One of the big disappointments from last year's pandemic shutdown (aka "the year coronavirus ruined everything") was not being able to see the spring wildflower bloom in the Columbia River Gorge. Especially painful was missing the Dalles Mountain Ranch's annual balsamroot show. A stunning Washington state park east of the Cascades, this old ranch site was known for it's incredible spring wildflower blooms.
|Sunrise over the flowers
Fast forward to mid-April 2021. Trails and state parks had once again opened their gates to the public. Upon hearing rumors that spring bloom at the ranch was underway, I set my alarm super early in anticipation of a sunrise trip.
|Light streaming through an old fence
|Morning light on the fields
|These old fences made great photo subjects
Although the sunrise wasn't spectacular (not much for sky colors) I did enjoy trying to capture several images of rays as the sun rose over the surrounding hills. And I even got creative (for me) and captured the morning sun streaming behind a fence post.
|One more favorite fence photo
Since this entire area had been a ranch for many years, much of the old fence lines were still intact. As soft morning light spread over the wildflower fields, I enjoyed making images of the lovely yellows, greens and purples of the fields with the fences as my main subject. What can I say? I love old fences!
|Nothing but wildflowers!
Looking back towards the one of the ranch barns, it was yellow as far as the eye could see.
|Purple and gold
This view towards the river was one of my favorites. I loved the lupine, front and center, followed by a huge explosion of balsamroot, bookended by green pastures and rolling hills. (I liked this image so much it made it on my Instagram feed)
|Backlit wildflower field
An image I only recently edited, this has also become a favorite. I loved the warm glow of backlit balsamroot and soft background of green bluffs above the Columbia River.
|Field damage around the old car
After a nice long photography session in the flower meadows, I contemplated whether to visit the famous old car. There were still a couple of people down there, but since it had been two years I couldn't resist grabbing a few shots anyway. So I parked nearby and walked down the fenceline to the field that had become the car's final resting place.
I was disappointed in what I saw. In 2014 when I first visited the old car, flowers and grasses had bloomed in abundance around it's frame (see this post from 2017 for comparison). But since being discovered on social media this old car had been mobbed by the masses. Now wide dirt paths were stomped around it's perimeter, killing the plants and flowers that used to bloom. It was sad to see this wonderful place getting degraded.
|Some of the best wildflower displays were near the old car
Yes, I know bloggers like me posting about the Dalles Mountain Ranch on social media have contributed to the problem. My plea to all those who are reading is this - please be respectful of the environment. Stay on established paths and avoid stepping on the plants and flowers. So we can continue enjoying the wonderful wildflower bloom every year, let's work at keeping this place as pristine as humanly possible.
|An especially nice lupine patch
Although three photographers were spread out around the old auto, I surreptitiously worked around them and captured a few shots for posterity. Then, seeing that the wildflower bloom was especially thick in the downhill field, gravitated that direction.
|Backlit lupine blooms
The lupine was especially lush along the fence line and I had a great time composing many images. About ten minutes later, I looked towards the old auto and was surprised to see that all the photographers had left.
|Through the "eyes" of the old car
Hurrying back to the auto I was now free to roam anywhere, capturing images without worry of being in someone else's shot. And a bonus - the light was fantastic. It's been my experience that the light on this car and field is much better around 8-9 am than it is at sunrise.
|Classic auto image
I spent a happy half hour having a private photo session with the famous Dalles Mountain Ranch rusting automobile. Unheard of in prime wildflower bloom season!
|Lupine at the fence post
But all good things eventually come to and end, and when I noticed people uphill along the fence line walking towards the old car I took it as my cue to move on.
|View from the Vista Loop Trail
It was now time for part two of my day at the Dalles Mountain Ranch - hiking the trails that link Highway 14 to the ranch buildings and flower fields. I drove my car to the Crawford Oaks trailhead and headed uphill along an abandoned road to intersect with the Vista Loop. I'd hiked these trails last year in early March, right before the virus shut things down (see post here.) At the time, I'd planned on returning in a month to explore the trails during wildflower season. Little did I know it would be a full year before I'd actually execute that plan.
|Hills yellow with wildflowers (see the car in the middle of this photo?)
The views atop the Vista Loop were stunning. Not only dotted with fields of colorful wildflowers it also boasted terrific views of Mt Hood and the Columbia River. Wandering uphill towards the ranch, I feasted my eyes on the nearby rolling hills streaked yellow with patches of balsamroot.
|Columbia River view from the ranch
The Vista Loop connected with a trail called the "Ranch Route" that wandered through the Dalles Mountain Ranch area. The flower patches along this section were sensational. Soon I was rambling through the same fenceline and fields I'd stood beside for sunrise, several hours ago.
|Views from the Eightmile Creek Trail
More fantastic flower fields awaited. One draw just past a creek crossing was especially lush with dark purple lupine. So wonderful! Although only a mile and a half in length, it took well over an hour to cover this distance (too many photo breaks!)
However, at the next trail junction I began to tire. Well past noon and having been going since sunrise, I was finally getting "flowered out." Memory card now full of images it was time to stow my camera away, put the hammer down, and march on back to the car.
|An especially lush draw
A most productive day! Wildflowers always make me smile, and I drove home with a permanent grin plastered across my face. After a turbulent year, it was wonderful to finally be back in my happy place - the colorful balsamroot fields of the eastern Columbia River Gorge.
(And there's more balsamroot posts to come! Let's just say that this spring I more than made up for missing the 2020 Gorge wildflower season......)