Friday, June 7, 2013

Lunch Run - Mt. Van Cott, Sego Lilies, June 6, 2013

I've been on holiday in Spain and missed some great ski days in May. I'm now just trying to get into the swing of summer while mourning the passing of winter. What can I say, I love skiing. But Spain was worth it, and I wish I could have spent the summer, or even a year. The people, the history, the landscape, the food, it all exceeded my expectations. I'll post about our trip once I sort through our 2,000+ photos and way too much video.  

Back in Utah, I was welcomed home by the brief green hills and flowers of the Wasatch spring. I was depressed to be returning home from Spain, so my vision was probably clouded, but on that drive home from the airport the Wasatch foothills looked like the foothills of the Pyrenees, like I was still in the Basque Country of Northern Spain.

My sour mood got a big lift this week while running up Mt. Van Cott; I found hundreds, maybe thousands, of Sego Lilies in full bloom. Perhaps a bit girly, but I've always been intrigued by Sego Lilies. I like their reclusive nature and I can relate to their personality. Unlike me they are elegant and understated. Sego's appear briefly in late spring, blooming once a year for just a week or two, then wither, blow away and are gone. They are few and far between, usually just one or two every few hundred feet. If they were human they would be backcountry skiers and trail runners, with no goofy bucket list of stupid tricks to tick off and brag on, only pure passion to drive their habits. They would ski hard but would avoid the 'Disney' crowds of the Central Wasatch. I can identify.

This spring is a banner year for Sego's, and this week they are numerous. Today on one hillside (south facing slopes between 5,000 and 6,000 feet), in an area about the size of my yard, I saw 50-100, which is the densest concentration I've ever witnessed. I've seen more this spring than any year I can remember, but sadly they are starting to wilt, and markedly so, even from yesterday. Next week they'll be gone.

As a kid in Primary (Mormon "bible" study for children) I was taught that the early Mormon pioneers lived on Sego Lily bulbs upon first entering the Salt Lake valley. As I got older, and when I started to recognize the brief lifespan of Sego Lilies, I found the Pioneer-Sego Lily survival story hard to believe. The Lilies are just not recognizable by late July and the Pioneers didn't arrive until July 24, 1847. Without the flower the stems look like grass, and if recognizable at all blend in completely with the other foothill grasses. I'm sure the Mormon settlers were experts at recognizing edible plants even when out of bloom, but for a desk jockey like me who continually runs to the store for ice cream, chocolate and Mt. Dew, I can't begin to recognize Sego Lilies once the bloom is gone.

I've seen Sego's blooming up high in late July, up around 9,000 feet, but at that elevation they are even more widespread. Upon entering the Salt Lake valley in 1847, after walking a thousand miles across the prairies and mountains to Utah, I doubt the Pioneers hiked to 9K feet for a few small bulbs. The bulbs are tiny, about the size of a Peanut M&M, and widely spaced. Aarrowleaf Balsamroot was probably more of a staple than Sego Lilies because they are found in abundance throughout the foothills and valley floors, and their roots are huge, large enough to feed an entire family, or at least the family of one 'Sister Wife'. Sego Lily bulbs and lower stems are slightly sweet and crunchy (and gritty from residual dirt - who washes?). The Mormon Pioneers would have expended more energy searching and digging than the energy provided by the small bulbs. It'd be a calorie deficit, but a tasty treat if or when they came upon the plants. I doubt that Sego's alone could sustain a large group. I've read they were eaten by Native Utahans and the early Mormon Pioneers, but as a supplement rather than the sole source of calories. The early settlers ate them until the 1850's, at which time they had finally tamed the Salt Lake Valley  to the point that farming provided for their needs and foraging for plants, such Sego Lilly and Aarrowleaf Balsamroot was no longer a requirement. (which, by the way are everywhere, and huge, I imagine one root could feed an entire family).  

So, if you're interested in seeing Utah's State flower, get up into the foothills this week.

Aphids like them too.

Still some skiing to be had up on Lone Peak and the higher Wasatch Peaks, but going fast. 

It's tough to see but this hillside above Red Butte Canyon it covered in Sego's. Maybe dotted is the better adjective, but still a lot by Sego Lily standards.

These are NOT Sego Lilies, but some folks have made the mistake. This is non-native Bindweed, also know as Morning*G l o r y. I hate these things; impossible to kill.

Also not Sego Lily, but sometimes mistaken for one. Tufted Evening Primrose, wilts during the heat of day, opens in the cool of the evening.

Arrowleaf Balsamroot (yellow) is prolific in the Wasatch Foothills. 

In another month this slope will be dry and brown. Balsamroot (yellow), and Desert Lupine (purple).

Balsamroot on the summit of Mt. Van Cott, starting to wilt and dry up, like the snow on Lone Peak.

Self portrait, running up Mt. Van Cott.

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