Experience the microhabitat at Table Mountain | TheUnion.com

Experience the microhabitat at Table Mountain

Have you ever stopped at Table Mountain? It’s the large mesa off Highway 70 in Butte County above the town of Oroville. For a couple more weeks the plateau will be awash in color as the last of this season’s wildflowers give way to the dry grass of summer.

Much of the mesa is under private ownership and used for cattle grazing. A 3,200 acre wildlife preserve on North Table Mountain is managed by the state Department of Fish and Game and open for public use.

It’s a popular place to visit this time of year, especially for families who come to picnic and fly kites on the breezy open grassy flats.

The crowded parking area feels a bit like Disneyland, but it’s just a short stroll away to some springtime solitude. The hazy silhouette of the Sutter Buttes rise above the valley floor in the distance.

Table Mountain was created before the Sutter Buttes and Mount Lassen when lava flows from extinct volcanoes filled wide river channels on the western edge of the Sierra Nevada sometime between 18 million to 24 million years ago.

What remains after years of erosion is a complex network of microhabitats: Rocky outcrops of basalt and cobbles, thin soils, deep rich soils under the shade of giant oaks, and wet seeps and vernal pools. The result is a diverse collection of colorful, short-lived flowering plants.

Table Mountain offers carpets of “belly plants” best observed by getting on your hands and knees and putting your nose to the ground, said Kristina Schierenbeck, professor of botany at California State University, Chico.

“There’s lots of fun surprises,” said Schierenbeck who takes her plant diversity class to Table Mountain each year. Kellogg’s Monkey-flowers, Frying pan poppies and Bitter-root are some of the more specialized flowers of the area, said Schierenbeck.

Several small waterfalls are located within an easy walk of the main parking lot.

There are no designated trails, so follow the well worn path that weaves its way next to the small creek a half mile to Phantom Falls. Look for the orange-bellied California Newts that came to the shallow pools to mate and lay their eggs.

A welcoming card table staffed by members of the California Native Plant Society has books for sale in the parking lot. Be sure to bring water, lunch, sturdy shoes, wide brimmed hat, sun screen, a kite, a camera and a hand lens for looking up-close at the flowers. Be cautious of the Western Rattlesnake which is known to live in abundance on Table Mountain. Also, remember to give moody cows plenty of room.


To contact Staff Writer Laura Brown, e-mail laurab @theunion.com or call 477-4231.

Getting there

From Grass Valley, take Highway 20 toward Marysville, turn right on Woodruff Lane, follow to State Route 70 to Oroville.

On the north end of town, take Nelson Avenue/Grand Avenue exit. Head east on Grand Avenue, turn left on Table Mountain Boulevard. Look for the brown Table Mountain sign, turn east onto Cherokee Road. Stay on Cherokee Road, a narrow winding road, about 20 minutes from town. Look for the large gravel parking lot on the left side of the road.

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