Every spring hundreds of people venture to Butte County's landmark, Table Mountain, to picnic, fly kites and view an explosion of wildflowers.
Overlooked by most visitors, growing about a mile from the parking lot, in a habitat of vernal pools is a rare tiny clover called Trifolium jokerstii.
"It's only found on Table Mountain," said local horticulturist Justin Maciulis and member of the local Red Bud chapter of the California Native Plant Society.
Unlike common clovers that are a dime a dozen, jokerstii looks like it came from another world. Tiny and underfoot, the clover catches a hiker's eye with its brilliant hue.
"It has that fire spectrum from yellow to orange," Maciulis said.
The clover is named after Sacramento botanist James Dent Jokerst (1956-1995) known for his research on the flora and ecology of California's vernal pools. He died in a drowning accident at the age of 39.
Formed by an ancient lava flow, Table Mountain is a flat basaltic plateau that rises up from the valley floor just outside the Gold Rush town of Oroville.
"They call those places eco islands," Maciulis said. "It's a very appropriate place for a rare plant."
Unusual plants and animals have adapted to growing in an environment that fluctuates between cold and flooded in the winter and hot and bone-dry in summer.
In the 1990s, the state Department of Fish and Game acquired more than 3,300 acres to help protect vernal pools and the habitat of several rare plants and animals known to occur on North Table Mountain.
The mountain, part of the Lovejoy Formation, is believed to date back to 14 million and 39 million year ago, much older than the nearby Sutter Buttes or Mount Shasta, according to "Wildflowers of Table Mountain Butte County, California" by Samantha Mackey and Albin Bills.
A trip to Table Mountain takes about an hours worth of driving from Grass Valley. Prepare for gusty weather and carry a windbreaker with a hood. Wide open spaces with no power lines in sight make the area perfect for kite flying. Don't be deterred by the alarming number of people in the parking lot.
Within short walking distance, it becomes easy to find a quiet place for an afternoon picnic or nap in the sun. Be sure to look for the California newts swimming in the shallows of creeks. Phantom Falls is about a half mile from the parking lot on Cherokee Road, simply follow the creek.
"As far as a true native piece of California, Table Mountain is it," Maciulis said.
Table Mountain is also the home of the old town of Cherokee which was an old stage stop, said Mary Stanko, office manager for Oroville's Chamber of Commerce.
Beyond the Fish and Game parking lot on Cherokee Road, look for some ruins of an old jail, shell of a Wells Fargo building, cemetery and an old museum, Stanko said.
The first diamonds in the nation were found in Cherokee, a town where President Rutherford B. Hayes once stayed and the set of several movies, Stanko said.
"That town does mean a lot to Oroville," Stanko said.
To learn more about Oroville as a place to recreate visit: www.orovillechamber.net/
To learn more about the town of Cherokee visit: www.rockincherokee.com