Posts Tagged ‘morels’

Yesterday was the Opening Day for the county we live in (Stage 1, whatever that means. Restaurants, pubs, and churches with limited seating – I think).

It was also the first warm and dry day following a week of rains: morel hunting time! Morels only come out in the Spring and can be elusive. We have never found a good spot to hunt on the west side of the Cascades, so foraging for these delicious and precious mushrooms is about a ninety minute drive over Mount Hood and the Cascades to Central Oregon. That’s as close as I will get to telling you where we look for them. Morel hunters know the best spots, the right terrains, and the approximate right time of year to look. They also don’t divulge their secrets.

It was a nice day for a drive. The snow that fell at Government Camp earlier in the week was nearly melted off in the bar pits. The lanes were clear and dry. We only saw three near-accidents (all three caused by impatient drivers with no concern for speed limits, passing lanes, double yellow lines, or other drivers).

Don saw a little buck in velvet.

The Forest Service had signs up warning campers and hikers that the forest is “CLOSED” but all gates were open and people had set up camps in their large motorhomes in the open, undesignated camp sites. We heard dirt bikes later in the day and came across three as we left the area (they have designated trails and keep to them). The forest was as open as it has ever been.

I was not really into the mood. My mind was elsewhere, on things I wanted to do at home. But there is something about being out in the forest or the wide open sagebrush spaces that calms the heart and clears the mind. The smells of duff, pine, and fresh air.

We walked. Don wandered. I kept him in my line of sight (most of the time). There was minimal bear sign, a lot of deer sign (or elk), and dozens of different fungus: toadstools, psilocybins, puff balls, and many, many more. Oh, and the wildflowers! Teeny, teensy, tiny wildflowers! I kept getting lost in the flora. Don kept finding morels.

My SmartPhone has the best macro lens. Large leaf sandwort. Moehringia macrophylla. (and a dirty fingernail for comparison)


I think this is a small-flowered tonella. Tonella tenella. My pinkie finger for comparison.


Small-flowered blue-eyed Mary. Collinsia parviflora.


Calypso or Fairy Slipper.Calypso bulbosa. I didn’t have to look this one up. If it is up, the morels are up.

I had to stand and orient myself. Don was nowhere in sight. A widow-maker moaned (a widow-maker is a tree that has fallen, but its descent was stopped by the branches of another tree and so it hangs, leaning against the living tree, moaning when they rub together, and waiting to fall. Many a man has met his death under such a tree, hence the nickname.) Birds called unfamiliar tunes.

Ah, there was Don, about a hundred feet to my left. He saw me and came over to to tell me he’d found about six morels so far. I hadn’t seen a one.

He started away. A flash of brilliant red and yellow crossed my line of sight and a Western Tanager landed on the tree just ahead of me. I called out to Don to show him. There’s nothing quite like a Western Tanager in brilliant coloring and lack of fear around human beings. They are curious and friendly birds. This one dove in chase of a small dragonfly, narrowly missing my legs. It missed the fly as well and returned to a branch just over my head. Don shook his head, “Wow.”

The bird tried a second time and missed again. He stopped on a fence rail and looked at me before flying off.


(Stock photo – not mine)

We wandered apart again. I got lost in the fungi. I lost Don at least two more times. The trees soughed in the light breeze. Dirt bikes roared somewhere nearby.

We finally headed back to the car. We ranged through the downfall and small sunlit meadows or low-growing wildflowers. Lupins pushed up their leaves, not ready yet to burst into blue flowers. Ravens passed overhead, croaking. Robins flitted.

I wore the wrong socks for my hiking boots and was beginning to regret it. Too thin and the boots slipped on my feet. I’ve had these boots for decades, my favorite pair of Vasque hiking boots purchased at an REI yard sale as “lightly used” not heavily used. They require thin liner socks and thick wool socks for maximum comfort. I was wearing thin wool socks.

I found two morels. Don found over a dozen in the same area.


Another stock photo (not mine) but we collected about twice this (Don did). All blonde morels. All fresh. The dark ones he found were old and crumbling.

We ended up with about 30 mushrooms, no bugs, and fresh. We always cut them off at the base and leave the stem in the ground to perpetuate the fungus. Never pull them out of the ground, taking the entire stem.

The drive back was faster than the drive out – no slow vehicles to plod behind, waiting for a passing lane or a chance to pass. We stopped at our newest favorite brewery, Bent Shovel Brewing.

They are an outdoor venue, lots of space to separate people and tables. Good beer. Good people.



We sat in the sun and watched storm clouds gather over home.

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The drive was easy: light traffic, no slow motor homes or travel trailers, not even a semi rig chugging up the slow lanes of High 26 over Mt. Hood, and on over the Cascades toward Madras and Maupin, from forests that are more fir and cedar to the drier cross-over forests of Doug fir and Yellow pine. The underbrush is thick in both forests, but different in plant content.The segue from fir and cedar to pine and fir is subtle; from temperate forest to drier climate forest happens somewhere over the summit of Government Camp and the next summit. We are driving from the Willamette Valley to someplace near Bear Springs Ranger Station.

I can’t tell you the exact location because it is our secret morel hunting grounds. Sacred hunting grounds. We fought hard to find this place after moving to the west side of the state, away from the abundant locations of morels in the Blue Mountains and Wallowa Range. I can tell you that motocross trails zig-zag across our hunting grounds, and we often hear the roar of motors and whine of transmissions as bikers shift gears to follow their carefully manicured ruts trails through the woods. They’re polite, just noisy.

This day, there are no motorcycles, no bicycles, no other people in the area. It is just my husband and I, no dogs, and the thick forest. Winter downfalls have been heavy this past season, and the under growth has had over 25 years to come back in from the last logging operation here. The snow has recently melted, and early spring flowers are open: calypso lilies, yellow violets, those blue five-petaled flowers I never remember the name of, and trilliums blooming white or fading red with age.

The ground is dry enough the crunch and twigs snap under our feet. We don’t mind: the fresh bear sign tells us that the more noise we make, the less likely we are to make acquaintance with some furry animal just up from a winter’s snooze – or, worse, a sow with cub. Stumps have been recently torn open and ant colonies devoured. Spoor grows fine hairy mold.

The conditions are right: other mushrooms are surfacing. False morels, red fungus, button mushrooms, and even coral mushrooms are abundant. But we only find eight fresh morels. The area is flagged for thinning – perhaps if the loggers come in and thin it, the morels will come back in the disturbed ground, and pickings will be as they were in the past.

Rhododendrons, mahogany, and chinkapin push us away from familiar paths. There are no game trails to follow, but plenty of elk sign. We cross a space full of dead-fall, skeletal leaves of deciduous bushes and vine maples, when we find a chipmunk dying in the forest detritus.


His tail is flipped up over his back, his eyes rolled up into his head. The darkling beetles are already moving in, but he takes a deep, painful, breath and exhales. His ears don’t move, he seems to have no feeling, but his lungs are still operating. Did he fall from a tree? Chipmunks are mostly ground dwellers. A disease? I photograph him, but we do not touch him. We leave him to die where he lived: free, wild, and beyond the ken of mankind.

We drive another two miles down to the campground and picnic area at Bear Springs.

The ground cover is thick, and the downfall everywhere. My legs are beginning to hurt from climbing over downed trees. The only wildlife we hear or see are birds: woodpeckers, ravens, warblers.

Elk and deer sign is everywhere, from tracks in the pine duff to pellets where they bed down at night.

I stumble across a coyote-kill. The skull is too large to be a porcupine, and we agree it must have been a beaver that was dragged up from the creek running along the eastern side of the Bear Springs meadow.

We find three more morels.

lunch is sweet: sandwiches made on a picnic table under the tall Ponderosa pines that ring the meadow. We meet a couple who just strolled through the meadow, and some old man comes out of the forest with his bags of mysterious booty. The couple drive off, but the old man acts like some creeper, just waiting by his car and pacing, staring at us. Eventually, he wanders back off into the woods, leaving his little dog barking from inside the car. The car is in shade, the windows open. We feel no need to rescue the yapping animal, confident the owner is only a few yards away and hidden in the thick forest, waiting for us to leave.

I take a photo of the meadow that makes up the rest area, one of my favorite places on earth. Then we walk over to the stream and the wooden bridge that separates the est area from the Bear Springs Ranger Station. The bridge is in serious disrepair, and all I can think about is the last time we were here, when Murphy and Harvey played in the water below the bridge.

it’s another 75 miles back home. Traffic is a little heavier, but even the travel trailers are driving at a reasonable speed. Those cars I pass remain behind me until we reach the lower speed limits through Zig Zag, Rhododendron, and Welches. It’s an easy cruise on into Sandy, but slows through the suburbs of Boring and Damascus, so I take the backroad from Carver home.

Don fries the morels in crushed cornflakes, egg batter, and butter. They are heavenly.



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Today, we did something spontaneous. In my world, “spontaneous” means that my husband asked me on Friday if I’d like to do this little trip. I have to plan for spontaneity. I can’t just drop things and do something fun because it might interfere with being responsible and downright boring.

He interrupted me this morning while I was planning out everything I needed to take (and hence, I forgot several items) and asked, again, if it was Okay to do this “spontaneous” thing.

This “thing” was going out to hunt for morel mushrooms. The only thing spontaneous about the trip was I decided to take Harvey along. Harvey is a pain when we go hiking or camping, mostly because he has no woods-sense and just follows his nose. He runs off.

I figured hunting morels would be easier than hiking: short leash and slow walking. I was right. Harvey loved it and he was so good on his leash (except when I wanted to take a photo of something). He did tend to want to follow my husband and his dog everywhere, but if they were out of sight, he was zoned in on his environment and all the smells. We climbed over tons of dead fall, so he may be sore in the morning, but it was worth it to see how happy he was.


I didn’t find a single morel. My husband found a dozen, very fresh, ones – enough for an appetizer at dinner.

010I found this very cool sculpture by a Pileated woodpecker (large, rectangle holes).

036I found a California tortoiseshell butterfly.

013Beetles having sex.

065Lots of orange gelatinous fungi.

Harvey and I also scared up a pair of elk. I only saw their tail ends as they trotted off, but Harvey caught a whiff of them. Everything he smelled, he got so excited about: his tail wagged nonstop, even when he was tired and just wanted to lay down on the grass.

074He did the most un-Harvey thing ever: he waded out into Bear Springs creek without any coercion – belly deep, even. This is the dog that hates water. I just stood on the little foot bridge and waited for him.

072Bear Springs picnic area is one of my very favorite places. It’s a natural meadow, surrounded by a mix of evergreens. You can stand in the center and get dizzy, staring up at the trees that encircle the meadow. Very few people come in there, even though there’s a highway just beyond the trees in the photo.

075I think it is one of Harvey’s favorite places, now, too.

004Just check out my very happy English Setter.

Epilogue: it’s almost a ninety minute drive one way, over the Cascades. Harvey didn’t even get car sick. He pretty much rocked the day.

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Friday of last week we stopped for a stroll in the woods to search for the elusive wild morel. The wild, yummy morel.

There are so many species of morels! It is not difficult to know a morel from any other mushroom in the wild: the only other mushroom that begins to resemble a morel is the false morel.

I have heard many theories about where morels grow best. They come up the spring after a fire, they come up around last year’s burn piles in the forest (where logging crews have burned brush), they come up around pine trees and they like the north slopes. Folks who pick them carefully guard their picking sites with secrecy (but I can tell you that we saw several other cars out in the woods where we were looking so no place is truly secret if a morel hunter is out in the woods).

We did gather about a half gallon of very fresh ‘shrooms, a sign that we were spot on for the timing of our hunt and maybe a week early.

While I walked around with my eyes on the ground, I decided to snap some other photos as well (of course).

A row of Calypso bulbosa (Fairy Slippers) in bloom.

The delicate anenome oregana (Blue Windflower) could be seen blooming throughout the woods.

There were still a few fresh trilliums in bloom.

An exploded puff ball mushroom (I love to stomp on these and watch the black cloud of spores explode into the air). (They are not edible!)

Last year’s maple leaf becomes a work of art.

Carpenter ants were on the move.

And there was this “whatzit?”

I’ve seen some bright orange fungi and jelly-like fungi, but nothing quite like this before.

So – you tell me. What is it?? And to keep this interesting, I’m going to offer a prize to whoever figures it out. I’ll send you a copy of The Audobon Society Field Guide to North American Wildflowers (for whichever region you live in).

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