Traveler's Journal

Butterfly Valley

Lisa Taggart

I'm sure I wasn't the first person to have the wrong idea about Butterfly Valley, in the Sierra 80 miles north of Truckee. Spying it on a map, I imagined meadows full of pretty winged lepidoptera. But once I got there, I learned that these remote 500 acres of Plumas National Forest are actually famous for insect-eating plants. The California pitcher plant, largest of the five killer plant species found here, will even consume butterflies, if it gets the chance.

This month the valley bursts with lupines, lilies, and other wildflowers. Botanist Jim Battagin, author of The Flora of Butterfly Valley Botanical Area, says the region has an unusual mix of plants. "We're at a meeting here of different habitats."

The biggest collection of California pitcher plants, also called cobra lilies, can be seen in the Darlingtonia Bog, 6 miles west of State 70/89. This month you might spot its unusual green-and-maroon flower as well. Roads are not well marked. Visitors should check in first at Quincy's Mt. Hough Ranger Station.

Given that the valley is anything but a lepidopteran heaven, how did it get its name? From the valley's two-winged shape. That's something for the pitcher plants to chuckle about on nights around the butterfly roast. Butterfly Valley Botanical Area, Mt. Hough Ranger District (39696 State 70, Quincy; www.r5.fs.fed.us/plumas or 530/283-0555)