Tuesday, August 13, 2019

Awesome 3.5-Mile Loop in Great Basin National Park: South Fork Baker

 I wanted to do a short hike in Great Basin National Park, so I headed up to the Baker Creek trailhead. My plan was to go 1.6 miles up that trail, then take the cutoff to South Fork Baker and come down that. Altogether, it's about 3.5 miles with some elevation gain (like just about every trail in the park!).

The trail starts through low vegetation, with distant views of mountaintops.

Since it was early August, the flowers were very different from those blooming in June. Here's sulphur buckwheat (Eriogonum umbellatum), so bright yellow that it really stands out.

And this little white flower with the long bladder behind it is Douglas' Catchfly (Silene douglasii). I don't see it often, so I was pretty excited.

This buckwheat looks so different from most of the others, and it's found in many places in the park in the 8,000-9,000 foot range. It's Redroot Buckwheat (Eriogonum racemosum). It grows up to one or two feet high, and the pretty pink flowers grow along the stems.

As the trail goes higher, you leave the switchbacks through the sagebrush steppe and enter the riparian area. Aspens line the trail. 

And at 1.6 miles, you come to a sign and a bench. The sign points the way to the South Fork Baker loop. The bench is a new addition this year.

Nestled among the conifer needles on the forest floor is Longstalk Starwort (Stellaria longipes).

Then it was time to cross Baker Creek on the footbridge. The creek has gone down a lot from its peak flow in June.

 It's a steep uphill from the bridge up to some ponderosa pines on the ridge. Then it's a gentle descent into one of the most beautiful places in the park, the big South Fork Baker meadow. The trail runs along the edge of it, dancing into the aspens.

The Timothy (Phleum pratense) looked really cool backlit.


I also noticed this big, blooming bush. I didn't know what it was, but when I uploaded the photo to iNaturalist, it suggested Shrubby Cinquefoil (Dasiphora fruticosa), which I think fits. 

South Fork Baker Creek is such a pretty creek. For a short stretch, the creek is right next to the trail. Then it starts cascading down a steep section.

I spotted a glimpse of red, and it turned out to be Western Columbine (Aquilegia formosa).

Somewhere along this next section of trail, I heard a "Hello," looked behind me, and found a trail runner. I stepped to the side so he could pass. He was the only other person I saw on the loop.

This bush was another surprise for me, but fortunately iNaturalist helped me out here, too. This is Ocean Spray (Holodiscus discolor).

This Fritillary butterfly was hanging out on the sulphur buckwheat.

Near the trailhead I found some Seep Monkeyflower (Erythranthe guttata)--apparently there's been a genus name change. Generally scientific names stay the same and common names can vary. But once in awhile, someone takes a closer look at a group of flowers and finds out that they are in a different genus. DNA analysis has been changing things extra fast over the past 20 years. 

And I'll end with a favorite: Columbia Monkshood (Aconitum columbianum).
This is a very fun trail with lots of variety, and differing wildflowers all summer, so it's worth doing more than once.

If you're interested in using iNaturalist, there's a Great Basin National Park page set up. And I've been impressed with how you can upload a photo of a plant, animal, or insect, and it will give you some best guesses.

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