Thursday, May 31, 2012

The Tam-a-lau Trail

Last weekend, I left behind the lush green forests of the Columbia River Gorge for the barren high desert of Central Oregon.  I rendezvoused with my brother Dale and his family for our annual Memorial Day camping trip at the Cove Palisades State Park.

Size matters!  Click on any photo to enjoy a larger view.

The trail beckons...

Roger loves the Cove Palisades for its fabulous boating and fishing.   As you well know, I enjoy hiking, and - lucky for me - this park has the most wonderful path - the Tam-a-lau Trail.

Lake Billy Chinook and the Island

The Tam-a-lau trail takes its visitors up the side of a canyon, past unusual geologic formations, to the top of a large flat mesa (nicknamed "the Peninsula"). From this vantage high atop the canyon walls, views of Cascade peaks, from Mt. Hood to the Three Sisters line the horizon. Hikers are also rewarded with a perspective of Lake Billy Chinook from on high, which in itself makes for some jaw-dropping scenery. A 3.6-mile loop on top of the mesa, provides views of this lake from many different angles.  Over the years, my family has visited this park numerous times, and I've made many treks up the Tam-a-lau's dusty trail.

Steep cliffs on the Deschutes arm of the lake

I began this year's hike the sunny morning after our arrival to the park.  On a photography mission, I was hoping to catch some early light over the lake.  The trailhead, a short walk from our campsite, began in a scruffy juniper forest.  The path immediately launched itself uphill, switchbacking along the canyon wall.

Bear silhouetted against the sky

I chugged and puffed, ascending through the sparse juniper and sagebrush forest. Some of the years I've visited, the flowers bloom thick here. However, not this time - floral numbers were way down. The few blooms that remained looked way past their prime. Some scraggly balsamroot and lupine lingered down low, but they were nothing to write home about (or photograph).


The lake in all its glory

The big draw to the Cove Palisades is Lake Billy Chinook, an enormous three-armed body of water created by damming the Metolius, Crooked, and Deschutes Rivers. Over the years, erosion from these swift rivers has cut through soft sedimentary rock deposits, creating beautiful layered canyons. These steep cliffs that now tower above the lake shores form the centerpiece of the park's breathtaking scenery.

Bright little balsamroot

It didn't take much climbing before the shining blue waters of Lake Billy Chinook's Deschutes arm appeared.  The sparse trees and lack of undergrowth made for many lake view opportunities on the way up.


The Three Sisters rise up from the desert

Although it was a steep climb, the numerous viewpoints gave me an excuse to stop and take photos (and maybe catch a breather or two!)


The desert bushes were in bloom

The Tam-a-lau takes visitors through some interesting geologic sights, including an area of huge, truck-sized boulders, just sitting alongside the trail.  How these gigantic rocks got there is a mystery. They look very much out of place.  The trail also passes by a steep cliff, where some small caves have been eroded into the hillside.

Cool clouds over the lake

The Cove Palisades has a fascinating geologic history.  The layered canyons were created by ancient lava flows.  These lava flows formed the Cascade mountains and also caused land to sink in this area.  Rivers sought the lower elevations, and deposited layers of sediment.  These sediment bands were interrupted by deposits of ash and lava from occasional volcanic activities.  A final large volcanic eruption created a thick basalt cap, the canyon's rimrock.


Interesting volcanic rocks

After a mile of distance and 600 feet of elevation gain, I reached the Peninsula's rim.  Views from the mesa's top were glorious indeed.  Mt. Jefferson loomed gleaming white across the canyon.  The Three Sisters and Black Butte appeared in the western horizon.  Even a fuzzy Mt. Hood could be spotted faintly to the north.  Lake Billy Chinook spread out below, lined by its amazing cliff walls.

Lake panorama from on top

I hiked along the canyon rim, stopping frequently to snap image after image of the lake.  Two varieties of small yellow flowers were blooming, and these, along with the brilliant lime-green sagebrush bushes, made a nice contrast to the blue lake and reddish brown canyons below.

These flowers brightened up the trail

I hiked about a half mile or so down this trail when I began to get hungry.  In my haste to get up here early, I neglected to eat much for breakfast and was now paying for it.  Usually I'll at least hike the mile to the tip of the Peninsula (for its super-incredible views) and come back.  But my tummy wielded its power, and managed to persuade me to cut my hike short.

The boats look like small dots

No matter, the day was getting warm, and my memory card was beginning to fill.  I told myself I'd come back up here in the evening to catch the sunset (which sadly didn't happen - too many distractions at camp).  I enjoyed a quick trip back down the trail, seeing the lake from another interesting perspective as I descended.

Heading back down

Now with my annual Tam-a-lau visit complete, there's nothing more to do than to enjoy the photographs.  And I hope you have.  It's easy to see why this picturesque setting makes the Cove Palisades the most popular state park in Oregon.

But I'm not done yet - I've got more photos and stories up my sleeve!  Stay tuned for Part two of my Central Oregon Memorial Day camping adventure.

Monday, May 28, 2012

Backyard Bouquet

It's been an extremely busy week and once again I'm behind in my blog postings.  I just returned from a fabulous weekend camping trip to Central Oregon, and have lots of photos and stories to share.  But it's gonna take some time to process and sort through all the images, so to tide you over 'till then, here's a few flower photos from my backyard.

This time of year, our backyard is bursting with color.  Many varieties of flowers are blooming.  One morning last week everything looked so nice, I just had to capture some of it with my camera.  These exquisite purple irises were the first ones that caught my eye.

Paired with an adjacent huge mass of yellow pond lilies, both blooms light up the yard.  My husband has a small koi pond in the back corner. Neighborhood raccoons and a great blue heron cleaned it out of fish long ago, but every spring these gorgeous iris and lilies still bloom. 

I absolutely love the pond lilies.  They're my most favorite flower.  I wait all year just to see them open up and show off their frilly petals. 

Roger also transformed an ugly bare spot in the yard (where my son's greenhouse used to stand) into a dazzling flower garden.  He also plants tomatoes here.  The flowers provide something nice to look at while we're waiting for the tomato plants to grow and produce.

These two-color flowers are especially nice.  And, sorry, I don't know their name (I do not have the green thumb in the family).

I'm so lucky to have a husband who enjoys gardening.  He's transformed our backyard into a beautiful eden.  And all I have to do is get out the camera and enjoy.

Monday, May 21, 2012

Dog Mtn - Floral Wonderland

There's one trail I always try to hike this time every year - Dog Mountain.  Dog Mtn has the most incredible display of wildflowers in the entire Columbia River Gorge.  Come late May, Dog's summit meadows are yellow with the sheer numbers of balsamroot flowers in bloom.  It's a breathtakingly beautiful sight, and one I try very hard not to miss.

Size matters!  Click on any photo to enjoy a larger version.

Dog Mtn this way!

Early this week one of my co-workers tipped me off that the flowers on Dog would be in full bloom for the weekend.  Luckily, I had Friday off, and immediately made plans to go there.

The lower meadows

I recruited my son Cody, who's home for a couple of weeks between school and his summer assignment.  With his degree in Botany, he's a great companion for wildflower hikes.

Bear helps himself to some water

And of course Bear is always a willing hiking partner.  You can't climb Dog Mountain without your dog!

Midway view point

After March and April's endless rains, the month of May so far had been dry.  This day was no exception.  Sunny skies greeted us as we pulled into the trailhead.

A quick rest at "Puppy Point"

Dog Mtn has a high price of admission to its wildflower meadows.  Hikers must climb up a gruellingly steep trail that gains nearly 3000 feet in just three short miles.  It's not for the weak of knees or faint of heart.  But if you've got the strength and stamina to reach its summit, great are the rewards.

Faces towards the sun

The Dog Mtn trail starts out steep from the get-go.  From the trailhead, hikers are immediately launched into a relentless series of never-ending switchbacks.  Poison oak was growing in abundance here, and we frequently had to dodge around its leafy bushes (Bear, oblivious to the stuff, charged right through).

The grand summit meadows

A half mile up the trail lies the first junction, where visitors are confronted with their choice of the "more difficult" or "less difficult" trail (I always love how both paths are described by the word "difficult").  Fortunately, the "less difficult" trail is the more scenic of the two, and the one I always take. 

Balsamroot as far as the eye could see

Another mile and 1000 feet of climbing gets you to the first, lower viewpoint, nicknamed "Puppy Point" by some of us locals.  Cody and I got our first look at the balsamroot fields.  Here the bloom had been going strong for at least a week or two, but the flowers were still lovely and plentiful.  We took a quick rest break at the overlook.  The views to the west are spectacular, including nearby Wind Mountain and the Columbia River.  And everything is framed by golden yellow balsamroot blooms.

The meadows were chock full of yellow blooms

After a few (okay a bunch) of clicks from my camera, we resumed our trek to the top.  Another mile and 1000 feet more climbing awaited us.  And in this stretch the trail gets extremely steep!  Progress slows to a mere crawl.  This part of the hike always seems to take forever.


Brilliant purple phlox

But finally you emerge from the forest into a broad treeless meadow chock-full of cheerful yellow balsamroot flowers.  The surrounding hillside is yellow with their blossoms.  The flowering fields stretch endlessly up the steep slope.  As many times as I've been up here, this sight never fails to amaze and delight.

Happy yellow blossom's photography time!  My camera was out and firing, the memory card filling fast.  So much beauty to capture.  The sunny skies were a bonus, but the strong wind was not.  It's hard to get images of flowers when they're being buffeted around.  But of course, I tried.  And I did manage to get a couple nice images.

The balsamroot petered out near the summit

Past the upper viewpoint, the trail continued to climb another half mile and almost 500 feet to Dog Mountain's summit.  Usually the meadows here are ablaze with flowers, but not today.  The balsamroot petered out quickly past the upper viewpoint.  I think we were a little too early to catch the entire mountain in full flower mode.  Another two weeks, and this place would be one big colorful garden.

Summit view of Wind Mountain

But it was still a pleasant trek to the top of the mountain.  Other flowers, such as phlox and buttercup were blooming, and made up for the lack of balsamroot.  Upon reaching the summit proper, Cody and I claimed a spot near the edge of the forest and enjoyed a wind-sheltered view as we ate our lunch.  About two dozen people and a few dogs were scattered about the summit meadow, all relaxing and taking in the Gorge panorama.

Paintbrush was thick near the trailhead

After a blissful lunch break, it was time to head back down the mountain.  For the return trip, we opted for the Augspurger Mountain trail.  Although a bit longer distance than the "less difficult" trail, the Augspurger provided a gentler grade and wound through a lovely forest.


Lupine just starting to bloom

After such a grueling climb, traveling downhill was a welcome change.  But it wasn't long before my knees and feet began to complain.  Luckily, the forest clearings provided nice patches of lupine and paintbrush as a distraction.

Columbia River view on the descent

Near the end of my hike, the forest opened up to a wonderful vista of the Columbia River.  The clear skies provided visibility for miles to the west.  I stopped in my tracks and just took it all in.  (And then of course, I captured it on my memory card!)

On the way up, Cody and I ran into a couple of ladies.  We stopped and exchanged hellos.  One of the women, marvelling over the wonderful display of wildflowers exclaimed "We're so lucky to live in such a beautiful place!"

I couldn't agree with her more.  And in the spring, there's no place more spectacular than the lush wildflower meadows of Dog Mountain.


Friday, May 18, 2012

Nick Eaton Ridge

Spring weekends are meant for hiking.  And in the spring, there's no better place to go than the Columbia River Gorge.  Winter rains fuel brilliant green vegetation.  Flowers abound, in many hues, shapes and sizes.  Swollen creeks feed a multitude of waterfalls.  What's not to like?

Size matters!  Click on any photo to enjoy a larger version.

Bear provides the entertainment

My friend John is still in mountain climbing conditioning mode.  Last Saturday, he rallied the gang to hike up Nick Eaton Ridge.  John planned a route that traversed 14 miles, and 4000 feet of elevation gain.  Since I'm attempting to actually train for the Helvetia Half Marathon in June, and planned to run 9 miles the following day, I bailed out halfway and "only" hiked 8 miles and 3000 feet.

It's time for an uphill climb

But I joined John's group for the first part of the hike - a trudge up the extremely steep Nick Eaton Trail.  This killer path gains 1800 elevation in a mere two miles. 

But first John has to mess with his GPS

It didn't take long and everyone was puffing and sweating.  There's nothing like a steep climb with a heavy pack on your back to get that ol' heart rate going.

A chocolate tiger lily

The trail scrambled and switchbacked through viewless woods.  It wasn't without some rewards, though.  Terri spotted some rare chocolate tiger lilies hiding amongst the forest floor. 

Rest break with a view

After climbing endlessly our path came out in a clearing.  A rocky outcrop provided the perfect break spot. 

Incredible Gorge overlook

The views were worth that monstrous climb.  The western end of the Gorge spread out before us, with the Columbia River shining far below.

The Columbia River is way down there!

My hiking partners and I spent a pleasant 20 minutes taking in the views.   There was also some time spent eating and photographing flowers.

Mt. Adams makes an appearance

Then we shouldered our packs for the final climb to the top of Nick Eaton Ridge. 

Lots of trilliums

At the Deadwood Trail turnoff, I bid my friends goodbye.  John and company continued further up the ridge, and I took the downhill path to Deadwood Camp.

And bunches of these "unidentified purple flowers"

The path to Deadwood camp meandered through a dense forest full of blooming flowers.  I spotted trilliums, and tons of cute little purple flowers I couldn't identify.  They became known as "UPF" short for "unidentified purple flowers."

A trillium past its prime

One clearing provided a nice panorama of the northern Gorge, with Mt. Adams rising front and center.  Otherwise, the thick forest canopy prevented any views.

Alternative view of some fairy slippers

Bear and I reached the junction with the Gorton Creek Trail.  This well-graded path provides an easier descent than the Nick Eaton Trail. 

Lots of big trees lining the trail

It winds through a wonderful forest of large Douglas firs.

My pup is pooping out

Of course the flowers were out along this trail too.  I spotted a big patch of fairy slippers (also known as calypso orchids) and attempted to photograph them with my little point-n-shoot camera.  It wasn't the best attempt.  I need to start dragging out my "big girl" camera on these hikes!

Springtime green covers the Gorge cliffs

Bear and I ended our trek with a nice view of these cliffs as we headed towards the car.  The hillsides are covered with bright new vegetation.  Everything is so green, it seems to glow.  Spring has sprung, and it is all so beautiful.

Another great day in the Gorge!