My choice of hikes this spring kind of look like a "Gorge's greatest hits." There was Coyote Wall, Dalles Mountain Ranch, Memaloose Hills, and most recently, Eagle Creek.
Of course this list wouldn't be complete without a journey up the steep, wildflower-covered slopes of Dog Mountain.
|Sun breaking through the forest|
A humble hill on the Washington side of the Columbia River Gorge, most of the year this trail doesn't get much love. But when the balsamroot bloom in late May, hikers flock here in droves.
|My friend the balsamroot|
During peak bloom, vehicles pack into the small parking area, and cars line the side of Hwy 14 in either direction. Then last year authorities downsized the parking area through a re-striping project, posted "no parking" signs along the highway, and vigorously enforced these new rules. Hearing horror stories of the lot filling by early morning and huge crowds on the trail, despite the parking restrictions, I stayed away in 2016.
|Spectacular first view of the upper meadow|
But Dog Mountain is one of my favorite spring hikes, and I'd missed visiting it's flower fields. This year I decided to go anyway. The heck with the crowds and parking mess!
|Prime bloom, baby!|
Close monitoring of local hiking and wildflower Facebook pages gave me clues as to when peak bloom would occur. Then I picked the closest Friday and made sure to leave my house bright and early. My plan worked like a charm - pulling into the parking lot at 6:30 am, I was the 8th vehicle.
|The balsamroot covered Dog Mountain's slopes|
Since I've hiked "the Dog" dozens of times, I usually don't take many photo stops in the first half. The path starts murderously steep, and stays that way much of the first mile, switchbacking through a mostly viewless forest. I put my head down and slowly trudged up the incline.
|Classic Columbia River view from Puppy Point|
About halfway to the top views open up, and weary hikers are treated to a preview of the summit vistas. The Columbia River stretches out below in a bright blue ribbon, perfectly framed by the steep cliffs of the Oregon side and Wind Mountain on the Washington side.
|Looking towards the eastern Gorge|
I was delighted to see cheery sunflower-yellow balsamroot flowers gracing the hillsides here. About the time I reached this lower viewpoint, the moring sun burst through the trees, creating a great sunburst photo op.
|My kind of sunshine|
But even better stuff awaited on top! So after a quick photo session and snack break, I continued my climb.
|Steep trail winds through the upper meadows|
The second portion of the trail climbed relentlessly. It was a tough, grueling trek but again I took the "slow and steady" approach. Before I knew it the forest began parting to reveal the stunning summit meadows.
|Wind Mountain view|
The upper meadows were in prime shape. Covered with thousands of balsamroot flowers, the slopes were colored yellow.
|Kaleidoscope of color|
The trail cut a path through this wildflower paradise and I followed it an old lookout tower site. Perched over the Gorge, it gave higher panoramic views of the river and Gorge cliffs below. Nicknamed "Puppy Point" by the local hiking community it was a great place to soak in the iconic views of Wind Mountain and the Columbia River before the final half mile summit slog.
|Looking back towards Puppy Point|
As always, my pace always slows when I reach the lower summit meadows. So. Many. Flowers. I just want to capture it all!
|Relaxing on the summit|
It took quite awhile for me to cover the final distance to Dog Mountain's summit. The morning light illuminated the flowers and Gorge below perfectly, and I was in photographic heaven.
|Wind Mountain and the western Gorge|
Finally, I joined about a dozen other people for a quick mid-morning snack and rest break on the very top. Tiny buttercup-like flowers covered the meadows, and I spied the very tip of Mt Hood rising over the Oregon side.
|Can you spot Mt St Helens?|
As always, I take the Augspurger Mountain Trail back down. Although longer, it's not as steep, and passes by more outstanding wildflower meadows. And you get a bonus view of Mt St Helens.
|Dewy phlox blooms|
And, as expected, the upper Augspurger Trail did not disappoint! Not only balsamroot, but I also saw lavender phlox, deep purple larkspur, stunning orange Indian paintbrush, white prairie stars, and even a nice patch of chocolate tiger lilies. Truly Mother Nature's kaleidoscope!
|Soaking in the sun|
Come, walk down the Augspurger Trail with me. I'm going to cut out the commentary, and just let you all enjoy the next few photos.
|The flower fields on Upper Augspurger Trail were fantastic too.|
|Yellows and purples|
|I never tire of this view!|
|Flowers in the sunlight|
After leaving the lovely upper meadows, it was a quick downhill trek through peaceful green forests until the parking area came into view. Now late morning, it was plum full. I spotted a line of four vehicles circling the parking lot like vultures, waiting for open spaces. A pickup truck spied me walking to my car, and patiently waited while I took off my boots and loaded my gear.
Waking up early paid off big time. Not only did I get a parking spot, I also had the trails largely to myself and - bonus - wonderful morning light to boot. And it was great to revisit one of my favorite spring wildflower spots!
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