Miracle Mile | Russian Wilderness
The heart of the Russian Wilderness and the Miracle Mile, with Russian Peak to the far left. This spiney ridge separates Sugar Creek (left) from Duck Creek (right).
Upon a successful trip to Blake's Fork, John and Dale had become enchanted with the Salmon Mountains. They wanted to see more and went about planning for it by referencing botanical databases. They found that Engelmann spruce had also been documented along Sugar Creek, just over the Salmon Crest from Blake's Fork. In the summer of 1970 they walked up Sugar Creek and documented plants along the way, eventually finding themselves climbing up the south-facing ridge above Sugar Lake (where they saw foxtail pines) and into the Little Duck Lake Basin. While at the south end of the lake Dale properly identified the first subalpine fir in California (though it took him half and hour to convince John!). Around the campfire maps came out and lists were made. They determined that in a roughly drawn square mile—encompassing the ridges and valleys around Little Duck Lake—there were 17 species of conifers. The 'Miracle Mile' was born. The drainage around Russian Peak hold one of the richest conifer assemblages on Earth*.
*An undocumented report of 17 conifers in a square mile around Crystal Peak in Mount Rainier National Park has recently been made
John Sawyer stands in an enriched montane conifer forest along Sugar Creek. Here we counted 10 conifers. Eleven conifers species in one place have been documented in the upper reaches of nearby Horse Range Creek6.
In the coming years John and Dale were funded by the Forest Service to survey for plants in many of the drainage along the Salmon Crest above the Scott Valley. Ultimately, with the help of graduate students, they documented over 400 species of vascular plants in Sugar Creek alone5. This extensive research led to a unique understanding for these forests. Clearly the area needed a level of preservation beyond that of just National Forest. In the following years, through their dedication to this goal, the region was well preserved. A few affects of their research include:
- Designation status of Roadless Area Review and Evaluation (RARE 1 and 2) after the signing of the 1964 Wilderness act. This ensured the area remained on the radar for future wilderness designation even though it was not included in the original act.
- Designation as the Russian Wilderness in 1984. John was consulted throughout the process by Representatives from northwest California while they sorted through the bureaucratic motions. Ultimately the deal went down when a land swap was negotiated wherein higher elevation less productive forest was traded for lower elevation more productive forest (probably full of giant sugar pines). Though the Forest Service had originally proposed to build a road and drive-in campground a Little Duck Lake, the Russian Wilderness was preserved.
- Designation of Sugar Creek Research Natural Area.
- Designation of the Duck Lake Botanical Area.
Duck Lake Basin as seen from the west-east ridge between Duck and Sugar creeks.
18th Conifer in the Miracle Mile?This summer John heard another conifer had been found in the Miracle Mile. I thought it must be knobcone pines (Pinus attenuata) but the report was for western junipers (Juniperus occidentalis) on the south-facing slopes above Sugar Creek. Could he and Dale have missed a conifer? With the need to know we returned to search and document this past weekend. After spending several hours beating up the south-facing hillside through montane chaparral (and cutting my legs numerous times on Arctostaphylus patula) I found no evidence of western junipers, though it appeared to be ideal habitat. Western junipers grow just east of Sugar Creek in the Scott Valley, so it is quite possible seeds could have been dispersed here by a bird (maybe a Townsend's solitaire?). Could it be I missed them because of the route I chose up the steep slope? Surely this is but one reason to adventure again in Conifer Country.
UPDATE - DOCUMENTATION OF 18th Conifer!
The only junipers we found were several common juniper (Juniperus communis) seen here in the bottom left of the picture, high above Sugar Creek.
John and an impressive sugar pine (Pinus lambertiana) along Sugar Creek.
A list of conifers within the Miracle Mile:
- foxtail pine
- whitebark pine
- western white pine
- Jeffrey pine
- ponderosa pine
- lodgepole pine
- sugar pine
- white fir
- Shasta fir
- subalpine fir
- Engelmann spruce
- Brewer spruce
- mountain hemlock
- Pacific yew
- common juniper
- western juniper? reported by Richard Moore
More to Explore
- Keeler-Wolf, T. 1984. Vegetation map of the upper Sugar Creek drainage, Siskiyou County, California. Unpublished report on file, Pacific Southwest Research Station, Albany, Calif.
- Sawyer, J. O.; Thornburgh, D. A. 1969. Ecological reconnaissance of relict conifers of the Klamath region. Report to Pacific Southwest Forest and Range Experiment Station, Berkeley, California. PSW COOP-AID Grant #7. Unpublished report on file, Pacific Southwest Research Station, Albany, Calif.
- Sawyer, J. O.; Thornburgh, D. A. 1970. The ecology of relict conifers in the Klamath region, California. Report to Pacific Southwest Forest and Range Experiment Station, Berkeley, California. PSW COOP-AID Grant #9. Unpublished report on file, Pacific Southwest Research Station, Albany, Calif.
- Sawyer, J. O.; Thornburgh, D. A. 1971. Vegetation types on granodiorite in the Klamath Mountains, California. Report to the Pacific Southwest Forest and Range Experiment Station, Berkeley, California. PSW COOP-AID agreement supplement #10. Unpublished report on file, Pacific Southwest Research Station, Albany, Calif.
- Sawyer, J.O. 2006 Northwest California. University of California Press. Berkeley, Ca.
- Eds. Barbour M.G., T. Keeler-Wolf, and A.A. Schoenherr. 2007. Terrestrial Vegetation of California, 3rd edition. University of California Press, Berkeley.