Some days on the trail remain etched in our minds long after the driving away from the parking lot. Last Thursday, August 13th, six CONC members experienced such a day on the Scott Mountain loop trail. Their route was about 10 miles in length, including short side trips to the edges of Benson, Tenas, and Hand Lakes, with 1300 feet elevation gain. Yet that bland description doesn’t begin to describe the day. Roz led the group by three sparkling lakes under an expansive blue sky, with August wildflowers still blooming and mountains in the background. They hiked through stretches of trailside huckleberry bushes, picking the season’s still tart berries. The high point of the hike (and rewarding lunch spot) was the top of Scott Mountain, with a panorama from Mt. Hood in the north to Diamond Peak to the south.
After lunch, the group walked down to Hand Lake through glades of fireweed and along the edge of a contorted lava field backed by mountain views. Perhaps even more memorable, the group shared this leg of the hike with streams of California Tortoiseshell butterflies that swooped down and along the trail, propelled by air currents. (The tops of their wings are reddish orange with a dark border and 2 or 3 small dark spots, while the undersides are dark. Monarchs have similar colors, but their wings show a “stained glass” pattern, and their bodies are black with white spots.) Deschutes Land Trust explained the phenomenon in 2019, another good year for California Tortoiseshell butterflies:
These orange beauties overwinter in Central Oregon as adults, which is why . . . they usually have tattered wings and look slightly faded. During the spring, they like to nectar on fir needles. . . . [In fall,] they will find good places to overwinter, like crevices in buildings, wood piles, and other shelters. . . .
California Tortoiseshells live on a boom and bust cycle. We will see thousands of them in a single year, then their numbers will crash, and we’ll hardly see any for the next several years. In recent years, however, California Tortoiseshells have peaked for several summers in a row. (https://www.deschuteslandtrust.org/news/blog/2019-blog-posts/california-tortoiseshell#:~:text=Most%20likely%20you%20are%20seeing,wings%20and%20look%20slightly%20faded.)
The group’s last stop was by Hand Lake beyond the shelter, with time for a snack and to marvel at the thousands of butterflies congregated at the lake’s edge. All in all, it was a splendid day.