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.


  1. Looks like you had a wonderful hike with spectacular views and gorgeous flowers. Beautiful photos all of them.

  2. What an array of wildflowers, absolutely stunning. Loved all your images. Looks like you had a wonderful day!

  3. Wow, the wildflowers are gorgeous and and the mountain views are fabulous.. MY hubby and I would love this hike. A shame about the road though! Awesome series of photos. Have a great day!

  4. Lots of spectacular scenery here. I always enjoy your photos.

  5. Hi Linda what an amazing place to go hiking. the wild flowers are fabulous and your shots off flowers and scenery are awesome. I am especially glad to have seen them as I know at my age I will never be able to climb that tract again and it is lovely to see the shots through someone else eyes. As many bloggers are having problems with not receiving others post in their dashboard, I Hope you will enjoy my slide show yesterday of Rowallane Gardens and the video today. Birding For Pleasure Thanks for your comments on Saturday.

  6. Looks like a perfect day spent with friends. Loved the pothole story.

  7. this is a gorgeous place to go on hiking. I loved how you described the wildflowers and the hills. Beautiful pictures

    Oh Snap - My Blog

  8. Stunnning, gorgeous, beautiful....I'm running out of descriptive words.

    We have wildflowers growing here but nothing like this. What a joy to have this in your back yard.

    Thanks so much for sharing.

  9. I really took the time to enlarge every photo and look at all the details. It's just a feast for the eyes, especially the wast landscapes (which I really love anyway). Great outing!

    Mersad Donko Photography

  10. Wildflower heaven! Well worth the trip to see them and the lovely views.

  11. Very nice series- lovely wildflowers- and so many of them

  12. Mt. Hood has gorgeous wildflowers this time of year. I especially like the pentstemon, and I'm a BIG fan of the paintbrush.

  13. Spectacular! What an amazing place. And the images are fabulous. I love hiking. You should have contacted me; I would have joined you..hahaha...

  14. What incredible views and fabulous wildflowers! Love it!

  15. These are amazing Linda! What a gorgeous place :)

  16. Oh wow! What a beautiful area. I love the contrast of the wild flowers and the icy mount in the back ground.

  17. You have so much blooming! Grand vistas and great hike. Thanks for taking me along, Linda!

  18. You certainly have beautiful hiking areas there. But you stole the weather from Colorado :)

  19. 4 things:
    1) Prius are so overrated.
    2) The floral motherlode = awesomeness.
    3) Your hiking/skiing friends are so lucky to have you taking awesome pictures of them on these excursions.
    4) I'm head over heels in love with Grassy Knoll!!

    Oh and one more, I'm so glad my blogger reading list / feed is back working again!

  20. What a fantastic view! Great wildflowers!

  21. I would never be able to keep up with the group because I'd be taking SOOOO many pictures! Your shots are just amazing.

  22. Boy I wish I had your energy. I'd so love seeing this but I doubt I could handle the hiking. So many amazing view and those flowers are fabulous. I loved it all.

  23. Totally agree with your opening statement. It summed up our hike on Wednesday, but there the comparison ends. We had a marvellous day, but your views and wild flowers are simply stunning!


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