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Table Mountain, CA - a wildflower wonderland!

First published in the Hard Rock Newsletter - April 2018 issue:

Table Mountain Reserve - A Walk in the Wildflowers and Waterfalls by Danielle Foss

I first heard of Table Mountain as I was planning my trip to Oroville, California, to visit a good friend I hadn’t seen in a long time. Enthusiastic about getting out in the spring weather of California - we were up for anything, so she suggested a hike on the preserve to see the wildflowers and to visit Phantom Falls. I had never heard of Table Mountain, but it sounded lovely and interesting, so we set out on the short drive from her home in Oroville.

A narrow and winding road meanders through the California farm countryside, with a few opportunities to stop the car and look out over the valleys. This makes the drive up to the mountain just as picturesque as the mountain itself. For us at this time of year, the lookouts offered the chance to bask in the beauty of the green grass of spring and the beautiful oak trees which will soon fade and turn brown as the 65-70-degree spring days quickly melt into 80 and 90 degree days and on into the hot summer months. We reached the parking lot before too many people had arrived and got a parking spot by the cattle-gate. The breeze was blowing but the sun was shining.

After a somewhat confusing phone call with the California Fish and Wildlife folks about their new fees, we were on our way. California is much like Washington in that there are numerous entities governing our public lands, and navigating their phone systems and websites to figure out required passes can be a challenge. Nevertheless, we set out across the beautiful plateau of graze land. Table Mountain is most known for it’s remarkable wildflowers, but it is also known for it’s slightly unusual geology in the California landscape.

Here is what the local wiki site had to say about Table Mountain (

“Table Mountain is a prominent table-like geologic formation located north of Oroville, CA and west of Lake Oroville in Butte County. It's easily seen from Highway 99 to the east once you've passed the Thermolito Afterbay. Table Mountain was likely formed by an ancient volcanic eruption. The basalt, known as the Lovejoy, flowed into a stream valley and filled it up. Eventually the surrounding valley walls eroded away leaving just the flat-topped basalt. In geography, this is called inverted topography. The same Lovejoy basalt can be found in Upper Bidwell Park and parts of Paradise. Even more interesting, this basalt can also be seen at Black Butte Lake! Basalt is mined off of Table Mountain and used for semi-improved roads or parking lots.”

After our long walk across the plateau finally took us to Phantom Falls, we stood on the hill and I could see the obvious basalt columns and how they had slowly been eroded away by the small creeks that create the many waterfalls clustered on Table Mountain. Some of the columns had cracked and fallen down into Coal Canyon below the falls, piling up at the bottom like matchsticks. There are several obvious flows that can be seen from the lookout points at the falls, and it is somewhat reminiscent of what you might see in parts of the Columbia River Valley, Washington.

The falls were of course a beautiful sight, but we could not help but be completely distracted the entire walk there by the numerous meadows of wildflowers. Botanists have studied and cataloged the many wildflowers, and the variety and magnitude of the meadows can be attributed to the cattle that has grazed the land for many years. It is believed that the cattle keeping the thick grasses down has allowed the more delicate wildflowers to have air and sunlight and room to grow. Whatever the cause, they are spectacular!

Table Mountain sets a magical scene:

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