Saturday, June 28, 2014

Surprises on Hardy Ridge

Hardy Ridge wasn't my first choice for a hike.

The tiger lilies were out!

After a group excursion to Ramona Falls was cancelled at the last minute, I was hankering to go there.  My friend Katie and I made plans to visit this trail the following Saturday.  But then my car ended up in the shop with transmission problems (don't even get me started on how much that cost...)

Brushy trail

So Katie became the default driver.  All was well until we met that morning, and Katie complained of back pain.  It made her uncomfortable to sit in the driver's seat for long periods of time.  Ramona Falls was a good hour and a half drive, and she really didn't want to hike someplace that was so far away.

Droplet-speckled foxglove

She suggested we try Hardy Ridge.  Located on the Washington side of the Gorge at Beacon Rock State Park, it was a fairly quick jaunt from east Portland.  Although disappointed my visit to Ramona Falls had been thwarted yet again, I smiled and told Katie Hardy Ridge would be fine.

These water drops looked like diamonds

My friend John had hiked this trail the previous week, and gave a glowing report about the number of wildflowers blooming.  Oh well, if I couldn't see a waterfall, at least there'd be flowers to photograph.

The tiger lilies were abundant

At the trailhead parking lot, my friend and I observed a large group of people (it appeared to be an extended family) with many young kids pull up in multiple cars.  Katie and I hustled to get ready and beat this group on the trail.  Unfortunately, they began their hike at the exact same time we did.

Tunnel of green

Not wanting to follow a large, slow group of people, Katie put on the afterburner, setting a quick pace down the trail.  I struggled to keep up.  Luckily the first mile was on an abandoned road, and although slightly uphill, it had a nice even walking surface.

Loved these yellow "Oregon sunshine"

I spied some lovely orange tiger lilies blooming in the underbrush.  Making a quick photo break, I managed to capture a few images before the group began to catch up.


And so it went for the first two miles, Katie zipping ahead, and me stopping to catch a photo or two, and then practically running to catch up.  We followed the old road for a mile, and then turned onto another long-abandoned road turned trail.  This one was totally overgrown necessitating a small bushwhack through the tall grasses and desert parsley.


The previous night had been a rainy one, as evidenced by the amount of water droplets covering the foliage.  I initially wasn't planning to wear my gaiters until Katie commented that things might get wet.  Now, charging through the waterlogged vegetation, I was thankful for my friend's advice.  Despite the dampness, my feet and lower legs were staying dry.

Interesting color of paintbrush

The flowers were nice along this second trail.  Besides tiger lilies, paintbrush, lupine, foxglove, and some cheerful yellow flowers called "Oregon sunshine" decorated our path.  It was very hard not to stop and photograph each and every one.

Topping out on the ridge trail

At the next trail junction, Katie, who'd hiked this trail many times, warned me this was the place where things got steep.  And, boy was she right!  Our path took off nearly straight up.  Katie charged uphill like a mountain goat.  Panting and sweating, I struggled to keep up.

Wild rose

Although a tough climb, the amount of flowers blooming along this stretch helped lessen the pain.  We came across huge fields of yellow Oregon sunshine, Indian paintbrush, lupine and larkspur.  Katie spied some vibrant orange honeysuckle on a nearby bush.  Everytime I turned a corner, there was something new and beautiful to admire.

Foggy views from Hardy Ridge

Finally, my friend and I came to a small trail sign announcing Hardy Ridge.  From this point, trails branched out in different directions, some heading back downhill, while others followed the ridgeline.  Katie opted to continue across Hardy Ridge, promising me we'd get some nice views.

Paintbrush cluster

However, today was a typical cloudy and damp PNW day.  Even though the weather was less than ideal, I could still catch glimpses of the Columbia River through the clouds and fog.  Nearby forested hills and the Oregon side of the Gorge drifted in and out of view.  The vistas along Hardy Ridge were indeed nice.

Happy to be on top!

But parts of the ridgeline trail were thickly overgrown.  That meant more bushwhacking through dripping wet vegetation.  Both Katie and I began to get wet.  Our shirt sleeves and upper pant legs (what wasn't covered by gaiters) became soaked.  The higher we climbed on the ridge, the stronger the wind became.  Although Katie had hoped to reach the other end of Hardy Ridge, we were fast becoming cold, wet and miserable.


So Katie and I decided to stop at an overlook about halfway along the ridgeline.  It was past noon, and we were both starving.  We huddled behind a small amount of vegetation.  I changed out of my wet shirt (so thankful I always carry a spare!) and donned a warm jacket.  PB & J, hot tea, and fresh cherries made for an excellent lunch.

Katie pauses in a field of wildflowers

As we ate, I admired the view below.  Not only the Columbia River, stretched out like a shining ribbon, but our panorama also overlooked Bonneville Dam. 


Katie, who'd just celebrated a BIG birthday a few days before, commented that last week she'd taken the last hike of the 60s, and today was her first hike of the 70s.  She is one amazing lady!   I was honored to be the person to accompany her for this milestone hike.  When I'm her age, I hope I can charge up steep hills like Katie does (with a sore back, no less!).

Daises, specked with raindrops

Food really does work wonders on tired bodies.  After filling our bellies, Katie and I were ready to tackle the return trip.  This time, I got smart and donned my rain jacket.  No more wet arms for me!

Katie admires a tiger lily

The overgrown trail sections were much drier for our return trip (we'd already knocked most of the moisture off the leaves).  We headed downhill at more leisurely pace, perfect to capture more of these incredible wildflower gardens.

Droplet-studded tiger lily

Hands down, my favorite flower of the was the tiger lily.  I took so many great photos of these lively orange blooms, it was hard to narrow down which ones to include on this post (hopefully I'm not overloading you too much!). 

I'm so very glad Katie took me up Hardy Ridge.  I came with no expectations, and was pleasantly surprised by the beauty of this wonderful trail.

Sharing with:  Weekly Top Shot and Today's Flowers. and Our World Tuesday.

Monday, June 23, 2014

Grassy Knoll

What makes a great hike?  Start with some good friends, add a dose of dry, sunny weather, and put them all on a scenic, wildflower-packed trail near the Columbia River Gorge.  Voila!

Single file through the paintbrush

My hiking buddy John put out an email APB soliciting takers for a trip to Grassy Knoll.  This trail, located near Carson, WA, is famous for it's early summer wildflower displays.  The only catch - reaching it requires a long dusty drive on a windy, pothole-infested gravel road.

Gravel road aftermath

Two Saturdays ago, our group gathered.  In addition to myself, John had two other takers - his girlfriend Dorene, and another friend coincidentally also named Jon (but spelled differently).

Colorful Mt. Adams viewpoint

Jon had attempted to reach Grassy Knoll once before, but the nasty road was too much for his little Prius.  Less than a mile from the trailhead, he encountered a gigantic pothole, so large it was impassible for the little car.  He turned around, headed back into town, and the very next week traded his Prius for a high clearance, four-wheel-drive pickup.

Pink penstemon in bloom

But the other John's Subaru was the perfect vehicle to take on this awful road (Subie's are the best outdoor cars ever!)  As we bumped along, everyone tried to guess which one was Jon's ginormous pothole.  Jon held firm he'd know it when he saw it.  And, sure enough, we encountered a massive hole in the gravel road, so huge John had to gingerly creep through to avoid bottoming out.  We dubbed this crater the "Prius-swallowing pothole."

Dorene poses at the overlook

The flower show began right away in a small meadow at the trailhead.  Lupine, desert parsley, and some cheerful yellow flowers decorated the grasses.  It distracted everyone so much, we almost didn't get started!  But once we got going, our path rocketed steeply through dense forest.

Trekking up Grassy Knoll's flower-filled slope

After a mile of uphill trudging, the trail opened up along a lovely clifftop rim with amazing views over the surrounding forested hills and nearby lava bed.  A white-capped Mt. Adams anchored the skyline.  Bright pink penstemon flowers added nice accents to the scene.

A colorful trail

From the ridge, our trail roller-coastered through alternating woods and clearings, until reaching the wildflower-spangled meadows at the foot of Grassy Knoll.

Killer Mt. Hood view on top of Grassy Knoll

Grassy Knoll is a treeless hump that in early summer erupts into one of the finest wildflower displays of the Gorge.  Climbing the steep switchbacks to it's summit, my friends and I oohed and aahed over the variety and numbers of colorful flowers.

Primo lunch spot

We spotted, paintbrush, balsamroot, lupine, phlox, desert parsley, and many others that I couldn't name.  A botanist's paradise!

Lots of Phlox was blooming

Approaching Grassy Knoll's summit, my hiking buddies and I were treated to a killer front-row view of Mt. Hood.  This mountain rose up from adjacent foothills, filling the sky.

Remnants of an old fire tower

Grassy Knoll was once the site of a Forest Service lookout tower.  The tower was established in 1934, demolished by winds in 1952, and rebuilt in 1953 (the replacement materials had to be flown in to this remote location).  But today all that remain of the once-proud lookout are four concrete foundations and some broken glass.  Ghosts from a former era.

More flowers await at Grassy Pass

Grassy Knoll's broad summit plain was the perfect place for a lunch break.  Vistas extended from Mt. Hood to the south, to Mt. Adams, rising over the northeast horizon.  The Johns, Dorene and I spread out our goodies and settled down amongst the wildflowers (while trying to avoid sitting on them). 

The floral motherlode!

After lunch, more beauty awaited our group.  The trail continued on past Grassy Knoll, along a rolling ridgecrest meadow.  From past years, I remembered wildflowers being especially thick here.

Sunny, bright balsamroot bloom

Well, the flowers weren't as good as my last visit, two years ago (see photos here), but they were still pretty spectacular.

Lots of photo ops

We came upon a huge meadow chock-full of every wildflower you could ever imagine.  A kaleidoscope of color!

Paintbrush were everywhere

John and I were the photo enthusiasts of the group, and we spent lots of time roaming through the flower fields, angling for that perfect shot.

John getting up close and personal with the flowers

This flowery meadowland, known as Grassy Pass, is about a mile down the trail from Grassy Knoll.  Although Grassy Knoll has spectacular views and lots of floral beauty, in the wildflower department, I think Grassy Pass is much better.

Mt. Hood from Grassy Pass

While John and I photographed everything in sight, Jon and Dorene attempted to identify the different plants.  We all got a laugh when Dorene asked John to come look at this "green plant" that happened to be located in a sea of other plants just as green.  I guess you had to be there, but we all found it very funny, and it became our little joke the rest of the hike.

Larkspur joined the flower party

The group hiked as far as Cold Spring Camp, a backpacking area deep in the woods. Then, with time getting late, and the brewpub calling, we turned around and hightailed it back the way we came.

Amazing views on top of Grassy Knoll

But a few amazing views were enough to make me grab for the camera.  One was a wonderful glimpse of Mt. Hood from the top of Grassy Pass.  Another was a stunning panorama that greeted us as we returned to Grassy Knoll's windswept summit.  This above photo was one of my very favorite of the day.

Heading down the knoll

The hike ended, as all great hikes do, enjoying pizza and beer at our favorite brewpub in the nearby town of Carson.  What a spectacular day!  Stunning flowers, amazing views, fun companions, laughter, and a good bit of exercise.  All the right ingredients for a perfect PNW hike.

Sharing with:  Our World Tuesday and Wednesday Around the World.

Monday, June 16, 2014

Evening at Ecola

That Memorial Day beach trip left me longing for more.  The following weekend was super busy, with both my kids visiting.  Sunday afternoon after their departures, I didn't want to sit around moping and worrying the rest of the night.  Hmmm....I had a little bit of time before sunset.  Why not catch some evening light on the coast?

Sea stacks near Crescent Beach

I threw the dog and my camera into hubby's truck (he was in China on business, so I got my pick of vehicles).  And then I headed west to Ecola State Park.

Ocean peeks through the forest

Ecola State Park, on the Oregon Coast, is right outside the town of Cannon Beach, a mere hour's drive from my house.  The park hugs 9 miles of gorgeous coastline, meanders through lush Sitka spruce forests, offers amazing ocean viewpoints, and accesses some great beaches.  Lewis and Clark traveled through this area many years ago in search of a beached whale.

Bear takes in the stunning views

It was nearly 5:30 when I pulled into the parking lot at Ecola Point.  I drug Bear to the overlook so I could get some photos of it's famous vista.  Looking southward, the view extended across Crescent Beach, it's rugged cliffs and a group of scenic seastacks.  Further down the coastline, one can glimpse the town of Cannon Beach and Haystack Rock, the most well known seastack on the Oregon coast.

Lots of mud on this trail!

From Ecola Point, I've hiked the Oregon Coast trail north to Tillamook Head (read about it here).  However, I noticed a sign pointing to a southbound continuation of this same trail.  Crescent Beach was a mere 1 1/4 miles down this path.  Bear and I could handle that!

Looking down the steep cliffs

Off went my doggy and I, trudging through muddy woods on a steep narrow path that roller-coastered through a magnificent rainforest.  As Bear bounded ahead, I though how nice it was to be hiking with him again.  Now well past his 12th birthday, I'd recently curtailed most of Bear's hikes.  He tends to tire quickly, and his back legs don't work as well as they used to.  But I figured he'd be okay on this short trail.

Crescent beach scene

As I meandered through the thick forest, I caught ocean glimpses through gaps in the trees.  So blue and lovely, it beckoned me on, through the steep, muddy trail.

Halfway down the path, I emerged into a grassy clearing.  And, oh what a glorious view to behold!  Crescent Beach spread out below.  The sea stacks now looked much closer, and one could see the white waves making interesting patterns as they traveled towards shore.  Someone else must have also thought this a wonderful vista, as a wooden bench had been erected here.

Follow the tracks

After taking my photo break, Bear and I continued our journey across the muddy track.  After leveling out and following the top of the cliffs, the trail suddenly turned and dived steeply down towards Crescent Beach.  The final set of wooden stairs that led to the sand were very tall and steep.  But finally we had arrived!  And Bear and I had the place to ourselves.

Lots of sand dollars here

So many photo subjects!  Bright pink foxglove flowers bloomed in the grassy steep slopes adjacent to the beach.  The sea stacks, so very close now, were lit up by the setting sun.  And numerous shells littered the sand.  Of course I had to capture everything.  And it wouldn't be one of my coastal blog posts without at least one sand dollar photo, would it?

Beautiful foxgloves lined the beach

Bear and I walked the length of Crescent Beach, taking in the sights.  After a good hour of exploring, I noticed the sun sinking lower, and knew we needed to leave before it got dark.  I called to Bear and he met me at the bottom of the steep steps.

Now Bear is a very tough dog.  He'll keep going until he drops, with no indication of any pain.  Of course, dogs can't talk and tell us when something is bothering them.  Still, I should have known ascending those stairs would be difficult for Bear's failing back legs.

Sea stack reflections

Bear jumped for the first step.  But his back legs failed, missing the step, and he began to fall backward.  In an attempt to boost him, I quickly grabbed under my dog's hindquarters.  Well, that area must've been quite sore from the hike, because as I pushed my dog, quick as a flash, he turned around and bit me in the face.

Ripples in the sand

I was stunned.  My left eye immediately began to swell.  Hastily, I felt around the area, trying to determine if he'd broken the skin.  I didn't detect any bleeding.  Then I noticed my glasses lying on the ground.  Picking them up, I saw two large gashes across the left lens.  My brand new glasses - not a month old, and already they were damaged!

Blindingly angry, I turned to my dog and scolded him harshly.  Even before I started yelling, Bear, already realizing what he'd done, cowered down in the sand.

Spectacular evening light on the coast

Now what would I do?  If Bear wasn't able to jump up the steps, we were stuck on the beach.  I wasn't about to try and carry my dog - no telling where he'd bite next!  A few minutes passed, and I began to calm down.  Maybe Bear was tired and in pain, but we had to try and make it back to the parking lot anyway.

I started up the steps, coaxing Bear to follow.  After lingering for a few long moments, Bear gathered himself and made a mighty leap.  Although he didn't quite make the step, he was able to scramble on top.  The next few steps were not as tall, and slowly Bear jumped each one.

Frothy white waves

From there, it was a quick trek through the forest.  My eye was smarting and beginning to swell, so I didn't want to linger.  Thankfully, Bear seemed to keep up just fine.  But coming upon the bench viewpoint a second time, the evening light was so incredible, I had to stop for more photographs.  The setting sun illuminated the surrounding vegetation to a stunning bright green.  The water shone a brilliant blue.  Totally worth the stop!

Lots of green on the clifftops

The return trip seemed to take much less time, and before I knew it, my dog and I had arrived back at the truck.  Bear gratefully sank into the blanket spread on the seat.  I looked my face over in the rear view mirror, and was pleased to see no broken skin.  But the area around my left eye was already turning purple.  There'd be a nice shiner by morning.

By then my anger towards Bear had dissipated, replaced by concern.  Although I knew Bear's hind legs weren't working as well as in younger years, this incident made me realize the extent of deterioration.  I shouldn't have taken my old dog on a trail that involved so much climbing and jumping.  All that movement had worn him out.  Sadly, I realized Bear's hiking days were probably over.

Wave action

Upon returning to the truck, I almost immediately left for home.  By then it was 8:30 in the evening, about a half hour before sunset.  But then I noticed the sun was sinking low in the sky.  It was illuminating the beach with amazing colors.  I couldn't pass up this wonderful light.  Grabbing my camera, I headed back to Ecola Point.

Classic view from Ecola Point

And I'm glad I did.  The best shots of the day were the ones I got of Crescent Beach lit up by golden rays of the setting sun.  Such a glorious sight to behold!  I almost forgot about Bear's failing legs and my injury.

I'll close this post with my favorite image, a classic view of Crescent Beach, it's sea stacks glowing gold, blue ocean with white frothy waves gleaming in the day's final light.  Pure magic!

Sharing with:  Our World Tuesday.and Wednesday Around the World. and Friday My Town Shoot Out.