Saturday, May 14, 2011

Coyote Wall

Every Mother's Day I used to gather up the family and go hiking.  I'd chose someplace interesting, and we'd spend the day together as a family.  I really enjoyed hiking with my husband and kids.  I think it was one of the few activities we did all together.  The Mother's Day hike was a tradition I continued for many, many years.  But the kids grew up and went off to college, and I got into running.  The last two Mother's Day weekends I've ran the Hippie Chick half the day before, and was too tired from the race to go hiking.

Coyote Wall

This year I did not run a race on Mother's Day weekend, and was itching to revive the hiking ritual.  However, Roger was in China, and Denise was busy with school.  But Cody had just finished his first year of seminary and happened to be home.  I can always count on Cody to be my hiking companion.

Clouds building over the Gorge

The forecast was for rain in Portland, so I decided to head east.  In the spring, the eastern portion of the Columbia River Gorge can usually be counted on for better weather.  Once you get east of the Cascades, the weather is sunnier and drier.   I chose to hike Coyote Wall, a place I'd never visited before.  Coyote Wall is located on the Washington side of the Gorge, about 5 miles east of Hood River.

Barge traffic on the Columbia River

Coyote Wall is a huge exposed basalt cliff jutting up from the grasslands of the eastern Gorge.  There are many user trails to take hikers up the flower-spangled meadows that cover the top of the wall.  Although I'd never hiked Coyote Wall, I'd heard good things about this area.  My friend John had hiked here the week before, and shared his photos.  The views looked great, and the flowers were in bloom.  Time to check it out!

These beautiful blue-striped flowers were everywhere

The trail began on an old abandoned paved road that Cody, Bear and I followed for the first half mile or so.  Coyote Wall's rocky cliffs loomed above us.  When the pavement ended, we followed an old dirt road that wound through the green meadows, climbing steadily.  As we gained elevation, the views became even better.  The Columbia River sparkled blue as it flowed through the Gorge. 

Bear is happy to be on the trail!

The grassy meadows were full of wildflowers.  There was yellow-hued desert parsley and a white flower with blue stripes that neither Cody nor I could identify. 

View looking west from the top of the cliff

This area is popular with the mountain bikers, and we shared the trail with quite a few of them.  But it was not a problem - the bikers we met were all very friendly and courteous.  Cody and I tried to return the favor by moving off the trail when we saw a bike coming (especially the ones travelling uphill!).

Top of the wall

The sky was beginning to cloud up and we noticed thunderheads building.  Cody and I began to get worried that we'd get rained on, or worse, encounter thunder and lightning.  But a mountain biker resting along the trail assured us that the weather would stay dry.  The biker said he rode in this area all the time, and the weather was almost always dry and sunny.  He claimed there was a "bubble" over Coyote Wall that kept the rain and clouds away.  And the biker was right - the threatening clouds moved to the east and we were rain-free the entire day.

Old fence post

We trudged up the meadow.  The trail crossed an old fence line and headed towards a cliff edge.  Cody and I arrived at our first viewpoint at the top of Coyote Wall.  The Gorge was spread out before us.  We could look east down the Columbia River towards the town of Mosier, and west towards Hood River.  If the sky to the west wasn't cloudy, we would've had a glimpse of Mt. Hood.  But it was still a grand view.


There was still more meadow to explore, and the trail continued to climb along the cliff edge.  Cody and I decided to follow it a little bit farther.  An old dirt road zig-zagged through the grassy plains.  Soon a few clumps of yellow balsamroot flowers began to appear along the trail.  I love balsamroot and was excited to see it was blooming.

Fields of balsamroot

A little bit higher up the trail, Cody and I came upon a huge field of balsamroot, yellow with blossoms.   Stalks of purple lupine were sprinkled in amongst the sunny flowers.  There wasn't a more beautiful sight.

Columbia River  view from on high

We finally turned around at a high viewpoint near some oak woods.  The view of the Columbia river was glorious.  But it was really windy on top of the ridge.  To escape the wind, we ducked into the woods to eat a quick lunch.

Sunny bright flowers reach for the sky

After our lunch, Cody and I tried to linger on top to take some photos of our surroundings.  But it was way too windy, so we descended off the ridge to get out of the wind.  I snapped a bunch more flower photos on the trek down.  It was hard to get a decent shot as the wind was really whipping the blossoms around.  I would focus on a flower, and wait patiently for it to stop moving (or at least slow down).  Surprisingly, I did manage to get a few good images.

Unidentified interesting flower

I spotted a tiny patch of lovely white and pink thistle-like flowers in the middle of the trail.  I took a few photos of the flowers, in hopes of identifying them at home.  But they didn't appear in my guidebook (or at least I haven't found them yet) so I'm still not sure what they are.

Meadow overlooking the river

Cody and I took a different trail back to the old road.  The return trip was quite scenic, crossing a small stream, and winding through a stand of oak trees.  Desert parsley brightened the landscape.  As the river became closer, the wind died down and the temperature seemed to get warmer.  Back at the car, it was almost summerlike!  But all that changed on the ride home.  As Cody and I headed west, the sky began to cloud up, and by the time we'd reached our house, it was raining.

I've discovered another wonderful place to hike when it's a rainy spring day in Portland.  After a two year hiatus, it was great to resurrect my old Mother's Day tradition.  I can't think of a better way to spend Mother's Day!

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