The spring bloom has begun!
It's a tradition of mine to follow the spring wildflower bloom as it progresses in the eastern Columbia River Gorge. This area is known for it's prolific display of colorful wildflowers, mainly yellow balsamroot and purple lupine. One of the best places to see fields of wildflowers is Washington's Columbia Hills State Park, home of the Dalles Mountain Ranch. When the flowers are peaking, this is one place I make a point to visit.
|Mt Hood peeping through a cloud layer|
This year, the unseasonably cold and wet spring weather delayed the wildflower bloom. Instead of wandering wildflower fields in early April, I didn't make it to the Dalles Mountain Ranch until the third week of that month. That's when I hitched a ride with my friend Catherine and her family for a day of hiking and flower-viewing around Columbia Hills State Park.
|Beautiful clouds over the bluffs|
Our trail of choice that day was a loop beginning at the Crawford Oaks Trailhead. After weeks of rainy weather this particular Sunday dawned sunny and dry. Everyone was ready for some outdoor recreation, as evidenced by a full trailhead parking lot. But Catherine's husband found a grassy spot to squeeze his truck, and we unloaded and began our hike preparations. I had to walk through tall grass to get my backpack and boots from the truck's bed. I emerged from the weeds and immediately discovered a tick on my pant leg. Then I noticed two more of the tiny pests on my backpack. Eeeek!!! They'd evidently hitched a ride as I traveled through the grass. Brushing both pants and backpack off thoroughly (and frantically checking the rest of my body) I thankfully didn't find any more. But paranoia persisted for the rest of the day, with me fearfully checking out every little itch and tickle.
|Wildflowers are in bloom!|
Bladders emptied, boots on, backpacks donned, and bodies checked (once again) for ticks, our group was ready to depart. In addition to Catherine's husband, her younger daughter also joined us. They're very interesting people and it was fun to chat with each family member. From the trailhead we traveled uphill via an old road for about a mile. Fantastic views of Mt. Hood were enjoyed in the first quarter mile. The bluffs ahead decorated with yellow desert parsley made for stunning scenery.
|Lovely spring colors on the adjacent hills|
I'd hiked this very same trail back in February (see post here) when the area was barren and brown. Boy what a difference two months makes! Today the hills were green and lush and wildflowers dotted the prairie.
|Another Mt Hood sighting near the ranch|
It was about 3 miles from the Crawford Oaks trailhead to the Dalles Mountain Ranch. Our trail climbed to the top of the cliffs for glorious views of the Columbia River and Mt. Hood. Then it turned inland and we rambled through colorful fields towards the ranch.
|Sunny balsamroot bloom|
Although yellow sunflower-like balsamroot flowers were blooming, purple lupine was just barely getting started. There was plenty of color, but we didn't see full fields of flowers like in past years. It looked as though peak bloom was yet to come.
|Fields o' flowers|
Despite the decreased floral numbers, it was still a lovely sight to follow the trail as it wandered through the fields. With my morning's tick encounter fresh in the memory banks, I resisted the urge for off-trail wanderings and diligently stuck to the beaten path.
I'll be quiet now so you can enjoy the next couple of photos....... :)
|Yellow as far as the eye can see|
|Almost to the ranch!|
|Balsamroot and bee|
Soon the familiar ranch buildings came into view and I was happy to see that our lunch destination wasn't far. It was now past noon, as my tummy kept reminding me.
|Catherine's family knows how to lunch in style|
Last February, my hiking group had taken a break at a picnic table strategically placed among the old ranch buildings. I mentioned this particular table to my friends and they were all for making that our lunch stop.
|Trader Joe's goodies and a tablecloth!|
Catherine and her family know how to lunch in style! They packed a bunch of delicious goodies from Trader Joe's, paper plates, and even a tablecloth. So much more classy than munching a PB&J while sitting on a rock.
After a most wonderful break, it was time to pack up all the lunch fixins and continue our journey back to the trailhead. Catherine's daughter decided to stay behind at the picnic table and we agreed to pick her up after we'd finished the hike (the ranch is also accessible via a road).
|Gotta pay the old car a visit!|
|Purple and gold|
The flowers in the ancient auto's field were some of the best we'd seen all day. There was a large patch of especially vibrant purple lupine and the balsamroot was also thick. Oh the photo ops! Our return trip may have delayed by several minutes......
|Lots of smiles today|
But finally my friends and I pulled ourselves away from the grand floral display and did a bit of cross-country scrambling to connect with the return portion of our loop.
|Wide open views towards the river|
A quick drive on gravel roads took us back to the ranch where Catherine's daughter was waiting. Upon our arrival, my companions produced another surprise. Today happened to be their older daughter's birthday. Although she lived out of state, that didn't stop Catherine and her family from celebrating. In her daughter's honor Catherine pulled out a box of cupcakes and candles. After everyone had their goodies, I used Catherine's phone to record a video of her family singing "Happy Birthday." (Which was then sent to the birthday girl) So much fun! A wonderful end to a most excellent hike.
|Celebrating a birthday|
Roaming the flower fields of the Dalles Mountain Ranch in springtime always puts a smile on my face. Sharing this gorgeous place with a fun bunch of people made it even better.
(P.S. Thankfully no other ticks were found on anyone!)