see: lichen, plants, trees, birds, insects and spiders, fungi…

On the way back to highway, we noticed some of the collections of giant boulders on the side and top of some of the hillsides. Amazing.

Giant clusters of boulders on the hills along Wrights Creek Road.

We took a short “aside” drive up of part of Ice House Road, but didn’t see much of anything, so we turned around and went back to the highway. After a brief stop for some cool drinks, we got back to the house by around 4:30 PM. That was a long — but very fruitful — day for all of us. Esteban did very well for the whole trip, I was very proud of him.

This was hike #38 of my #52hikechallenge for the year.

Species List:

** means it’s a new-to-me “lifer” species. To see more, check out my iNaturalist observations.

  1. Alumroot, Crevice Alumroot, Heuchera micrantha
  2. American Crow, Corvus brachyrhynchos
  3. American Lady Butterfly, Vanessa virginiensis
  4. Antelope Bitterbrush, Purshia tridentata [white bark] **
  5. Bee Fly, Banded Bee Fly, Tribe: Villini
  6. Bee Fly, Greater Bee Fly, Bombylius major
  7. Bees, Yellow-Faced Bumble Bee, Bombus vosnesenskii
  8. Big Deervetch, Hosackia crassifolia **
  9. Bitter Cherry Tree, Prunus emarginata
  10. Blackberry, Armenian Blackberry, Rubus armeniacus
  11. Blue Elderberry, Sambucus nigra cerulea
  12. Bluehead Gilia, Gilia capitata
  13. Boreal Long-Lipped Tiger Beetle, Cicindela longilabris [green] **
  14. Bridges’ Pincushionplant, Navarretia leptalea **
  15. Brown-Eyed Wolf Lichen, Letharia columbiana
  16. Cabbage White Butterfly, Pieris rapae
  17. California Buckeye Chestnut Tree, Aesculus californica
  18. California Incense Cedar, Calocedrus decurrens
  19. California Mountain Ash, Sorbus californica
  20. California Sister Butterfly, Adelpha californica
  21. California Valerian, Valeriana californica [white flowers]
  22. California Wild Grape, Vitis californica
  23. Carrot Plant Bug, Orthops scutellatus **
  24. Cherry Leaf Curl, Taphrina wiesneri [causes witches broom ]
  25. Clover, Long-Stalked Clover, Trifolium longipes **
  26. Clover, Small-Headed Clover, Trifolium microcephalum **
  27. Columbine, Western Columbine, Aquilegia formosa
  28. Common Madia, Madia elegans
  29. Copper Butterfly, Subfamily: Lycaeninae
  30. Corn Lily, Veratrum californicum
  31. Crown Brodiaea, Brodiaea coronaria
  32. Cutworms and Dart Moths, Subfamily: Noctuinae
  33. Dark-Eyed Junco, Junco hyemalis
  34. Deerbrush Ceanothus, Ceanothus integerrimus
  35. Deerweed, Acmispon glaber
  36. Dendroalsia Moss, Dendroalsia abietina
  37. Denseflower Willowherb, Epilobium densiflorum
  38. Diamond Clarkia, Clarkia rhomboidei **
  39. Diffuse Groundsmoke, Gayophytum diffusum
  40. Dock, Curly Dock, Rumex crispus
  41. Dog Pelt Lichen, Peltigera canina
  42. Emery Rocktripe Lichen, Umbilicaria phaea
  43. Fern, Common Bracken, Pteridium aquilinum
  44. Fireweed, Chamaenerion angustifolium
  45. Fivespot, Nemophila maculata
  46. Flies, Bristle Flies, Family: Tachinidae
  47. Flies, Muscoid Flies, Superfamily: Muscoidea
  48. Fringed Willowherb, Epilobium ciliatum
  49. Gooseberry, Mountain Gooseberry, Ribes montigenum
  50. Gooseberry, Sierra Gooseberry, Ribes roezlii
  51. Grasses, Bristly Dogtail Grass, Cynosurus echinatus
  52. Grasses, Intermediate Wheatgrass, Thinopyrum intermedium **
  53. Grasses, Orchard Grass, Dactylis glomerata **
  54. Grasses, Squirreltail Grass, Elymus elymoides
  55. Grasses, Subfamily: Pooideae
  56. Grasshopper, Crackling Forest Grasshopper, Trimerotropis verruculata
  57. Green-Tailed Towhee, Pipilo chlorurus ** [saw & heard but couldn’t photograph]
  58. Hairy Indian Paintbrush, Hairy Owl’s Clover, Castilleja tenuis **
  59. Harvest Brodiaea, Brodiaea elegans
  60. Hoary Comma Butterfly, Polygonia gracilis **
  61. Iris, Rainbow Iris, Iris hartwegii
  62. Jessica’s Stickseed, Hackelia micrantha [blue flowers] **
  63. Koch’s Wolf Spider, Alopecosa kochi [ carrying spiderlings on her back]
  64. Larkspur, Upland Larkspur, Delphinium nuttallianum **
  65. Lupine, Broadleaf Lupine, Lupinus latifolius
  66. Lupine, Silvery Lupine, Lupinus argenteus
  67. Manzanita Leafgall Aphid, Tamalia coweni
  68. Manzanita, Greenleaf Manzanita, Arctostaphylos patula
  69. Maple, Bigleaf Maple, Acer macrophyllum
  70. Meadow Stars, Hesperochiron nanus **
  71. Monkeyflower, Brewer’s Monkeyflower, Erythranthe breweri [tiny] **
  72. Monkeyflower, Kellogg’s Monkeyflower, Diplacus kelloggii [pink]
  73. Monkeyflower, Seep Monkeyflower, Erythranthe guttata [yellow]
  74. Monkeyflower, Tiling’s Monkeyflower Erythranthe tilingii
  75. Mosquito, Super Family: Culicoidea
  76. Mount Hood Pussypaws, Calyptridium umbellatum
  77. Mountain Bluebells, Mertensia ciliata **
  78. Mountain Jewelflower, Streptanthus tortuosus
  79. Mountain Misery, Chamaebatia foliolosa
  80. Mountain Wallflower, Erysimum perenne
  81. Mouse-Ear, Sticky Mouse Ears Chickweed, Cerastium glomeratum
  82. Mullein, Great Mullein, Verbascum thapsus
  83. Mullein, Moth Mullein, Verbascum blattaria [thin stick, white or yellow]
  84. Naked Buckwheat, Eriogonum nudum
  85. Naked Mariposa Lily, Calochortus nudus **
  86. Needleleaf Navarretia, Navarretia intertexta **
  87. Northern Indian Parsnip, Cymopterus terebinthinus **
  88. Oak, California Black Oak, Quercus kelloggii
  89. Oak, Valley Oak, Quercus lobata
  90. One-Seeded Pussypaws, Calyptridium monospermum [small]
  91. Orange Sulphur Butterfly, Colias eurytheme
  92. Pale Swallowtail Butterfly, Papilio eurymedon **
  93. Pea, Broad-Leaved Sweet Pea, Lathyrus latifolius [large]
  94. Penstemon, Mountain Pride Penstemon, Penstemon newberryi [pink]
  95. Penstemon, Roezl’s Penstemon, Penstemon roezlii **
  96. Phacelia, Branching Phacelia, Phacelia ramosissima **
  97. Phacelia, Changeable Phacelia, Phacelia mutabilis **
  98. Phacelia, Mountain Phacelia, Phacelia imbricata [white]
  99. Pine, Lodgepole Pine, Pinus contorta
  100. Pine, Ponderosa Pine, Pinus ponderosa
  101. Pine, Sugar Pine, Pinus lambertiana
  102. Plantainleaf Buttercup, Ranunculus alismifolius
  103. Prettyface, Triteleia ixioides
  104. Primrose, Tall Evening Primrose, Oenothera elata
  105. Purple Salsify, Tragopogon porrifolius
  106. Purpleflower Honeysuckle, Lonicera conjugialis
  107. Queen Anne’s Lace, Daucus carota
  108. Raven, Corvus corax
  109. Rock Wart Lichen, Pertusaria plittiana
  110. Rushes, Dagger Rush, Juncus ensifolius **
  111. Rushes, Irisleaf Rush, Juncus xiphioides
  112. Sculptured Puffball, Calbovista subsculpta
  113. Sedges, Dense Sedge, Carex densa **
  114. Sedges, Tall Flatsedge, Cyperus eragrostis
  115. Sierra Lodgepole Pine, Tamarack Pine, Pinus contorta var. murrayana
  116. Slender Phlox, Microsteris gracilis [tiny, white flowers] **
  117. Spider Wasp, Aporus sp.
  118. Sticky Chinese Houses, Collinsia tinctoria [white] **
  119. Sticky Cinquefoil, Drymocallis glandulosa [fuzzy, yellow flower]
  120. Stonecrop, Moss Pygmy Weed, Crassula connata [tiny, red]
  121. Streambank Bird’s-Foot Trefoil, Hosackia oblongifolia [yellow/white] **
  122. Sunflower, Common Woolly Sunflower, Eriophyllum lanatum
  123. Tall Western Groundsel, Senecio integerrimus
  124. Thimbleberry, Rubus parviflorus **
  125. Thistle, Bull Thistle, Cirsium vulgare
  126. Thyme-Leaved Speedwell, Veronica serpyllifolia **
  127. Turkey Vulture, cathartes aura
  128. Veiled Polypore, Cryptoporus volvatus [“egg shell” like conk on pine trees]
  129. Versicolor Long-Jawed Orbweaver, Tetragnatha versicolor
  130. Wave Moth, Scopula sp.
  131. White Sweetclover, Melilotus albus
  132. White-lined Sphinx Moth, Hyles lineata
  133. Willow, Salix sp.
  134. Wolf Lichen, Letharia vulpina
  135. Yarrow, Common Yarrow, Achillea millefolium
  136. Yellow Cobblestone Lichen, Acarospora socialis
  137. Yellow Salsify, Tragopogon dubius
  138. Yerba Santa, California Yerba Santa, Eriodictyon californicum

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