After a successful morning photo session at the Dalles Mountain Ranch, I headed over to an area I'd heard glowing wildflower reports from but had never visited - the Memaloose Hills.
|The balsamroot show continues!|
Located on the Oregon side of the Columbia River Gorge, just east of the tiny village of Mosier, these hills above I-84 and the Historic Columbia River Gorge Hwy (aka US Route 30) were rumored to produce a fantastic display of spring wildflowers.
|Gnarled oak trees|
Intending to start at the rest area along I-84, I took a quick detour up to Rowena Crest below Tom McCall Point. The yellow balsamroot flowers were blooming in force, but not much else. So I continued down the Historic Highway towards Mosier. A large amount of cars were crowded in the scenic overlook pullout. Taking advantage of a rare open parking spot, I decided to explore.
|Yellow sunshine along the trail|
Which way to go? Above the highway or below? Noticing a user trail amongst the oak forest on the highway's uphill side, I made a snap decision to go high. As you'll soon see, it was definitely the right choice.
Right away I spotted Indian paintbrush, Prairie Stars, Larkspur and of course lots of balsamroot.
|Unknown two-tone flower|
I ran into a couple of men from Australia, visiting the Pacific NW on a photography vacation. Amazing that folks from other countries knew about this area that I'd never visited!
|Approaching Marsh Hill summit|
Climbing higher, through gnarled, mossy oak trees, I struck up a conversation with a local man heading back downhill. He pointed out a cluster of chocolate tiger lilies that I'd missed. A rare spring flower, there must've been over a hundred blooms in the vicinity. (In a good season, I'm lucky to spot a half dozen)
|Marsh Hill's slopes were covered with balsamroot|
The man told me there were two main trails in this area. One would lead me to the top of Marsh Hill, while another climbed the slopes of adjacent Chatfield Hill. Winding between private land, this trail system provided access to some lovely views and flower fields.
|Sweeping summit views|
Thanking the man for sharing his trail tips, I continued steeply uphill. The concentration of wildflowers kept getting thicker. Progress was slow - so many photo ops!
|Glimpse of the Columbia River|
Crossing a small stream, I came upon the trail junction the man had described. Having no destination in mind, I made a snap decision to go left towards Marsh Hill.
|Prairie Star hanging out with the balsamroot|
Winding up the slopes of Marsh Hill, the forest thinned, the balsamroot began to grow thicker, and the vistas opened up. This was by far the most balsamroot I'd seen so far. It covered the slopes in a huge patch of yellow.
|Big Head Clover|
On Marsh Hill's humble summit, other flowers joined the wildflower show. Tiny white Prairie Stars mingled with the balsamroot's large yellow faces. And numerous patches of pink Big Head Clover added a nice color contrast to the scene.
|Hikers delighting in the flower fields|
The views on top were grand indeed. I could see the adjacent farmland spread out in three directions. Towards the north, I caught teaser glimpses of the Columbia River flowing beneath the Gorge's steep banks.
|Chocolate Tiger Lilies|
It was terribly windy on top, making flower photography difficult. I tried hard to be patient and wait for a break in the gusts. I managed a few good shots, but ultimately decided the sheltered woods below Marsh Hill provided better photo ops.
Back down the slope I traveled. By now, it was past noon. Although I'd initially considered also exploring Chatfield Hill's summit, a rumbling tummy was persuading me to head to Hood River for a burger.
|More lovely unknown flowers|
So back through the now-familiar flower fields I traveled. Even though this was my second time through, I still found floral subjects I'd missed (or at least thought I had!).
|Balsamroot swaying in the wind|
By midday I met a steady stream of people trekking up the trail. Thanks to social media, Oregon and Portland Hikers websites had been inundated with posts from this area. Beautiful places aren't a secret anymore!
|Tons of chocolate tiger lilies here|
Still, how could anyone keep such a lovely place as this a secret?
|Wonderful spring sunny joy|
Truly one of the best wildflower blooms I'd seen this year! Why had it taken me so long to hike here?
Near the parking area, I ran into a huge patch of gorgeous orange Indian Paintbrush. Mixed in with white Prairie Stars and yellow buttercups it made for a colorful forest floor.
|Colorful forest floor|
I ended my day with a memory card full of vibrant floral images and a happy heart. Being outdoors in a beautiful place always works wonders for my mood.
Yes, this place will definitely go on the "must visit" spring wildflower list for next year!