Sunday, May 11, 2014

The Dalles Mountain Ranch

My travels in the Columbia River Gorge have taken me to many places.  I've hiked nearly all the trails on both sides of the Gorge.  Visited many a historic site, and even camped in a couple of the campgrounds.  But I'd yet to visit the Dalles Mountain Ranch.

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.

Balsamroot blooms

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.

Small cemetery

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.

Gravestone inscription

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.

Fence shadows

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.


  1. Hi Linda, Happy Mother's Day to you!
    I want to thank you so much for your kind comment on my blog post recently, telling me that the quotes I share touch you in some way. I am very happy to hear this, and I truly appreciate you mentioning it to me.

    This tour you are sharing is so fascinating. Your photos are just gorgeous. Thank you so much for sharing.

  2. So beautiful! I haven't ever been up there either :( I really wanted to get out there this spring, but have been so busy. It will have to be on my bucket list for next year!

  3. Beautiful! The dirt road that runs through several of your shots is begging me to run on it. I love spring wildflowers. What a beautiful, simple place.

  4. I wondered what you might be getting up to now that skiing is out of the question and now I know. I love the wild flower meadows and the remains of a bygone era just strewn amongst them. My kind of place.

  5. What a beautiful place to visit. The wildflowers are gorgeous and I love the views of Mt Hood. Lovely post and photos, Linda! Have a happy week!

  6. Thats a great set of images - I love the old farm stuff.

    Cheers - Stewart M - Melbourne

  7. An area I've never really heard of, but it looks very beautiful. The pictures of the fences are especially good. I've seen the same pattern of wet on the coast and dry in the interior in B.C. Surprised me the first time, 30 years ago.

  8. That is my kind of place, so beautiful and all those wide open spaces. Thanks for sharing all these beautiful pictures, how could a person not have a great hike there.

  9. I knew the ribs wouldn't leave us bereft of your wonderful posts. The flowers, vistas, old fences, buildings and your photography are spectacular.
    Favourites are the 1st with Mt Hood and the shot with the balsam root, lupine and old dray.

  10. Wonderful images, Linda. We love that area, spend a week out there every fall.. there's so much to explore. I don't think we've been to the ranch.. a must see on our next visit.

  11. That is certainly a scenic area - definitely worth visiting and photographing.

  12. wonderful images - those vistas are amazing and I love the flowers dotting the fields and hills. The ranch looks an interesting place to visit, with lots of photo opportunities.
    Happy travels. I look forward to seeing your continuing story.
    I am joining up with you through Our World Tuesday.

  13. Really great photos. My favorite things to see were the old farm items and of course, the cemetery.

  14. There is something about the eastern and central regions of the PNW that just speak to me. I love the history, the endless views, the BLUE sky and more! LOVED the first photo (so envious of that morning light) with gorgeous Mt. Hood, the river and a train! Loved the historic items too and the cemetery. Beautiful!

  15. What an excellent road trip, beautiful views and flowers.

  16. Beautiful set of pictures! Love the flowers!

  17. Very interesting post with many beautiful Photos.

  18. Nice series- looks like an interesting place- my favorite pic- the flowers with old machinery in background

  19. Beautiful landscape.Heavenly peaceful and I love the rolling hills!

  20. I love learning of places like this have been let back to the earth & wild things. Gorgeous!
    For about the past week straight I've been obsessing over Oregon... it really is the only place I'd like to live if I were to ever leave our northern Minnesota home.
    As usual- I am thankful to live vicariously through your awesome excursions.

  21. What utterly gorgeous scenes.

  22. I'd get up early to have this on my daily schedule any time!!

    Incredibly beautiful...and great narration!

  23. Linda, This was a photographer's dream! )I'm drooling at the history and the luscious early wildflowers!) Every turn seemed to yield a wondrous scene. Both hardship and beauty in that location!

  24. Simply beautiful. Loved the shot with Mt. Hood in the background.

  25. Oh Linda another gorgeous gorgeous post. I have to follow along on your blog journey so I am your newest follower. I wish this lovely place was not on the other side of the U.S. I would probably be there everyday.


  26. Lovely photos. Will check and see if balsam root is actually what I photographed at Rowena Crest. I want to go to Sumpter Junction in eastern Oregon sometime. Have a great week!


Don't be shy! Please leave a comment.