|Dew-dropped grass widows|
Mid-February, and wildflowers were already appearing in the eastern Gorge. Continuing unseasonably warm weather was the culprit. It was becoming painfully apparent that winter had decided to skip the Pacific NW.
|The little flowers were everywhere!|
February is my birthday month. For several years now, I've had a tradition - taking my B-day off work and going skiing. This year, I planned to do the same.
|Flowers dot the landscape|
But my friend who I'd planned to ski with, ended up sick and had to cancel. I thought about driving up to the mountain by myself, but skiing the prior day had wiped me out. And the snow really wasn't that good. Hmmm......I'd read reports of grass widows blooming at Catherine Creek. Maybe a birthday hike?
|The road led through an oak forest|
So B-day morning found me bypassing Mt. Hood in favor of the Columbia River Gorge. I pointed my car east, crossing the Columbia at Hood River, and traveling the Washington side to Catherine Creek.
Although the Columbia River Gorge's western end is green and lush, once you've passed the Cascade Mountain's eastern slopes, things dramatically change. Tall stately, Douglas Firs are swapped for scrubby oak and ponderosa pine forests. Wide open grasslands replace thick vegetation. It's a totally different environment.
Here in the eastern Gorge, an abandoned ranch in a grassy canyon has been preserved as a natural conservation site. It's a lovely wild area of wide-open spaces, unique rock formations, and prolific wildflowers.
|The rock arch|
Although the eastern Gorge gets blistering hot weather in summer, spring conditions are quite pleasant. And as an added bonus, wildflowers of many varieties bloom throughout this season. Most well known are the grass widows. Their delicate, purple petals normally unfold in mid-March. But not this year.
|Weathered wood close-up|
Even before I stepped out of my car, I spotted traces of purple mixed in the grassy pasture. The adjacent field was chock-full of grass widows. My photo session began in the parking lot.
|Someone made an arch of their own|
After spending several minutes wandering around the first field, I tore myself away, and headed down the trail. Following an abandoned ranch road, it led visitors along Catherine Creek, and into a canyon bottom.
|More rock art|
So many interesting photo subjects! A grove of old gnarly oaks, the rushing blue waters of the creek, an old wooden corral, and a steep rimrock canyon, complete with a natural rock arch. And, of course, more flowers.
|Widows in the meadow|
After wandering around the corral, and gaping at the magnificent arch, I followed the trail as it wound up along the canyon's rim, climbing out of the valley and onto a high plateau overlooking the Columbia River.
I admired a couple of rock art pieces along the trail. Someone had constructed a large, sturdy cairn, and their very own stone arch!
The plateau's broad open grassland normally gave visitors expansive views of the Columbia River below. But today high clouds obscured much of the river. Although the murky sky didn't make for great landscape photos, it did mean shadow-free light to photograph flowers. And I did.
|More lovely grass widows|
The grass widows in this upper meadows were exquisite. Dotted with dewdrops from the morning's precip, these purple beauties made great subjects.
|Looking across the canyon|
I stood on my high vantage point, taking in the views, enjoying some cookies, and reading Facebook birthday wishes from my phone. Numerous greetings from friends and family made me smile.
|Hiking along canyon's edge|
Many informal user trails criss-crossed the meadow. Choosing the most well-used, I meandered back towards the river. This path eventually came out atop the canyon's rim, and began to follow it downward. The clouds started to lift, and I caught glimpses of the valley below.
|A fence to keep people off the arch|
In time, my path wandered by the top of the rock arch. To protect the arch, park officials had constructed a sturdy log fence designed to keep people away.
|A man who thought the rules didn't apply to him|
Sadly some folks don't think the rules apply to them. While walking by, I witnessed a young man vault the fence, and clamber out onto the knife-edge tip of the arch. Looking at his precarious position, I thought it would serve him right if he slipped and fell (natural selection...?)
Of course, I really didn't want to see someone get hurt, and was relieved to later glimpse the guy and his girlfriend following me down the trail.
|Columbia River view|
By the time I'd returned to the parking area, the day's murky skies had begun to clear. I crossed the road, and ambled a short distance on a paved pathway to get a few Columbia River views. Grass widows were thick here also, and made great foreground subjects to my river shots.
|Obligatory trail sign photo|
I returned to my car with a full memory card and smile on my face. Fantastic weather, wonderful scenery, and lovely wildflowers. Not a bad way to spend a birthday!
Sharing with: Good Fences and Weekly Top Shot and Scenic Weekends