Our “hiking season” has typically coincided with the start of May. This has been a unique year and the current situation with COVID-19 meant that if we were going to stick with our normal starting date we needed to scrap our plans (at least for the first part of our season) and find hikes that are open, nearby, and allow us to recreate responsibly. For our April outing that had meant a long walk around Salem to visit various parks (post). To officially kick off our 2020 season though we opted for a more traditional hike.
Despite living nearby, it had been nearly 10 years since we had done our one and only hike at Baskett Slough Wildlife Refuge. The previous visit was our second hike in July of 2010 which is the year in which we started to get serious about hiking. To change things up from our first visit we chose to start our hike from the Smithfield Road Trailhead (we had started our 2010 from the Baskett Butte Trailhead). Please note that the Smithfield Road Trailhead is closed from October 1 – March 31 to protect wintering wildlife.
We set off straight ahead from the trailhead and soon were passing Morgan Lake. A couple of heavy rain showers had passed over between 5 and 6:30am but there was some encouraging blue sky overhead as we passed the lake.
There wasn’t a lot of activity on the lake this morning, just a few mallards, but there were plenty of other birds singing and flying between the trees along the lake, most of which wouldn’t sit still long enough to be photographed.
Guessing some sort of warbler
California quail scattering
After passing Moran Lake the trail headed toward a saddle between two hills. Heather noticed something up on the hillside to our left.
The camera confirmed it to be a pair of elk.
She had actually pointed out an area in some grass just a bit earlier that appeared to have been used as beds but we weren’t really expecting to see elk on this hike.
The grassy path that we were on seemed to be a popular breakfast spot for the wildlife. We spotted a couple of rabbits, several quail, and many small birds.
Rabbit with sparrows behind.
Rabbit with a quail behind.
Most of the rabbits we see run off right away but this little guy was pretty brave.
A little before reaching the saddle (a little over 1 1/4 miles from the trailhead) the trail made a nearly 180 degree turn turning from the grassy track to a dirt path that climbed along a wooded hillside. Near the turn we started seeing a few wildflowers.
Morgan Lake from the trail.
Heading into the woods.
We met another trail user in the woods when we spotted a rough skinned newt.
I had just mentioned to Heather to be on the lookout for Tolmie’s mariposa lilies when we noticed a patch of them on the hillside.
They were a little watered down but still pretty.
We came to a signed junction 1.6 miles from the trailhead. A right turn here would keep us on the 3 mile Moffiti Marsh – Morgan Lake Loop while a left turn would lead us .2 miles to the start of another loop and eventually a viewpoint atop Baskett Butte. We went left and headed uphill to a meadow in a saddle.
In the meadow were a few more types of flowers including lupine and plectritis.
We were busy looking at the flowers and nearly missed a pair of deer passing through the meadow ahead of us.
At the far end of the meadow the trail split. Here we turned right and entered a denser wood with lots of underbrush and a few more newts.
Old tree trunk
Thin-leaf pea (and a spider behind the blossoms)
Given their size we believe this was proper social distancing for rough-skinned newts.
The trail left the woods after four tenths of a mile and entered another meadow.
We spotted several additional types of wildflowers in this meadow all while being serenaded by a western meadowlark.
Giant blue-eyed Mary
A checker-mallow surrounded by pale flax
A tenth of a mile later we arrived at a junction near a signboard.
The loop continued to the left but we headed right to visit the viewpoint on Baskett Butte and to enjoy the display of wildflowers that lined this stretch of trail.
Castilleja levisecta – Golden Paintbrush which historically occurred in the grasslands and prairies of the Willamette Valley. The species had been extirpated from the valley with the last sighting in Oregon occurring in Linn County in 1938. It was reintroduced to various areas starting in 2010 including here at Baskett Slough. In the wetter areas it failed to take but the plant has managed to take hold on Baskett Butte.
There appeared to be at least a couple of different flowers from the mallow family present.
The white patch in the foreground is coastal manroot while the red patch uphill is columbine.
Some of the mass of columbine.
Tolmie’s mariposa lilies
We took a break at the viewpoint listening to ducks and geese in the wetland below.
Before heading back to the loop we followed a small path east (left) from the viewpoint. The path appeared to go all the way down to one of the refuge roads but it would have taken us out of the way (and left us with even more of a climb back up) so after about 450 feet we turned around. In that little distance though we spotted two more flower types that we hadn’t noticed yet.
Meadow death camas
There was also another nice patch of columbine mixed with some cow parsnip.
We headed down from Baskett Butte to the junction where we found a swallow sitting on the signboard.
We turned right back onto the loop and descended for a tenth of a mile to another junction spotting yet another couple of different flowers along the way.
There was another signboard at this junction where we turned left (the right hand trail led down to the Baskett Butte Trailhead.
We followed this path three tenths of a mile to the junction where we had started the loop and turned right passing back through the meadow where we’d seen the deer.
Yarrow starting to bloom.
We didn’t see the deer this time but we did spot the red head of a house finch.
After passing back through the meadow we came to the signed junction for the Moffiti Marsh – Morgan Lake Loop and veered left down a grassy track.
There were a few nice flowers along here, nothing that we hadn’t seen already during the hike though. We did however spot some new widlife.
A pair of American goldfinches
Silvery blue butterfly
The grass gave way to gravel as we approached Moffiti Marsh. This time of year the marsh has a pretty good amount of water and judging by the number of ducks, swallows and other birds in the area is much preferred over Morgan Lake by those with feathers. There was also a loud chorus of frogs signing along this path.
Great blue heron flying over
Ducks on the water and swallows in the air.
Northern shoveler on the left.
A couple different types of ducks.
The gravel path ended at a gate along Smithfield Road where we turned right on another grassy track.
It was just a little under a quarter mile back to the trailhead which gave us plenty of time to spot more flowers and wildlife.
Female western bluebird gathering items for a nest.
Canada geese flying over.
Two pairs of American goldfinches.
Bald eagle flying overhead
Our route on this day covered a similar area as that of our first visit although we started at a different trailhead and wound up being just a tad under 5 miles. That is where the similarities ended. Our photo album from 2010 consists of a total of 10 photos. There are a few deer, a dragon fly, and a couple of photos from the viewpoint atop Baskett Butte. The album for this hike ended up having 208 photos. The number of different flowers and types of wildlife that we were lucky enough to see exceeded our expectations. We were also lucky enough to escape all but a brief sprinkle of rain.
One caution for the area is that there is a decent amount of poison oak off trail which at this time of year was also looking rather nice even though we wanted nothing to do with it.
Even though we were only doing this hike due to COVID-19 it wound up being a wonderful morning and a great start to what looks to be a really different hiking season.
Happy (socially distanced) Trails!
Flickr: Baskett Slough