Today I went geocaching in the Starkey Experimental Forest and Range, west of La Grande. This is also part of the Wallowa Whitman National Forest, and is a forest and range management research station.
BEAUTIFUL. The Starkey Forest covers 40 square miles, and contains a wide range of habitats- sagebrush, pine forest, riparian/stream systems, marshy areas, and open grassland. And today was the first time this year I've been enveloped in the glorious sun-warmed ponderosa pine perfume. Ahhh.
Sagebrush ecosystems are deceptively bland from a distance. Up close, there are so many pretty plants, especially during wildflower season. This is an Indian paintbrush species, I think Castilleja flava.
My first geocache was in a stream valley. So pretty.
I got to the parking spot about 9:45. I was walking happily along the path, enjoying the scenery and scanning around, when I glanced across the embankment to my left. I did a literal double-take, as I registered what I had just seen.
This is Sierra bog orchid (Platanthera dilatata var. leuchostachys) and it is not only beautiful, it's a species I haven't seen before!
There were dozens of plants growing along the embankment, which was boggy and wet from a spring seeping out of the hillside. Orchids are the coolest plants ever.
So that was the icing on the cake of my wonderful outdoor day, and it wasn't even 10am yet. But wait, there's more!
After I finished taking pictures of the orchids, I continued on toward the geocache. I hadn't gone more than 10 feet when this beauty landed right in front of me.
This is an Acmon blue butterfly (Plebejus acmon), a new species for me!
It was now just after 10am, and I still hadn't gotten to any geocaches, but my day was more than complete with a new orchid and a new butterfly. But wait, there's more!
As I rounded the last corner of the path, I saw a tall flash of fuchsia on the other side of the stream. What what?! Over the barbed wire fence I went, off came my boots and socks, and I forded the stream.
This is not an orchid, but it's a beautiful wildflower that I have wanted to see for more than a decade. Ever since 2001, in fact, when I moved from the east coast to Washington State and started researching what new sorts of things I might see.
It's called the elephant's head flower (Pedicularis groenlandica). Can you see why?
I sat there on the stream bank, in the middle of a patch of about 20 of these flowers, beaming with glee. This is the most delightful wildflower I've ever seen. Every time I look at this picture I giggle again. Love it!
I eventually did get to the geocache, as well as five others, but the hours spent along Meadow Creek first thing in the morning will linger with me for a long time.