Last Sunday I had planned to go skiing. There was still lots of snow up on Hood. But then my friend Kim saw a weather report for Saturday. It had rained all day at Meadows. The temps were supposed to dip below freezing Saturday night and stay there all day Sunday. Not wanting to ski on an ice cube, I instead opted to join my friend John for a hike.
|Obligatory trail sign photo|
John always gathers a most interesting and wonderful group of people for his hikes. This day was no exception. Ten of us met at the trailhead to Catherine Creek for a Sunday ramble. Luckily the weather turned out to be relatively clear and a tiny bit chilly - but no rain! Perfect spring hiking weather.
|Heading down a gravel road towards the canyon|
Catherine Creek flows through a beautiful natural area located on the Washington side of the Gorge, about six miles east of Hood River. Since this area is on the eastern slopes of the Cascades, the terrain is more open and grassy. Instead of Douglas Firs, the trees are predominantly oaks and ponderosa pines.
|A photo of the photographer!|
The trail started out along an old gravel road that wound through Catherine Creek's valley. I hadn't hiked since last October, and it felt good to be back on the trail. We passed the steep walls of the canyon, decked out in sunny yellow buttercup flowers. Our group of happy hikers crossed over the creek on a wood plank footbridge, and continued through the canyon bottom.
|Remnants of an old corral|
|Pete, Shannon and Bob takin' a break|
I always meet the nicest people on John's hikes. Today was no exception. As we walked along, I had some good conversations with my hiking companions. And they all put up with me snapping photos of them!
|John and his hiking club|
From the corral and rock arch, the trail began to climb. Our group trudged through an oak forest dotted with random bunches of yellow flowers. I lagged behind the group, shooting photos as I went.
|Mt. Hood makes an appearance|
Near the top of the ridge, Mt. Hood was visible, rising over farmlands to the west. The sky adjacent to the mountain was cloudy and kind of washed-out, but it was such a lovely view I took a picture anyway. Thanks to the magic of photoshop, I was able to make Hood stand out a little better against the white sky.
|Unidentified purple flower (UPF)|
As the trail topped out over the ridge, flowers began to appear in the grassy slopes. Our group found this bunch of beautiful purple flowers, but alas - no one could identify them. We ended up calling it a "UPF" - unidentified purple flower.
|Climbing on top of the ridge|
At the top of the ridge, the landscape opened up into a large grassy field punctuated by the occasional ponderosa pine tree. John's hiking group continued their climb to the top of the hill.
|Lunchtime under the big oak tree|
Near the top of the hill was a large oak tree. We stopped for lunch under the tree's bare branches. The views were wonderful. In one direction we could look east down the Gorge to The Dalles. We could look west and see Mt. Hood. And towards the north we could just make out the tip of snow-covered Mt. Adams.
|The oak tree's twisted branches|
After lunch, John led us up even higher on the hillside. We hiked along an old road through a grove of oak trees. The oak tree's gnarled branches made a good contrast against the blue sky. A great photo op! We came upon a lovely green meadow in the middle of the oaks, and John announced that was our turn-around point. After a quick snack break, it was time to head back down the way we came.
|Wonderful Gorge view as we hike back down|
After coming out of the oak grove, we were treated to a awesome view of the Gorge as we hiked back down the hill. The Columbia River, blue and shining, snaked through the Gorge's terraced walls. The light was in the wrong direction for good photos, but it was such a nice view I took a bunch of shots anyway.
|Shooting Star flowers|
As the hikers headed downhill, we discovered large clumps of brilliant rose-purple shooting star blooms. They were so pretty, I tried to get some photos of the flowers. But the wind was blowing strong, and I had trouble getting a shot that wasn't blurry. So Pete, bless his heart, but his backpack next to the flowers to block the wind. It worked wonderfully, and I got some great photographs. Good idea, Pete!
|Gotta get the photographer in one picture!|
We hiked down to the top of the cliff area. John led us to an opening he called "the notch." This "notch" was an opening in the cliff that had a gentler slope and provided a passage down to the valley below. Everyone took turns climbing through this opening. The group then meandered through another oak forest to a grassy meadow. We followed the meadow up onto the rim of the cliff where the rock arch we'd seen this morning was located. It was cool to see the rock arch from up top and behind. I tried to capture this in a photograph, but failed miserably. Sorry but no arch photos today!
Our final leg of the hike was through another grassy meadow covered with spots of wildflowers. There were groups of more shooting star flowers mixed with some white blossoms (UWF - unidentified white flowers). We also saw a scattering of blue-blossomed camas lilly. These lillies were a beautiful, delicate bloom, and I captured them in a couple of good images.
|Parting Gorge view|
As I headed down the last small hill, I looked back and took a last parting shot of the eastern view down the Gorge. Flowers were blooming, the river was running swift and blue, the sky clear and sunny. It was a wonderful day to be out in nature and I was so glad I'd joined John and his friends.
My first hike of 2011 was a rousing success! The Catherine Creek area is a unique place showcasing different trees and flowers suited to a much drier climate than Portland. It was nice to see the gnarled oaks, ponderosa pines and windswept grasslands. And you really cannot beat the awesome views of the Gorge and mountains. I enjoyed my trip immensely and can't wait to resume my weekly hikes. Yahoo! I think spring has finally arrived!