Parsnip Lakes (Cascade-Siskiyou National Monument) 23-May-2021

The weather for our hike on the Rogue River Trail had been warm but otherwise wonderful. However, the day after we returned, the weather did a complete reversal, closing in for several days with much lower temperatures, high wind, clouds, sporadic rain, a dash of hail, and general gloom. Snow fell at the higher elevations and stuck. In the middle of May? So time was spent finishing (ha!) a DIY landscaping project, working, volunteering, and doing exercise hikes. When a nice day was forecast, we made plans to return to the trail.

The Parsnip Lakes are a group of emergent wetlands and wetland ponds located within the boundaries of the Cascade-Siskiyou National Monument. They sit just northeast of popular Hobart Bluff and the Pacific Crest Trail (PCT) and are separated into two clusters by a northwest to southeast trending ridge. The northeast cluster can be reached via dirt roads from nearby Highway 66 but the roads leading to the southwest cluster are now long abandoned and amenable only to foot traffic. I first learned of the Parsnips (not a folk band) from a 2011 post by another hiker and made my first (and only) visit to the southwest cluster in 2017. Four years on seemed like time for another visit and a chance for The LoveOne to see these lakes too.

Our hike started with a descent from the Hobart Bluff Trailhead into the canyon of the South Fork of Keene Creek. The otherwise easy descent through open forest was made a little more lively by patches of slick snow.

Snow in the South Fork’s canyon

At the bottom of the canyon are traces of an old logging road – traces that seemed to have gotten even fainter since my visit four years ago. This old road only shows on some maps and then is incorrectly placed on the southeast side of the creek. Early on it was encumbered by new brush and fallen old trees but got clearer and easier to follow the farther we went downstream.

On the old road along the South Fork
South Fork of Keene Creek

One thing snow does is alert you to the presence of forest critters you might not (hopefully) encounter in person. We don’t often see a bear in the wild but we’ve seen plenty of tracks, like the ones we found today in a snow patch along the South Fork. 🐻

Hey bear! Hey bear!

On my previous hike here, I’d crossed the creek and continued down canyon on an obvious road on its southeast side. This took me into the better used roads coming in from Highway 66 but nowhere near the southwest cluster of lakes. I had to backtrack and bushwhack a bit. Subsequent map gazing showed (on some maps) an old road veering off northeast more directly toward the lakes. So we crossed the creek again and, after some wandering, found this old road, which we followed past an almost dry marsh to the first (southernmost) of the Parsnip Lakes in the southwest cluster.

Lake 1 has been reduced to a tiny patch of water in a sea of grasses

The winter of 2016-17 had been unusually snowy and wet, so when I visited these lakes in May of 2017, they’d had the benefit of all that water. Since then our drought has intensified, with only sporadic rain and decent snow cover only at the higher elevations. These lakes have suffered as a result. This became apparent as we followed the old road – easily walked but impassable to vehicles due to brush and fallen trees – to the second lake in the group.

Lake 2 in 2017
Cattails and other aquatic vegetation have now encroached on Lake 2, substantially reducing its open water area
Cattails and water lilies in Lake 2
Yellow Water Lily (invasive)

The third lake in the chain is where the impact of our drought became most apparent. What had been a very lake-like body of water in 2017 is now a skim of water dotted with grass clumps and water lilies.

Lake 3 in 2017
Lake 3 today
The north end of Lake 3

We continued on to find that the fourth waterbody, shown as a lake on some maps, has been reduced, as has Lake 1, to a tiny patch of water in a sea of grasses.

Lake 4

Although the changes between 2017 and today were dramatic, they may (or may not) just be part of a repeated cycle. Droughts have come and gone in the past and these waterbodies have persisted through those. The worry is that human-induced changes in climate patterns could lead to these lakes going dry in the summer, something which would encourage the succession of marsh vegetation to the point where there’s no longer room for open water. 😦

Butterfly on a dandelion

We continued on the old road past Lake 4 to a junction where we turned left (west) and followed another old road up toward the PCT. Maps show this old road but not how faint and hemmed in it is by vegetation for a short stretch just past the junction. We eventually found it, followed it, and shortly before it ends, left it and drifted up cross-country through the forest to the PCT, which we followed south to the spur trail to Hobart Bluff.

On the PCT toward Hobart Bluff
Douglas Sandwort

We started encountering other hikers soon after we got on the PCT and, at Hobart Bluff, we came upon numerous family groups with parents, kids, dogs, grandparents, etc. heading (optimistically in some cases) to views from the bluff. Well, it was a good day for views since our recent weather had swept the air of much of the haze, prescribed burns are on hold, and there are no big wildfires burning. In the last few years, I’ve rarely been on Hobart on a clearer day. 🙂

Mount McLoughlin from Hobart Bluff
Hobart Peak (1) and Pilot Rock (2) from the bluff
The fading snowpack on Mount Ashland
Ashland and the Bear Creek Valley
Mount Shasta
Great Polemonium

After the Bluff, we worked our way on the PCT through the assembled masses to the Hobart Bluff Trailhead to finish this 7.0 mile (11.2 km) loop, with 1,180 feet (360 m) of elevation gain. It was an excellent day for a hike – sunny 😎 but cool – with clear skies facilitating expansive views from the Bluff. The old roads we were following haven’t gotten any better thanks to fallen trees and encroaching brush. But they are still open enough for hiking and provide a vehicle-free way to see the lakes. The change in the lakes – from open water to small ponds with encroaching vegetation – did, however, come as a shock. It’s too early to tell whether these changes are just part of a cycle or foretell these lakes becoming wetlands. Time, as they say, will tell. 😕

(1-4) The SW cluster of the Parsnip Lakes, (P) The NE cluster of the lakes, (H) Highway 66
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8 comments

  1. We had a good hike on this day but it was a little overshadowed by the growing concerns about another bad wildfire season, fueled (in part) by the drought. I think the drought is real and will be with us for a while (some have lasted for decades), I just hope we can get through another summer without lots of fires and smoke.

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  2. You truly had a perfect day on Hobart Bluff! We’ve always enjoyed hiking up there for the wonderful views, but have never done the Parsnip Lakes Trail.

    I wish I felt optimistic about the drought being merely cyclical, but I fear that we may have reached a tipping point in climate change. Your posts are not only beautiful but they provide a valuable record of how the landscape is changing—and in a very short period of time.

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  3. The butterfly looks like it’s a fritillary, possibly a meadow fritillary (Boloria bellona). Very pretty!

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  4. Thank you very much for your kind comments – they are much appreciated. I’m glad you’re enjoying – blister-free 🙂 – my little stories about our outdoor adventures.

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  5. Thanks! This butterfly was unusually cooperative in that it stayed on the flower for almost a minute, possibly because there were few flowers around.

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  6. Great Pictures as always. The butterfly on dandelion is very cool.
    thanks,
    rb

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  7. I just wanted to tell you how much I enjoy the summaries of you frequent hikes. The photographies are superbs. I would love to be hiking with you but the next best thing is to explore the trails through your comments and pictures. I am sending your postings to my friend, an avid hiker in Switzerland. She has a passion for flowers and is very grateful to learn about our vegetation. She particularly appreciated the hike along the Wild Rogue River you did a few days ago. Thank-you for taking/making the time to compose the humorful narrative and for the very artistic pictures. Hiking in cyberspace with you has the advandage of not producing any blisters! Thank-you, Cristina

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