Thursday, April 28, 2016

Dalles Mountain Ranch Annual Visit

"The flowers are blooming and I must go...."

Just before sunrise

It's become one of my new traditions.  Since discovering the Dalles Mountain Ranch two years ago, I've made it a point to catch the annual spring wildflower bloom.

Lupine and old fence

Two Saturdays ago, I paid my yearly visit.  Rising at an ungodly early hour, I drove east in the predawn darkness, headed towards the Washington side of the Columbia River Gorge.  Across the river from The Dalles is the Columbia Hills State Park.  And within this wonderful park is an old ranch (you can read more about the ranch here and also here).

Vast flower fields

Although the old ranch buildings are interesting, the main attraction of this park is the prolific wildflower fields.  Every April, the surrounding hillsides erupt in brilliant shades of yellow.

Morning light hits the hills

The cheerful yellow balsamroot blooms are the stars of the show.  Mixed in with all this brilliant yellow are dazzling purple lupine.

Colorful pasture

Arriving before sunrise, I wandered amidst the vast flower fields, trying to pick out a good spot to capture the sun's first rays.

Star of the show

Although my attempts to catch daybreak were a bust, I did get some good post-sunrise photos.

Mt Hood rises above

2016 has been a good flower year.  I've never seen such a huge amount of balsamroot.  The concentrations were so large they colored the hillsides yellow.  It was as if someone had swept a giant paintbrush across them.

Yellow hills

A gravel road takes visitors above the ranch for a bird's-eye view of the vast sweeping pasturelands and the Columbia River below.  There's also some killer views of Mt. Hood.

Another shot of my favorite mountain

I must've spent well over an hour wandering those grassy slopes with my camera.

Columbia River

The Columbia River was a shining blue ribbon far below my lofty perch.


Not only was it a good year for balsamroot, the lupine also seemed to be doing just fine.

Cheery balsamroot

I finally drove back to the old ranch buildings, and spent some time wandering amongst them.  A few pieces of ancient farm equipment were scattered in another flower field, and I had fun photographing them against this colorful backdrop.

Old wagon wheel

One of the big draws to the Dalles Mountain Ranch is a rusty old car sitting in the middle of a large field of flowers.  Two years ago, I spent a considerable amount of time searching for this old auto.

Heading towards the famous auto

My previous two trips to the ranch had been on weekdays, and I'd had the car and it's flower field all to myself.  But today being Saturday, I knew I wouldn't get so lucky.

Lots of photographers at the auto!

I wandered over to the car's final resting place.  As I glanced over the fenceline, I spotted a good half dozen photographers spread out around it's old, rusting hulk.  It's location no longer a secret, I realized there was no way I'd be able to get any good photos today.


However, I found the highest concentrations of wildflowers here in this field.  Not only were the flowers thick, their colors were the most vivid of any place on the ranch.  Since, I couldn't get any unobstructed shots of the car, instead I opted to photograph the flowers.

Marmots in the old barn

After getting copious wildflower images, I wandered back through the old barnyard.  As luck would have it, I happened upon a couple of marmots hanging out beside one of the tumble-down structures, and was able to get a few photos of them.

Bountiful wildflowers

By 10 o'clock I had a memory card full of gorgeous wildflower images.  Taking a final pass through the ranch outbuildings, I just had to capture one more photo of this picturesque vintage wagon.

Old ranch wagon

Yes, truly a gem of a state park, I was glad I'd made the effort to rise early and make the drive.

Back at the ranch

The Dalles Mountain Ranch is truly a special place.  I'm glad the Washington State Parks department has preserved this beautiful area for all to enjoy.

Until next year!

Sharing with:  Floral Friday Fotos and Through My Lens and Today's Flowers

Tuesday, April 26, 2016

Sunshine in Heather Canyon

It's been a great ski season.  The snow gods have been generous to Mt. Hood this year, blessing the mountain with an abundance of white stuff.  I've had some great stormy days skiing endless powder, but I've also encountered a few absolutely lovely sunny days.

Reflections in Pat's goggles

One was a memorable Thursday in late February.  Unseasonably warm temps were predicted.  Although it's nice not to deal with the cold, too much solar energy will turn a ski area's snowpack into a sticky mess the consistency of mashed potatoes.  Not fun to ski through!

Glen and Pat - my men in red

I teamed up with my "men in red" ski buddies, Glen and Pat.  Trying to get as many runs in as possible before the snow turned to slop, we agreed to ski hard all morning.  On warmer days, we'll normally start at the lower elevation runs, and work our way higher as the temperatures rise.  But the mountain was experiencing an inversion that day, and it was actually warmer on top of the highest lift.

Pat flies down the slope

So we started our day with a few laps off the Cascade Lift, which is the highest chair at Mt. Hood Meadows.  My friends and I didn't mind in the least - the views up here are always tremendous.

Silver Bowl

Some of the trails off the Cascade Lift lead into Heather Canyon - the expert area of our local ski resort.  The initial drop into the canyon is down some extremely steep double black diamond trails, where the snow is often wind-packed and icy.  Unless the conditions are incredibly good, I don't usually venture into Heather.

Pat contemplates his line

But the day's bountiful solar energy had cooked the snow into a soft, slippery surface.  Up on the Cascade trails, it was easy skiing.  Then we noticed lots of people heading into Heather Canyon.  Usually an indicator of good conditions, my friends and I decided to check it out.

Looking down into the canyon

The boys and I followed some skiers to the top of Silver Bowl.  Standing on the canyon's rim we gazed down into its white expanse.  I tentatively poked the adjacent snow with my pole, trying to determine if it's surface was hard and icy, or soft and skiable.

Pat drops in

Only one way to find out!  Taking a deep breath, I launched myself over the lip of Silver Bowl's snowy cornice.  Skidding past the first few feet, my skis connected with a patch of dreamy soft snow.  My edges glided through it like butter.  I gave my companions a "thumbs up."

Glen flies by

Glen and Pat dove over the canyon's lip and rocketed down Silver Bowl's steep sides.  We carved smooth, graceful turns through some marvelously creamy snow.  Reaching the bottom, it was unanimous that another run was in order.

But first a quick breather to admire the bright winter's sunshine.

Admiring the sun

My buddies and I ended up making three more runs into Heather Canyon that day.  The conditions were so wonderful, we skied well past our lunch hour.  Finally around 2:30, the temperatures rose high enough that the snow began to get sticky, grabbing at our ski bases.   Time to call it a day!

Proof I was there too

My friends and I agreed it had been a banner day.  Sunshine, soft snow, and multiple trips into wild and wonderful Heather Canyon.  Although stormy powder days will always hold the top spot of my favorite ski conditions, sunny warm days are the next best thing.

Saturday, April 23, 2016

A Hot Half

I'm back!  I'm back!  I've returned to running!

My daughter and I before the start

Some of you may remember in October 2014 I had bunion surgery on my right foot, and then had the pins removed the following June.  Having endured the same surgeries on my left foot several years before, I knew recovery would be a long process.  But I hadn't anticipated how difficult it would be returning to running.

Starting line crowd

It took a long time to get back into the habit.  All through the dark, rainy winter, I'd get up early two mornings a week and join my neighbor for a 3-4 mile romp around the neighborhood (if not for her, I would've stayed in bed!).  Then I'd attempt longer distances on Saturdays.  Some days my foot would do okay, others it was achy and cranky, and throbbed for the rest of the day.

Annd...we're off!

But I kept at it.  Continued my physical therapy, occasionally iced the area, and if nothing else worked, I'd resort to good old "vitamin I." (ibuprofen that is)  Slowly, I built my mileage up.

You see, I had a goal in mind.  Every April I run the Corvallis Half Marathon.  Last year, a still-healing foot forced me to sit this race out.  I was bound and determined to toe the starting line in 2016.

Flag man

And last Sunday that's exactly what I did.  I drove to the college town of Corvallis, home of Oregon State University (go Beavs!).  My daughter, who lives nearby and is also an OSU alumni, came along as spectator and support person.

Cruising through campus

Spring here in Oregon is normally cool and wet.  That's the conditions I'd been training in.  However, race week, the weather decided to do a complete turnaround and morph into summer.  Highs in the 80s were forecast for Sunday.  Noooo!!  I don't do so well in hot weather, and it being early spring still, my body wasn't used to running in heat at all.

OSU campus in bloom

But you can't change the weather, and all I could do was put on my big girl panties and deal with it.  Knowing the heat would slow me down anyway, I decided to take things easy and just enjoy my first post-surgery half marathon.  That, and drink lots of water!

Yay shade!

My daughter accompanied me to the starting line, in the heart of the Oregon State campus.  It was a festive scene.  Runners dressed in colorful attire mingled and the OSU pep band played some upbeat tunes.  Time passed quickly, and before I knew it the crowd was counting down, a horn blasted, and I found myself shuffling across the timing mats.   Showtime!

Slow down runners!

The first two miles wind through the beautiful Oregon State campus.  I admired the stately brick buildings and the colorful landscaping, in the height of spring bloom.  Spectators lined the streets, waving and shouting encouragement.

Great pic courtesy of Corvallis Half Marathon

I deliberately kept my pace slow and soaked in the scenery passing by.  Since I don't run with music, I also enjoyed listening to the other runner's conversations around me.  By mile 3, our course left the OSU campus and headed towards the outskirts of town on a wide bike path.

Passing through the covered bridge

One of my favorite parts of the Corvallis Half Marathon course - the bike path passes through a cute covered bridge.  Not only did I get a few images of the bridge, one of the course photographers caught me exiting the other side (camera in hand!)

The photographer caught me in action!

After mile four, the bike path continued through a large natural area at the foot of a hill.  This was my favorite part of the course - the entire area was bright green with new spring foliage.  We passed by a scenic old barn (that I didn't get a photo of).  It was absolutely beautiful.  And - there was even a bit of shade here and there, which was a good thing, as the day had already heated up.

Lovely countryside west of town

By mile 5, I was beginning to feel a hot spot under the big toe joint of my left foot.  I'd had trouble with this area on some of my training runs, and hoping to head off trouble, had applied a liberal amount of Bodyglide that morning.  But it appeared the heat had worn it off.  My daughter was meeting me near the park at mile 8, and I was now wishing I'd asked her to bring the Bodyglide stick out of my car.

Purple Camas in bloom

Well, nothing I could do about it now...the course then left the nice green natural area and dumped us runners out on a semi-busy road.  Despite my left foot issue, I realized I was feeling pretty good and holding a faster pace than anticipated.  Passing by the halfway mark, I thought to myself if I kept it up, I'd probably finish with a time of  2:10, faster than anticipated.

Will this  hill ever end?

But...that's what happens when one begins to get overconfident.  Mile 7 to 8 totally kicked my butt.  The course followed another busy road up a gradual incline.  Although not terribly steep, it was enough to take the wind out of one's sails.  Not only was I running uphill, there was no shade to be found.  Blazing hot sun baked my body.  I didn't think mile 8 would ever come.

Relief at mile 8

But finally I saw the trees and the park ahead.  After passing through an aid station (where not only did I drink a cup of water, I also poured another on my head) I looked around for my daughter.  Not seeing her in the crowd, I had no choice but to continue on.  Although disappointed, I reckoned she must've gotten stuck in traffic.

Fun garage band

Now for some blessed downhill!  Not only did the course follow a steep downhill, the wind had picked up and a strong breeze flowed over me.  After the hot uphill it felt divine! 

However, my left foot was beginning to really bother me.  Disappointed that I wasn't able to catch my daughter, I realized there was probably a good sized blister already forming on my foot.  Oh well, nothing I could do about it.  Trying not to think about the discomfort, I pushed on.

The final push (thanks Corvallis Half for the free race photos!)

Now the course wound through a series of neighborhood streets.  Many of the residents lined the sidewalks, waving signs and shouting encouragement.  By this point of the race, it was much appreciated!

Girls on the Run water station

Almost to the mile 10 marker, I looked over at an adjacent parking lot and there was my daughter!  She snapped a few photos of me, and I stopped briefly to say hello.  As I thought, she'd been stuck in traffic and unable to reach the mile 8 park.  I almost asked her to get the Bodyglide for my foot, but then reasoned with only three miles left, maybe it was better to just hurry up and finish.  So I continued on.

Gorgeous pink rhody bush

Mile 10 brought a welcome surprise.  A garage band had set up on someone's driveway and was entertaining the runners with loud, upbeat music.  So much appreciated!

Also appreciated - between miles 11 and 12 some wonderful residents had set up sprinklers in the street.  A nice volunteer was pointing runners towards them.  Oh, did that cold water feel good!  I didn't even care if it got my camera wet (it was in a case so no worries).  Then, passing by another park, I spotted a mother with two young boys who were equipped with super soakers.  I held up my hands and told one of the boys to squirt me.  And boy did he!  But it felt great, and was a welcome relief.

Reser Stadium is in sight!

The final two miles of the course were the toughest.  I was tired, it was unbearably hot, and by now my left foot was calling me bad names.  I ran up fraternity row, and was disappointed not to see any beer-drinking frat boys cheering the runners as they had in past years.  Then, dropping back onto the OSU campus, I knew the end was close.  Admiring some lovely pink rhody bushes, I was surprised to see another photographer capturing pics of the hot, tired runners.  (And he got another shot of me with my camera in hand!)

Amost there!!

Again circling through the OSU campus, the last mile seemed to take forever.  But when I spied the top of Reser Stadium, I knew the end was near.  In previous years, the finish line has been on the 50-yard line of Reser Stadium.  However, due to construction, this year's finish was on the adjacent street.  Although kind of disappointing, by the time I saw the finish banner, I was happy to be done.  I crossed the line with a time of 2:18:57, right about where I thought I'd be.

I was never so happy to see the finish!

After reuniting with my daughter, downing some water and a cup of hard-earned beer, (it tasted sooo good!) I finally worked up the nerve to pull off my left shoe and sock.  There on the bottom of my foot was the biggest blister I've ever seen.  I decided it was probably a good thing I didn't try and fix it at mile 10 - I might have been too freaked out to finish.

Glad to be done

It's good to be back in the running groove!  I'm happy to race the Corvallis Half once again.  Despite the crispy temps, not only did I get a decent time (13th out of 52 in my age group I later discovered) my rebuilt foot behaved wonderfully (wish I could say that for my other foot....)

Thanks to my daughter for being my support person once again.  And thanks to the folks putting on the Corvallis Half for another great race.  I'll see you again in 2017.