But when Friday finally rolled around, a few car care chores took precedence. Finished by mid-afternoon, I decided to brave horrible rush hour traffic and head to the Gorge anyway.
|Forest floor color|
Ugh - traffic was as bad as expected, and it took an additional hour to reach my destination. Hoping the wildflowers would be worth all that extra freeway time, I finally pulled into the Memaloose Overlook just east of Mosier.
|These large sunny blooms made great photo subjects|
This tiny viewpoint treats visitors to sweeping eastern Gorge panoramas. But that wasn't the reason I'd stopped here. The parking area also provided access to an unmarked, informal trail system that climbed two local hills, Marsh and Chatfield. This area, nicknamed the "Memaloose Hills," produced one of the best spring wildflower displays in the entire Gorge.
|Near Marsh Hill|
Rumor had it this year's bloom was especially spectacular - one of the best ever, according to many online posts. Well, I was about to find out!
Thanks to social media, what used to be a relatively unknown hiking area had recently exploded in popularity. I felt lucky to secure a parking spot - on weekends cars line the narrow road, sometimes for a mile in each direction. But my 5 pm arrival appeared to hit the sweet spot. Starting up the narrow dirt trail, I encountered a steady stream of people returning to their cars. There wasn't a soul heading the other way.
|Lone oak on Chatfield Hill|
The flower show started immediately, with nice blooms of orange Indian paintbrush, purple larkspur, and of course, sunny yellow balsamroot covering the forest floor.
I covered the roughly one mile trail to a junction by a tiny creek. From here, I could choose to visit Marsh Hill or turn and climb up Chatfield Hill's steep slopes. Remembering from last year's hike that Chatfield had the better bloom, I chose to head there first.
|Lupine just getting started|
I passed by a cow pasture, before climbing through a wooded area. But beyond the forest, Chatfield Hill's slopes opened up to colorful meadows. Through the trees, I caught glimpses of yellow and purple. But nothing prepared me for the tremendous flower show that awaited as I emerged from the trees.
|Flower-filled slope on Chatfield Hill|
Chatfield Hill's slopes were absolutely packed with flowers! Mostly balsamroot, but there were plenty of deep purple lupine mixed in amongst the blooms. Evening light backlit the flowers so much that they practically glowed. Normally a morning and daytime hiker, being here at the day's end was a new experience. It's good to photograph favorite places at different times of the day - landscapes can change dramatically with the sunlight's direction.
|Looking towards Marsh Hill|
The online reports were right - it was the best wildflower bloom I'd ever seen here.
|Tip of Mt Hood anchors the skyline|
As I slowly meandered up Chatfield Hill, I passed one group on their way down. No one was behind me, and the summit was empty. I had the entire place all to myself! How often does that happen during peak bloom?
|Columbia River view from Chatfield Hill|
About halfway up the hill, Mt Hood's white tip came into view. A panorama of farm fields spread out below. Framed by the nearby technicolor slopes, it was quite a sight. But sadly, the higher I climbed, the stronger the wind blew. Made close-up shots extremely difficult.
|Acres of flowers....|
Finally reaching Chatfield's summit, the wind was gusting so strongly I had to hold onto my hat for fear it would be blown off. Although the Gorge views and flower density were fantastic, high winds forced me to cut my visit short.
Making my way back downhill, I ran into a lone man, the only other person I'd seen climbing up so far this evening. Perfect timing!
|The flower show on Marsh Hill was equally impressive|
Back at the junction, I made a quick jaunt up Marsh Hill's slopes. Although the balsamroot was blooming thickly here too, it wasn't quite as spectacular as the neighboring hill.
|Great light on the lupine|
But the lupine was more prolific. Now early evening, the low-angle sun lit their purple blooms up quite nicely.
|Layer-cake Gorge cliffs|
Columbia River views were a bit better atop Marsh Hill, and I snapped a few shots of the tiered cliffs on the Washington side.
|Eastern Gorge view from Memaloose Overlook|
Although I'd considered staying until sunset, the night's fierce winds made me rethink my plans. It was still a good hour until sunset, and I didn't want endure being buffeted by winds for that long. So I retraced my steps back down the trail. Funny enough, after seeing practically no one for the last hour, I encountered several groups (mostly photographers) trekking towards the hills, I assume to capture sunset. And when I was almost back to the parking area, I ran into a large group of photographers, all lugging tripods, shooting the measly flowers next to the road. Possibly a photo class? (They were missing the good flower show further up the trail!)
|Sunset on the Columbia|
Finally reaching the parking area, I paid a visit to the overlook for a couple of shots up and down the Columbia River. Then, slowly driving towards Mosier, I pulled over one last time to capture a spectacular sunset over the Gorge. The wind was blowing so hard I had to brace myself against the car to steady my camera. But as you can see, I got my shot!
Super glad I took the chance, braved rush hour traffic, and experienced this magical place in the Columbia River Gorge.
(Hike No. 12 done!) #52hikechallenge