It was awfully wonderful. But it was also just plain awful.
A recent visit to the Devils Garden was, as always, devilishly delightful. Along with being a place to marvel at nature’s geologic whims, it’s an area alive with colorful gardens of native wildflowers.
But it was also awful to see what thoughtless people can do, a bitter example of how jaded, misguided people can devastate a beautiful, natural landscape. Sections near dirt roads have been ripped and rutted, likely stunting any further growth by rare and unusual plants and flowers. Tracks in the fragile soil indicate the willful destruction was done by hormone-addled four-wheelers with a who-gives-a-damn attitude. In an era when people complain about too much government regulation, it’s action like those at the Devils Garden that, unfortunately, justifies and amplifies calls for more controls.
The man-caused damaged was saddening and maddening, but it couldn’t overcome the ever-present wonder of the Garden’s fantasia-esque geologic maze or its visually delicious potpourri of flowers. My hiking companion, Niel Barrett, was bubbling with excitement as our wanderings revealed an ever-changing cascade of flowers in a seemingly impossible to classify varieties of shapes and colors.
Niel gleefully shouted out names of many of the wildflowers, sometimes using their common names, other times their scientific monikers. When he wasn’t certain, Niel used his cell phone to access ”Common Plants of the Upper Klamath Basin,” a 2007 book he’d previously downloaded.
Possibly the biggest surprise were the fields of bitterroot, or Lewisia rediviva. On previous visits, the bitterroots, which range in color from whitish to pink and typically blossom from April to July, were limited to a single section, poking up from seemingly nowhere in the rough, gravelly volcanic sand. Apparently near their peak, during our three-mile circuit we found them throughout most of the Garden, including areas neither of us had previously seen them. Unfortunately, in the area mangled by four-wheelers, many bitterroot and other fragile plants, had been pummeled and ground into oblivion.
Although he’s made frequent visits to Devils Garden, Niel excitedly led the way to areas he hadn’t previously explored, sometimes climbing ragged slopes, wriggling through tight passages or accessing inexplicably shaped lava flows.
Geologically, Devils Garden is the remnants of a hydroclastic volcano flow that over the eons has weathered and eroded into a maze of unpredictable shapes. “Hydro” refers to the interaction of magma with water and “clastic” refers to the erupting magma shattering as it made contact with water. As geologists explain, as the magma erupted through a body of water, the airborne magma and ash solidified as it landed, created a ruggedly textured landscape of dunes blotted with layers of erratic formations of volcanic tuff.
Amazingly, flowers and other plants have found life in cracks, fissures and gravel-like fields.
Along with the bitterroots, among the flowers Niel was able to identify were forget-me-nots, anemones, sea thrift, bald face waterleaf, western peony, buckwheats (sulfur, rock and cushion), arrowleaf balsamroot, common camas, death camas, Bloomer’s daisy, wild onions, pussypaws, pussy ears, meadow and long-leaf arnica, dwarf and sand lupine, dwarf and yellow monkeyflowers, woodland stars, penstemons, desert celery, larkspur, false and branched Solomon’s seal, bitterbrush, wild currant, chokecherry, several varieties of biscuitroot, sand lily, violets, and shooting star. There was also the delightfully named forked-tooth ookow, or liliaceae, which, according to “Common Plants,” gets its name “from the forked appendages on its stamens.”
More to come
But the varieties seen change almost weekly. Others seen seasonally — and some may be blooming now — include blue and common flax, checker mallow, mule’s ear, white onion, thread-leaf Phacelia, saxifraga, chokecherry, scarlet mimulus, common mallow, foothill death camas, dwarf lupine, lanceleaf stonecrop, Cusick’s paintbrush, narrowleaf goldenweed, woodland start, foothill daisy, white catchfly, and common cryptantha.
Give the Devils Garden it’s due — it is a slice of heaven, a region where lucky devils can and should visit more than once.