Lamoille Canyon Nature Trail

         Submitted by Lois Ports for the Bristlecone Audubon Chapter

If you haven’t walked the Nature Trail in Lamoille Canyon yet, you are missing out on a great experience that is fun and educational for everyone in the family. This is an easy hike of about one mile. The trail head is located halfway up Lamoille Canyon on the right side of the road. It is beyond the Thomas Creek Campground. Unfortunately, the sign was destroyed so there is only a temporary sign. There is some parking alongside the road and the trail starts right off the road. Be sure to pick up the informational brochure from the box at the beginning of the trail that corresponds to the numbered markers along the trial.  There are also several trailside benches provided if you prefer to sit and enjoy the solitude. The trail winds its way through quaking aspen, chokecherry and golden currant and takes you down to the creek and then loops back up to your car.

This montane woodland provides breeding habitat for many species of birds. As you walk listen for the songs of yellow warbler, fox sparrow, Cassin’s finch and warbling vireo. Both live trees and standing dead snags provide nesting habitat in the form of canopy and cavity nest locations. Many cavity nesting species utilize the aspen tree which is a soft wooded tree often excavated by woodpeckers such as the northern flicker and the red-naped sapsucker. In turn these cavities are then used as nesting sites by many other species including house wren, mountain chickadee and tree swallows.

Besides feeding Lamoille Creek the winter snow pack melts into the ground in the canyon and eventually emerges in the form of mountain springs. About midway along the trail, you will come up on one of these springs. There are some small pools that are being fed by ground water.  If you look closely, you can see bubbles rising to the surface of the shallow pool. This is where the spring water flows into the pool. These still pools provide perfect drinking water sources for several bird and mammal species that drink only on the wing.  The violet-green swallow, tree swallow and hoary bat are just a few examples. There is still evidence of beaver activity in this area.  You can find stumps that were left behind after the beaver felled the trees. A groove is gnawed all the way around the trunk in an hourglass shape. The downed trees are then stripped of bark and taken back for use in their den. It has been many years since we have had active beavers at this site. Yellow monkey-flower is common at the edges of the pools.

There is a small area of open meadow near the pools.  Among the grasses you can find Lamoille Canyon milkvetch. This flowering plant is endemic to the northern Ruby Mountains and East Humboldt Mountains. Endemic plants are those that are confined or restricted to a defined geographical location. They are not found anywhere else. You can also find grass of parnassus, blue-eyed grass and bog-rein orchids in this meadow.

Many species of wildflowers make the trail colorful and fragrant. In the deeply shaded areas, you will find western columbine, meadow rue, and sticky geranium growing abundantly.  If you venture down closer to Lamoille Creek you can find vibrant patches of dwarf fireweed. With the wet winter we just had, the creek is flowing very fast so be cautious along its banks.

In the drier stretches of the trail, you will encounter curl-leaf mountain mahogany and sagebrush.  Flowers in this area include the sunflower (arrow-leaf balsamroot), Indian paintbrush and flaxflower. Angelica or wild celery can be seen throughout most of this forest. It can grow to 7 ft. Its hollow stems will dry and remain standing late into fall. In summer its green stems are topped by groups of flowers in an umbrella (umbel) type arrangement. Another common plant to look for is Oregon grape. It is a low-growing evergreen shrub growing only 6-12 inches tall. The prickly, holly like leaves will be green up until fall when they change to purples and reds. It has small yellow flowers which are often hidden under the leaves. During the fall it will have small purplish-blue berries.

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