What to do? I skied for as long as I could stand it, but by mid-April the fear of missing wildflower season had me dusting off my hiking boots.
East of Hood River, the Gorge generally has warmer and drier weather, so wildflowers bloom first here. Hikers looking for a spring flower fix start flocking to this area in March. I'd been monitoring reports from various outdoor websites and when I heard the balsamroot was getting started, I decided it was time to go hiking!
|Train chugging through the Gorge|
The eastern Columbia River Gorge is a stunning area. Not only prolific early wildflowers, dramatic views and wide-open spaces are in sharp contrast to the forested green canyons west of Hood River.
|Oak trees on the Little Maui Trail|
Most of the balsamroot reports were coming from Coyote Wall, so I decided this would be my destination. Coyote Wall is a scenic basalt cliff on the Washington side of the Gorge, about 5 miles east of White Salmon. Originally frequented by mountain bikers, it's grassy wildflower meadows have also become a popular place for hikers. It had been many years since I'd hiked here, so a revisit was definitely in order.
|Brand-new oak leaves|
I picked a rare dry Saturday in mid-April, and knowing the place would be overflowing with desperate sun-seekers, got an early start. Arriving at the trailhead by 8 am, I happily claimed a parking spot in the main lot. Early morning clouds were lifting from the river, reflecting in the Columbia's still waters. A few mountain bikers were already unloading their bikes and setting out.
Many trails criss-cross Coyote Wall's grassy meadows, but to access them all requires 3/4 mile walk along a section of abandoned roadway. Passing by tall basalt cliffs, I noticed several large boulders lay scattered on the crumbling asphalt (obviously the reason for the road closure). Railroad tracks paralleled the old highway, and I was pleasantly surprised to encounter an early morning freight train rumbling by (great photo op!)
Reaching the trail beginning, I started an uphill climb following a severely eroded dirt track. It didn't take long before I encountered the first trail junction. Hmmm.....Old Ranch Road or Little Maui trail? I liked the sound of Little Maui, so decided to try that first.
|What's peeking over the horizon?|
The rutted dirt track led me uphill through a spectacular green meadow, bursting with yellow desert parsley and frilly white prairie star flowers. The higher I climbed, the better the views became. Morning clouds lifted for good, and I spotted Mt Hood's white tip rising above the Oregon side of the river.
|A few early trail users|
Aside from a couple very polite mountain bikers, I was by myself. Ambling through a stand of huge oak trees bursting with new leaves, I crossed a tiny creek gushing with spring runoff.
My trail continued to wind up the hillside, roughly following the watery gully. More flowers bloomed and I enjoyed their colorful addition to the spring greens. But where was the balsamroot?
|Desert parsley and river views|
I'd read reports that this lovely yellow flower was beginning to bloom here. But so far I hadn't seen any. I hoped they weren't wrong!
|Such a scenic trail!|
No matter, I was thoroughly enjoying myself. The spectacular views kept coming, and the photo breaks were numerous.
|Large oak tree|
Near the top of a short waterfall, I took a snack break next to this gnarled oak tree. A lovely spot for a photo op!
Looping back around the trail connected with the upper portion of the Old Ranch Road. The vistas up here were tremendous! I had a view of the eastern Columbia River that stretched nearly to The Dalles.
|Mt Hood rises over the fenceline|
And Mt Hood looked mighty fine from up here too.
|The balsamaroot is blooming!|
The Old Ranch Road rose steeply uphill, following the rim of Coyote Wall's rocky cliffs. It was a lung-busting climb! But after traveling a short distance, I saw a familiar yellow flower ahead, blooming beside the road. Could it be...?
|Sunny yellow flowers|
It was balsamroot! The reports were true! Excitedly, I pulled out my camera and began a frenzied photo session.
Now that I'd gotten some balsamroot pics, my day was complete. But wanting a bit more exercise, I continued to climb up the old, rutted road. Side trails branched off to unofficial viewpoints atop the canyon's rim. I began to encounter more people, and quite a few mountain bikers, grinding up this extremely steep trail.
|Last of the grass widows|
My goal was a small grove of oak trees. Although not the official trail terminus, this tiny forest marked meadow's end. Ducking into a cluster of gnarled, mossy branches, I spotted a couple straggler grass widow flowers. Usually early March bloomers, I felt extremely lucky come across these delicate, purple beauties.
|Fabulous Gorge views|
After climbing all morning, I was happy for some downhill walking. I followed the rim trail nearly all the way back to the old road junction. More amazing views tempted my camera, and it was a slow descent.
|Heading back down|
By now, the world had woken up, and I encountered several large groups of hikers puffing up the steep dirt track. And an equal number of mountain bikers were either spinning uphill or racing back down. The hikers and bikers seem to peacefully coexist. In fact, all the bikers I encountered were super courteous. I, in turn, made sure to step off the trail and allow them to pass.
|Desert parsley growing in the rock walls|
By the time I reached the old road again, crowds of people were streaming towards the trail. Thankful for the early start and solitude, I made a beeline for my car.
|Bottom of the cliff face|
A perfect day to be out in the Gorge! With the flowers beginning their yearly spring bloom, it was wonderful to be back on the trail.
Six-miles round trip with 1500 feet of climbing - a good start to my hiking season.