That is, until now.
|Early morning Gorge scene|
Recently I'd read many great reports about this scenic, rolling grassland on the Gorge's eastern fringe. Word was that spring wildflowers bloomed in great abundance on its slopes. A local hiking website posted some great photographs of the area. That was all the encouragement I needed.
|The flowers are out!|
The ranch was a bit of a drive from Portland. Located on the Washington side of the Gorge, across from The Dalles, it's a good two-hour trip. Wanting to catch the morning light, I left my home at o-dark-thirty. But my early start was rewarded. Pulling onto the ranch's access road, I was greeted with lovely, warm sunshine.
|Yellow balsamroot carpets the hillside|
The road to the ranch itself is not signed, so it took a few wrong turns before reaching my destination. But the countryside was so open and lovely, I really didn't mind.
My first stop was the end of a rough, gravel road midway up the riverside bluffs. From the parking area, wide grassland spread out before me. Far below was the Columbia River. To the west, a white topped Mt. Hood anchored the horizon.
|Mt. Hood peeks over the horizon|
Huge patches of yellow stood out amongst the green spring grass. These were the balsamroot blossoms. With cheerful yellow petals that resemble a sunflower, these flora are a common springtime sight in the eastern Gorge.
|Spring has turned these hills green (and yellow)|
The balsamroot bloom in such large numbers, they carpet the adjacent hillsides. These huge spring floral displays are what the Dalles Mountain Ranch is famous for.
|A blue sky day|
Although the western end of the Columbia River Gorge is thickly forested with Douglas Fir, ferns, and moss, the Gorge's eastern end is barren and dry. Located in the rainshadow of the Cascade Mountains, it's always amazing to me the stark differences in vegetation one encounters during the two-hour trip from Portland east.
|Cool old fences were everywhere|
Not only balsamroot, but bright purple stalks of lupine poked up and mixed with the yellow riot of flowers. Although the balsamroot were about a week past their prime, the lupine were just reaching peak bloom.
|The lupine was also blooming|
The Dalles Mountain Ranch is located on the site of an 1869 homestead, the first in this county. Another homestead, owned by the Crawford family, was settled in 1878. The Crawford's ranched and farmed in the area, even operating a dairy for a short time. Over the next century, the Crawford homestead and the adjacent hills continued as a working cattle ranch, until the Bleakney family deeded the property to the state of Washington in 1993.
|View of the ranch from above|
Part of this 9,000 acre property was set aside for protection of native plants. Cattle-free for nearly 20 years, this land has once again reverted to it's natural condition. It now boasts numerous native plants and shrubs, as well as populations of mule deer and wild turkeys.
|Interesting wagon from a bygone era|
Not only huge vistas of grassland flower gardens, the Dalles Mountain Ranch has also preserved many of the old ranch buildings. Heading back down the gravel road, my next stop was a visit to old homestead.
|Old iron wheels|
A very interesting place indeed! Not only did I find the old barns and farmhouse, in the nearby field was an extensive collection of rusty vintage farm equipment.
|Flowers and old farming equipment|
I had a blast walking amongst the wagons, threshers, plows, and other unidentifiable implements from a bygone era. Bright wildflowers bloomed in large numbers between the displays, making great backdrops.
Amongst the farm equipment, I discovered a tiny pioneer cemetery. One of the two headstones was inscribed with a date of 1890. So very interesting to discover a small bit of local history. One can only imagine how difficult life must have been in this remote, harsh location.
This area was finally declared an official state park in 2003, when it combined with nearby Horsethief Butte State Park. Recently, the entire area has been renamed the Columbia Hills State Park, whose boundaries now stretch from Columbia River's banks to the top of Stacker Butte (which rises to an elevation of 3,200 feet).
|Weathered ranch buildings|
Because it's such a new park, there are no visitor facilities. People are allowed the walk amongst the ranch buildings, but cannot go inside. However I did observe construction nearby of what appeared to be a formal parking lot and restroom building. So changes are in the works. Which is a good thing, for this area is fast becoming a popular early spring destination.
I wandered around the farm buildings, shooting whatever caught my eye. Although I normally like to shoot landscapes, the weathered buildings and fences made great photo subjects.
|Green hills towards the river|
Across the road, beyond a shabby corral, I saw another rolling hillside carpeted with more yellow blossoms. From reading a local hiking website's trip reports, I knew there was an old rusted car, left to decay, somewhere in those flower fields.
|Fence posts make good photo subjects|
So.....I set out across the grassy plains in search of this ancient auto. Would I be successful in my quest? Well, you'll have to come back and read my next post to find out!
(I promise there will be more fantastic wildflower shots.)
Sharing with: Our World Tuesday.