|This trail had the best sign!
In late March, home from my wanderings, I was hankering for a spring wildflower fix. The wildflowers always bloom first in the eastern reaches of the Columbia River Gorge. With most of the Oregon Gorge trails still shut down from last September's fire, I looked to my northern neighboring state.
|Columbia River views
This spring my motto has been "try new trails." One that I'd never hiked before was the scenic path through Lyle Cherry Orchard on the Washington side.
I'm not sure if it was the distance from Portland (about an hour and a half drive) or the relatively short route (the trail itself is only about 4 miles round trip) that kept me from visiting until now.
I got a late start that Saturday morning, and after driving past overflowing trailheads at Coyote Wall and Catherine Creek, began to worry about securing a parking spot. But luckily, the lot was only about 2/3 full. Guess other folks didn't want to travel that far either.
|Lovely unknown flower
The trail itself wasn't signed, but an obvious boot path from the parking area led me through a scrub oak forest under tall basalt cliffs. In a 1/8 mile I came upon the famous Cherry Orchard trailhead sign.
|Gnarled oak trees
And a lovely sign it was, beautifully carved lettering adorning it's face, with a couple small wildflowers painted on each side. The lower portion ominously warned of the hazards hikers might encounter (poison oak, ticks, rattlesnakes, steep cliffs....)
The sign wasn't enough to deter me from the day's goal. Tucking my pant legs into my socks to guard against ticks, I began to climb up a small draw. Flowers carpeted the forest here, slowing my progress.
|These trees look like withered old people
The forest thinned out into a meadow and the trail began to switchback steeply uphill. As I climbed, views opened up westward towards the tiny town of Lyle and eastwards to the drier portion of the Gorge.
|Path through the grass
Steep basalt cliffs lining the Columbia River came into view, as did the higher Cascade mountain foothills.
|Gorge panorama on top of the ridge
Zig-zagging up the steep meadow, I came upon the first balsamroot flower of the season. A large clump of the cherry yellow blooms were brightening up the surroundings.
About a mile up, the terrain flattened out and my trail began wandering through another oak forest.
|Remains of the orchard area
Dozens of wildflowers brightened the forest floor. Shooting stars, larkspur, Oregon sunshine, glacier lilies, and even a couple of extremely late-blooming grass widows.
|Nothing left of the homestead but fence posts
The official trail was supposed to end at an old homestead where a few surviving trees from an old cherry orchard still existed. However, I came to the old road described in my hiking guide, and there really wasn't much to see. A few old fence posts and more oak trees, but I didn't see anything resembling a cherry tree. Kind of anticlimactic.
I continued past the homestead, following a faint road until it appeared to dead end in a cliff-edged oak grove. The views east were quite lovely, and I had a quick snack while enjoying the scenery.
|Last fall's dry leaves
This entire 500-plus acre property was purchased by Friends of the Gorge founder Nancy Russell. Upon her death, she deeded the land to this organization, and a trail was built so all could enjoy this beautiful area.
Although the faint road continued further east, the day was growing warm, and I decided I'd done enough exploring for today. Retracing my steps back to the homestead area, I meandered along the ridgetop, snapping photos of any flower I thought I may have missed.
|The season's first balsamroot
Although I'd had the homestead all to myself, I encountered a continuous stream of hiker groups as I trekked back through the woods. Apparently this trail was more popular than I thought!
|Looking down on the plateau
Descending back down the steep bluffs, I was treated to fantastic views of the stair-stepped basalt cliffs and the grassy plateau midway down. Several people were fanned out across the plateau. From my vantage point, they looked like ants.
Although tempted to follow the crowd across the plateau to these cliff edges, I decided to save that exploration for another day.
|Hikers admiring the Gorge view
The final half mile through the lower oak forest, I snapped photos of some of the more unusual species of flowers.
Such as the white flowers and unusual leaf of the Miners lettuce plant. And I spied a clump of yellow monkeyflowers with red spots - a variety I'd not seen before.
Boy, it was great to be back home in the Gorge! I've got another favorite spring trail to add to my list.