Out There: Creston Valley trails offer mid-October surprises

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Silver birches drop golden leaves on the Creston Mountain Trail.

Silver birches drop golden leaves on the Creston Mountain Trail.

Fruit trees are blooming in the Okonagan! At least a few. That is what I heard. Well, we say, “Do it now’ don’t wait for spring,” but for plants that may not be a good thing. But if a few blossoms are opening, then their requirements must be in place enabling them to do that, at least for a time. And, perhaps, the right conditions are present with this very interesting fall weather that we are experiencing. It also seems spring is arriving early, even on the Balancing Rock Trail, with some unexpected blooms. It may be that some plants went into dormancy because of the dryness and, now, are finishing the cycle. Among the non-flowering plants there are rock ferns that died back in August, but now bright green fronds have emerged among the dry, brown ones.

Oct. 18, cool and cloudy, wasn’t a kind of day that most people would choose to go hiking. And, when we got out there, trail traffic was light. The sum total of hikers we met was three — two women and a dog. Actually, the cool temperature was good for the hike to the end of the Creston Mountain Trail that continues on from the Balancing Rock Trail. On the upward hike we didn’t get excessively hot, sweating just a little under the backpack. We ended up at the “Trail End” sign-in box after a two-hour-and-15-minute hike and had lunch. It was nice to have an extra jacket to put on right after taking the pack off, as it kept the sweaty back from getting chilled. Now, on the way back down is when the surprises began to come. (They were missed on the way up.)

Reaching the “balancing rock” it wasn’t really a surprise to see a few knapweed flowers. They were quite pretty in a landscape void of other flower species. The first surprise was a cluster of fresh flowers of mallow ninebark. Being quite out-of-season, I had to take a long look to convince myself of their identity. Mallow ninebark shrubs display their flowers in early summer.

Then just a few feet away was a sprig of common St. John’s wort. That tall, rigid plant, purported to have some healing virtues, was bearing several bright yellow flowers. To see this June flower in autumn was, alone, healing for me.

Probably the greatest surprise on the trail were two dozen or so strawberry flowers. Scattered in little groups along the trail, they seemed totally out of season. They normally bloom in spring and early summer, depending on the elevation, and then, for the most part, are finished.

Near the bottom of the trail there were the ever-to-be-expected dandelions. Their flowers seemed more brilliant than usual.

There were at least six different species blooming along the trail. With those and what people can report from the garden and elsewhere, a sizable little book on autumn flowers could be written. Add to the list salsify, yellow cinquefoil, oxeye daisy, common mullein, Johnny jump-ups, buttercups, white sweet clover, blue sailors and yellow hawkweed.

Oh, I must not forget to mention being on the “gold trail”. Up the Creston Mountain Trail, which leaves the Balancing Rock and Fern Forest trails at the boardwalk, there is a grove of silver birches on a kind of bench shortly after the first overlook. This several hundred-foot section of trail is pretty any time of year, but on this October day, it was especially beautiful with golden-yellow leaves thickly covering the trail. As one hiked along, the leaves would flip into the air producing, in the process, a rustling sound, just about the only sound in the forest.

Next time let’s find out what it was that went up but also had to come down.

Ed McMackin is a biologist by profession but a naturalist and hiker by nature. He can be reached at 250-866-5747.