|Paintbrush going crazy!|
One of the best early summer wildflower shows can be found on the flanks of Silver Star Mountain. Located in SW Washington, this small patch of National Forest-designated scenic area is sandwiched between logged clear cuts and rural homes. The Yacolt Burn, largest wildfire in Washington state history, swept through in 1902 leaving huge gaps where trees failed to reseed. Luckily for us wildflower lovers, these bare areas have cultivated into spectacular meadows full of every color flower imaginable.
|Pyramid Rock in morning light|
Last year, the wildflower bloom was the best I'd ever witnessed. As a matter of fact, my friend and I took so many photographs we joked about needing a flowervention. With memories of last year's show still fresh, I was looking forward to my annual summer visit.
By late June I started getting reports that Silver Star's bloom was on. Picking the final Friday of that month, I arose early to get a jump on the hikers. With the numerous flower reports hitting social media, I assumed the place would be crawling with people.
|Pretty white unknown flower|
Many trails cris-cross the mountain, but access is primarily from two trailheads, the north Ed's Trail and the south Grouse Vista. Parking at Ed's trailhead meant navigating a horrible rutted, rocky road, so I always head to Grouse Vista. Arriving before 8 am, I was pleased to see only two other vehicles in the parking area.
|Views from Silver Star summit|
The only downside to parking at Grouse Vista is enduring a steep, rocky boring trail for nearly three miles to reach the mountain's base. But that's the price of admission to these lovely flower fields, so I put my head down and chugged uphill. About a mile and a half in, the forest cleared and I was rewarded with sweeping views of the surrounding forested (and clear-cut) hills.
|Another summit vista|
It was here that the flower show started. Hundreds of bright orange Indian paintbrush dotted the adjacent hillsides. Directly below Pyramid Rock was a huge patch of beargrass, their mauve stalks standing at attention. While photographing the sights a group of people passed by heading back towards the parking area. Wondering about such an early departure, one person mentioned they'd tried to catch sunrise on Silver Star, only to be foiled by heavy cloud cover.
|Flower show from the old road|
Continuing onward, I dived back into the forest, and up more miserable rocky trail. Finally, arriving at the four-way junction below Silver Star's summit, a quick half mile climb and I was taking in the panorama from the mountain's very top.
So far the only people I'd met were the group heading back to the parking area. But, as I made my final steps onto the top of Silver Star, I noticed two other people were right behind me. So much for having the place to myself! But the couple that arrived soon afterward were very nice and we both marveled at the views and flower show. After many photos and a good conversation, it was time to move on.
|Mt St Helens hid behind the clouds|
Despite an awful road, the hike from Silver Star's northern trailhead, Ed's Trail, is the most popular way to access this scenic area. The trail boasts jaw-dropping scenery. Following a ridgeline where on clear days, three snow-capped mountain peaks are visible, hikers meander through fields thick with colorful wildflowers. Not wanting to miss this show, I decided to add a loop through Ed's trail to the day's agenda.
|Lovely yellow butterfly|
Normally, the best wildflowers can be found along an abandoned road paralleling Ed's Trail. But approaching this road, I was disappointed to see the bloom was nowhere as colorful or diverse as the previous year. Although it was still quite lovely, last year's amazing flower show had set the bar quite high. I'm assuming our hot, dry spring months were to blame.
Although the morning's overcast skies began to clear, the mountains remained hidden behind some stubborn clouds. Mt St Helens teased a bit, her base partially visible at times, but that was the extent of it. No mountain views today.
The old road meandered downhill, and although the mountains weren't visible, the adjacent foothills were. It was still a perfectly acceptable view, and although the wildflowers didn't match last years phenomenal bloom, they still weren't too shabby.
Approaching the junction with Ed's Trail, the beargrass became more numerous until I came upon a slope covered with white, poofy stalks. I love beargrass, so seeing such a large concentration was a huge treat. Perfect place for lunch break!
|Huge fields of beargrass at Ed's trail|
Body refueled, it was time to tackle the wonderful Ed's Trail. Wandering uphill along a sharp ridge, the flowers were at their colorful best. Such a wide variety - beargrass, wild iris, tiger lilies, lupine, Oregon sunshine, and tons of orange paintbrush. By now it was early afternoon, and butterflies began floating between the blossoms. Truly wonderful!
My camera's memory card was on overload as I snapped image after image of this gorgeous alpine paradise. I could see why so many folks braved the horrible road to hike Ed's Trail. It's truly one of the Pacific NW's showcase hikes.
|The amazing Ed's trail|
However, despite the glowing online flower reports, Silver Star's trails weren't busy at all that day. I ran into a handful of people on the old road, and only a half dozen on Ed's Trail. Not sure if the cloudy forecast, or the fact it was a Friday, kept people away, but, hey - I wasn't complaining!
Yes, Ed's Trail delivered in a big way. I sauntered across the ridge, through an interesting rock arch, and climbed up a few steep slopes, all the way admiring more meadows of floral splendor. Before I knew it I was back at the road junction below Silver Star Mountain.
|Lots of color along Ed's Trail|
Then I had to retrace my steps back down that miserable, rocky first trail back to my car. Although the return trek is never as fun, I did encounter lots of butterflies enjoying the afternoon heat and partial sunshine. Some of the butterflies seemed to follow me as I trekked down the trail. And although catching them standing still was tricky, I did manage to capture a few with my camera.
|Ed's Trail's famous rock arch|
For all you photography geeks out there - Some readers may remember my purchase of a mirrorless camera last August, the Fujifilm XT-1. After a undergoing a huge learning curve (the controls were totally different than my standby Canon 7D) I've come to love this compact, lightweight little camera. It's a perfect size and weight for hiking, and produces images that are nearly as good as my Canon. I've been using the XT-1 almost exclusively on most of my hikes this summer. All photos from this post came from my Fujifilm XT-1. You can compare with my photos from last year's trip (which were shot with my Canon 7D) and tell me what you think.
|One more butterfly!|
Although not as spectacular as last year's mega-bloom, Silver Star Mountain still lived up to it's reputation as the place to go for fabulous early summer wildflowers.