Tuesday, July 26, 2016

Butterfly Sunday

It was Father's Day, and my hubby wanted to go off fishing somewhere.  Fine with me!  That meant I was free to take a hike.

One of many friendly butterflies

I'd heard reports that wildflowers were in full bloom up on Silver Star Mountain.  One of my favorite places to catch midsummer flowers, I was due for a visit.

First big views

Silver Star Mountain is located in SW Washington, just east and a bit north of Vancouver.  However, one must navigate some very rough Forest Service roads to access many of the trailheads (most notably the wildly popular Ed's Trail).  Not wanting to put my car through such abuse, I chose to begin my hike at the Grouse Vista Trailhead, located on the mountain's south side. 

Keep on climbin'

It had been over 10 years since I'd been to Grouse Vista and I nearly forgot how to get there.  Getting turned around on an unmarked road, I lost almost an hour trying to find the trailhead.  But after figuring out my mistake, it was smooth sailing on good gravel roads.  There were still parking spots when I arrived at 9 am (but that would soon change!)

Lovely trailside paintbrush

My plan for today was to begin on an abandoned road that led up to Silver Star's summit.  After tagging the top, I'd return via the Tarbell Trail, making my trek a nearly 9 mile loop.

This butterfly matched the flower

The day was already warm as I started out on the old, rocky road.  This trail began climbing relentlessly from the very start, and I was thankful for the shady thick forest.  But after a mile, the woods gave way to open meadows and fantastic views.

Beargrass alley

I contoured along the side of a ridge, cleared by a long-ago forest fire.  Up here, I could see for miles and checked out the nearby green hills, some bearing scars from logging operations.  My view extended far west and north, and I could just make out Silver Star's summit, the day's destination.

Mt Hood near Silver Star summit

The old road continued to climb steeply, gaining 1600 feet in 3 miles.  In the clearing areas, wildflowers began to color adjacent hillsides.  I saw penstemon, loads of bright orange paintbrush, and some cheery yellow flowers (which I didn't know the name).

Busy summit

A few butterflies flitted through the blooms, and I tried in vain to capture one with my camera.  But just about the time I'd get focused in, the butterfly would get wind of my purpose and fly off.  One yellow butterfly did sit still on a yellow flower and waited long enough for me to get a couple shots.

Beargrass bonanza

I had the trail almost all to myself until the junction with Ed's Trail, just below Silver Star's summit.  A gorgeous trek through colorful meadows, this trail is heavily traveled, despite the horrible road one must travel to reach it's trailhead.  (For photos of Ed's Trail click here

St Helens and Rainier line the horizon

There was a continuous stream of people trekking from Ed's Trail up to Silver Star's summit.  I'd never seen so many people here!  I tucked in with the mob making their way uphill.  Although a steep climb, it was short, and in no time at all, I was on the summit gazing at Silver Star's incredible views.

Lovely beargrass tuft

Not only could one see four major Cascade peaks lining the horizon (St Helens, Rainier, Adams and Hood) but the beargrass was blooming thick and furious in the valley below the summit.  I delayed my lunch to take lots of photos of the amazing sights.

Mt Adams view

Then I sat on the rocky summit and wolfed down my food.  I was far from alone - I must've shared this small area with thirty people.  One lady kept trying to do headstands while her companions took photographs.  Another group was talking super loudly - which was most annoying.  As I ate, more and more groups of people made their way onto the already crowded summit.  After downing half my lunch, I'd had enough, and decided it was time to leave.

Rainbow cloud

Approaching the junction directly below the summit, I noticed a bunch of people staring and pointing cameras at the sky.  Looking up, I noticed a thin wispy cloud sporting rainbow colors.  A most unusual sight!

More butterflies!

After a quick bit of searching, I located my return route.  It required a short trek down an overgrown, abandoned road to reach the Tarbell Trail.  The good news was that almost nobody was hiking this way, so I was able to escape the crowds.

Wild iris

The other good news was that along this old road, the wildflowers were thick!  I spotted wild iris, asters, more paintbrush, and lovely orange columbine.


And, best of all, the butterflies were back!

The butterflies loved all the columbine

They seemed to love the columbine.  I saw numerous swallowtail butterflies attaching themselves to these flowers.  There must've been something good to eat on those blooms, because those butterflies latched on, and didn't care if I got close with my camera.

Gorgeous columbine flowers

Butterflies posing for my camera!  It was a dream come true.

Getting something good!

The lower in elevation I traveled, the more butterflies I saw.  There were dozens of them, in all colors  and sizes, fluttering through the forest. 

This one posed nicely

Oh it was so much fun to photograph these lovely butterflies!  All of them were so intent on getting nutrition from the flowers, they didn't care in the least if I photographed them.  I've never had butterflies hold still for so long.

My favorite shot

After umpteen-million images, and a nearly full memory card, I knew it was time to call it a day.  So I headed down the wildflower-lined Tarbell Trail, with butterflies sailing all around me.  It was magical!

Tiger lily

Nearing the parking lot, I had one final shot of beauty passing through an area thick with orange paintbrush.  The blooms were the largest ones I've seen this year.  They lined the trail like a bright carpet.  A great way to end such a wonderful day!

Lovely paintbrush patch near trail's end

I returned to a trailhead overflowing with vehicles.  Cars were parked down the narrow gravel road for a mile each direction.  I guess sunny summer days bring out the crowds!

Although the flowers and views were great as always, it was the beautiful butterflies that made this such a special hike.

Wednesday, July 20, 2016

Echo Basin

After a fantastic wildflower hike up Cone Peak and Iron Mountain, I was more than happy to call it a day.  But, my hiking companions Greg and Gene wanted to visit nearby Echo Basin.  Having both been there before, they gave glowing descriptions of the beauty and abundance of wildflowers.  How could I say no?  (Not that I would anyway.....Greg was driving)

Shooting Star

We traveled a short distance down Hwy 20, then turned onto a gravel road for a couple of miles.  The "trailhead" was merely a wide spot in the road, so Greg wedged his VW bug behind another car.  Then my hiking buddies and I once again shouldered our packs and took off up the trail.

Echo Basin's boardwalk

The path climbed steeply along a long-abandoned road bed, that appeared to have been used for logging activities.  A thick steel cable protruded out of the ground and followed the roadway for a short distance.  I later read in my Sullivan hiking book that the original forest had been logged in the 1980s, and since then alder, Douglas fir, huckleberries, and wildflowers had taken over.  Also, Greg pointed out this area housed a grove of large shaggy-barked Alaska yellow cedar, which is the farthest south these particular species have established.

Bluebells, I think

After 3/4 of a mile, we crossed a creek and began bushwhacking through an extremely overgrown trail.  Crashing through the brushy undergrowth was not a lot of fun.  It was late afternoon, the air was hot and muggy, and by now I'd quite had my fill of climbing.  I kept hoping we'd emerge into the clearing, but the infernal trail just kept on winding through more jungle-like vegetation.  There were tons of bluebell and bleeding heart flowers decorating the woods, but I was so focused on getting to Echo Basin, I didn't bother stopping for photographs. 

LOTS of shooting stars!

Finally, I caught up with Gene and he mentioned we were just about there.  Sure enough, a few more steps and I could see the forest opening up to a huge amphitheater-like clearing.  Tall cliffs rose from three sides, and at the base was a wide, green valley.  A decrepit wooden walkway led hikers through this boggy meadow.

Still some paintbrush around

The meadow was full of tiny, magenta shooting star flowers.  Although a bit past peak, Gene mentioned he'd never seen such a large concentration.  Also making an appearance were a few orange paintbrush blooms, and a bunch of unusual flowers called elephantshead.


These flowers were tall tubular-like plants, with many tiny pink flowers growing off its main stem.  If one looked closely you could see each little blossom looked like an elephant's head.  I wish I would've taken a few close-up photos of these flowers, but that meant stepping off the boardwalk into the mucky meadow.  (Maybe next time!)

Verdant green meadow

As expected, Greg spent a lot of time in the meadow cataloging all the plants and flowers present.  Gene mentioned that normally there's a lot more flowers in bloom, and we must've timed our visit too late.  No matter, I enjoyed the scenic green meadow and the unusual flowers that we found.

More lovelies

After Greg was finished exploring, he followed Gene and I down the return trail (the path through this meadow was a small loop that connected back to the old road).  Boy was this trail rough!  Lots of blow-down trees to scramble around and more thick vegetation obscured much of the tread.  It appeared a trail crew hadn't performed clearing activities for several years.  Both Gene and Greg voiced concerns that this lovely place might soon become difficult to reach.

Another elephantshead photo

If that becomes the case, then I'm doubly glad my companions insisted on visiting this special place.  It was a gorgeous, serene piece of heaven tucked away in the Central Oregon Cascades.

Stats:  2.4 mile loop, 600 feet elevation gain

Sunday, July 17, 2016

Cone Peak/Iron Mountain

To keep up on what's blooming wildflower-wise in my area, I regularly monitor two Facebook groups - Oregon Wildflowers and Portland Hikers, along with the OregonHikers website.  In mid-June I began seeing a large number of posts from Cone Peak and Iron Mountain.  The wildflowers there were going gangbusters - apparently the best bloom in a long time.  Lots of pretty flowers and a new trail to visit?  Of course this piqued my interest.

Gene and Greg at the first flower meadow

About that time Greg Lief, creator of the Oregon Wildflowers Facebook page and website, mentioned he was planning a trip to this area and was looking for company.  Having met Greg last year on Dog Mountain, I immediately jumped at the chance.

The larkspur was thick!

So that's how I found myself one Sunday morning in mid-June, heading to Iron Mountain with two Portland hiking legends - Greg Lief, well-known wildflower expert, and Gene, prolific hiker and frequent contributor, better known as "pdxgene" on the OregonHikers site.

Nature's bouquet

Iron Mountain's trailhead is located in the Central Oregon Cascades at Tombstone Pass, about 36 miles east of Sweet Home.  A good two hour-plus drive from Portland, my hiking companions and I got an extremely early start.  But the early bird gets the worm (or in this case, the prime parking spot) as we were the first car in the lot at 8 am.

Twin blue butterflies

Our loop began with a short jaunt through the Tombstone Nature Trail, featuring dense woods and a lovely meadow.  On the opposite side of Hwy 20 we met up with the Cone Peak Trail, and our climbing began.

William L. Sullivan's "100 Hikes in the Central Oregon Cascades" states that this entire ridge, from Iron Mountain to Echo Mountain, is a biological wonderland.  This area supports 17 different types of trees (more than any other area in Oregon) and 60 plant species considered rare or unusual in the Western Cascades.

Little bug on a flower

Greg warned Gene and I that he stopped to record and photograph all the wildflowers he spotted, so he'd likely be hiking slowly.  A pokey hiker myself, I wasn't too worried.  But about a mile down the trail we came across the first of many fabulous wildflower meadows.  There were so many larkspur blooms an entire slope was purple.  Paintbrush, Mariposa lilies (aka "cat's ear") and many other colorful varieties decorated the area.  Forward progress ground to a screeching halt.

Paintbrush was fabulous too

Gene's a photographer too, so at first he and I had a grand time meandering amongst the blooms, capturing all the beauty with our cameras.  Then we both sat and waited for Greg.  It took a long time before Greg finished his documentation.  We were both beginning to get a little antsy (Gene did go back and check on Greg once), but finally he appeared on the trail and we continued on.

Backlit lupine

As we climbed higher, the forest gave way to a rocky clearing with amazing views.  I could see Cone  Peak's summit rising above, and Iron Mountain anchoring the western horizon.  But, best of all, these meadows were chock-full of flowers. 

Gene wanders through the flower fields

When I hike with my normal group of buddies, I'm always the one lagging behind snapping copious photos.  So it was unusual (and a little nice) to be the one out front for a change.  Greg encouraged Gene and I to go ahead if we wanted, so I followed Gene through a large meadow blazing with color.

A look back at Cone Peak

Cone Peak shadowed one side of this fabulous meadow.  Although our trail wouldn't lead to the summit, passing by it's flowery shoulder was more than enough.  Larkspur was especially plentiful, coloring the entire hillside purple.  Gene and I saw so much of it, we started joking "ho-hum, more larkspur."

Photo ops abounded!

From his many posts, I knew Gene was an enthusiastic hiker, often visiting out-of-the way places and more popular trails during the midweek.  He has an inflatable kayak that he carries in to explore remote mountain lakes.  Gene explained how he'd pared down his lifestyle such that he could afford to work part-time.  That enables him to play on weekdays when everyone else is at work.  (This man has his priorities straight!)

Greg on the ridge between Cone Peak and Iron Mtn

Beyond Cone Peak's wonderful meadows, our trail descended slightly to a saddle.  We contoured part way around Iron Mountain, first through more meadows, then climbing up into a shady forest.

Stonecrop flower

I hung back with Greg for a bit, hoping to glean some more wildflower information.  Greg's a self-taught wildflower expert and a wealth of information.  He maintains the website Oregon Wildflowers that provides bloom reports statewide.

Greg pointed out a pretty yellow stonecrop flower, just starting to bloom, something I otherwise would've likely walked by without noticing.

Looking up Iron Mtn's summit

After a long walk along Iron Mountain, my companions and I finally came to a junction with the summit trail.  From here it was a 650 foot climb to the top.  Gene mentioned he wasn't fond of trails with exposure, but said he'd be okay if  he followed my footsteps.

Trail junction

So Gene and I set out for Iron Mountain's summit, with Greg lagging behind to check out the flowers.  Although many great specimens lined the trail, by this point I was hungry and ready for a lunch break on top.  It was a tough, steep trudge.  By now the clouds had lifted, and sunny skies made temps rise significantly.  But I concentrated on putting one foot in front of the other, until finally I was looking ahead to the last rocky switchback.

Nice observation platform atop Iron Mtn

In place of a long-ago lookout tower, a huge wooden deck had been built atop Iron Mountain's summit.  Gene wasn't fond of it's precarious position, and opted to head back down, promising he'd wait at the junction.

Begging chipmunk

I plopped myself on one of the wooden benches and began devouring my lunch.  Greg arrived a few minutes later, and joined me.  Besides the stunning views, we were entertained by the antics of a few determined chipmunks.  Although we didn't feed them, apparently other hikers had, as the critters ventured extremely close and weren't afraid to beg.

Panoramic view atop Iron Mtn

Oh - the views from the top were amazing!  All of the major Cascade Peaks were visible and to the west you could make out Marys Peak and the Coast Range.  Green foothills spread out in all directions like a rumpled blanket.

The Three Sisters and rock penstemon

Some gorgeous pink Rock Penstemon was blooming on a stony outcrop.  With the Three Sisters anchoring the horizon, it made a lovely foreground subject.

This butterfly finally posed for me

Below the summit platform, a few swallowtail butterflies flitted about.  One kept landing on a nearby tree, but would take off every time I pointed my camera it's way.  Not easily deterred, I kept trying.  My patience paid off in the end, when after a few minutes of waiting it finally settled on a branch and posed for several minutes.  Greg noticed my luck, and tried to capture an image for himself.

View towards the Coast Range

Butterfly photo captured, it was time to meet Gene back at the trail junction.  My trip down was quick, but wonderful.  Now that I wasn't huffing and puffing, I could enjoy the spectacular views and flowers as the trail wound its way downhill.  However, I was met with hordes of people trudging up, lots of panting dogs, and even a large family with several young children (Greg, following behind, witnessed one of them having a huge meltdown).

Colorful flowers at Iron Mtn base
Reunited with Gene, we meandered the final mile back to Hwy 20 through mossy woods with few flower sightings.  After again crossing the highway, we had only a quick 0.3 miles back to Tombstone Pass via an old wagon road.


Although we'd covered the 6.6 mile loop at a leisurely pace, I'd enjoyed having ample time to explore and photograph such a unique area.  The day had been successful.  My memory card was full of great shots, plus I'd met two new hiking pals and learned lots about the local wildflowers.

Back at Greg's car, I thought the day was over.  But Greg and Gene wanted to check out Echo Basin, a short nearby trail into a beautiful meadow, reputed to have a terrific wildflower bloom.  So - stay tune for my next post and see what we found!

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