Wildflowers of the Trinity Alps
By Laura Christman
By Laura Christman
Photos by Ken DeCamp
WHAT HAPPENS when a photographer fascinated by flowers joins forces with two forest botanists committed to correctness?
“Wildflowers of the Trinity Alps” — a book of beauty and botanical integrity.
The 334-page guidebook recently published by Backcountry Press showcases hundreds of wildflowers found in the Trinity Alps, Marble Mountains, Russian Wilderness and Trinity Divide. Beargrass, buckwheats, sandworts, violets, monkeyflowers and more grow in this botanically diverse region north and west of Redding.
The book was eight years in the making. But the story really begins much earlier, when author/nature photographer Ken DeCamp was just a kid. His dad worked as an engineering scout for dam projects, which meant frequent moves — as far away as Pakistan at one point. But when the outdoorsy family landed in tiny Lewiston in Trinity County in 1956, it became their home base.
“I took my first backpacking trip into the Trinity Alps when I was 10 years old,” DeCamp says. “I fell in love with that area.”
He circled back to Trinity County after earning a geography degree from University of California, Davis. DeCamp worked in fire, land management planning and public relations for Shasta-Trinity National Forest Service for 38 years at Weaverville Ranger District and Redding headquarters. Retiring in 2007, he found more time for backpacking and photography — two things he loved. The more photos he took, the more he learned.
“Snapshot photography doesn’t make it,” DeCamp says. “You need to carry a tripod. You need to pay attention to the camera settings. You need to pay attention to the light.”
He invested in Nikon cameras. He read botanical manuals. He carried tripods of different heights. He brought a tarp to create shade for shooting. And he took things slowly.
DeCamp is all about taking time to notice nature. “It’s not uncommon for me to spend 30 minutes on a flower. I like to move the camera around, try a lot of different settings. I’m a big fan of crawling around in the dirt. Sometimes that’s the only way you can find these things.”
Soon he had many gigabytes — terabytes, actually — of images. So he decided to make a field guide. He brought the draft to “The Julies” — Shasta-Trinity National Forest botanist Julie Kierstead Nelson and retired Klamath National Forest botanist Julie Knorr. DeCamp knew both from his Forest Service days and wanted their professional feedback.
He says they essentially told him, “No way.” The photography was beautiful but the book needed a botanical upgrade.
“We dumped the whole thing and started over again,” DeCamp says.
A big challenge for Kierstead Nelson and Knorr in identifying and grouping the flower photos was the upending of plant nomenclature in recent years. The Jepson Manual is the authoritative resource on California flora, and times were simpler when the first edition was published in 1993. Plants were basically grouped by appearance. For example, Kierstead Nelson notes: “What we used to call the snapdragon family had penstemons, paintbrushes, owl’s clovers that seemed to hang together based on what they looked like.”
Enter molecular biology. Analyzed at the genetic level, some lookalikes turned out not to be related. New species and subspecies have been identified, names changed and plant families blasted apart.
“If you find out plants are not related, you cannot keep calling them the same thing,” Kierstead Nelson says.
Changes in identities and classifications emerging from the turbulent taxonomical times were incorporated in the second edition of Jepson published in 2012. Making sure “Wildflowers of the Trinity Alps” included the updated names and families made for more work in the editing, organizing and indexing, but it also gives the wildflower guide an edge.
“I’m not aware of any (other guide) on Northern California that is as comprehensive, current, and with such marvelous photos,” Kierstead Nelson says.
The book appeals to serious plant people as well as more casual flower fans. It has scientific and common names and features DeCamp’s welcoming writing. Huckleberries are “little blue treasures — the taste as delicious as the smell.” He describes tiny spiders inside western azalea blooms defending “their flowery homes with all the ferocity of a miniature charging bear.” Next to a snowbrush photo, DeCamp recalls how his father occasionally put the leaves under pack straps to enjoy their spicy scent as he hiked.
DeCamp hopes the book encourages exploration and appreciation. Nature’s rewards are more than tall peaks, big lakes and grand vistas, he says. They also can be found in the details.
“To me, it’s important to pay attention to the little things that make up the big picture,” he says. •
“Wildflowers of the Trinity Alps” by Ken DeCamp; editing/scientific review by Julie Kierstead Nelson and Julie Knorr
Available at www.backcountrypress.com, Crown Camera in Redding, Whiskeytown National Recreation Area visitors center and Tammie’s Books in Weaverville.