Friday, April 26, 2024

Spring Blossom Tour 2024

Prepare yourself - you're about to see a whole lot of pink!

State capitol grounds in Salem, OR

By mid-March the cherry trees burst into bloom all over the Pacific NW, brightening the landscape with beautiful pink flowers.  When the cherry trees start to blossom, you know spring has officially begun.

Some of the colorful landscaping

One particular Saturday in March,  my neighbor and photo-buddy Cheri suggested we take a drive to Salem, Oregon.  Someone had posted fantastic photos online of the state capitol grounds.  The cherry trees were in full bloom and it was a spectacular sight.  It made us both want to capture some of our own images!

The cherry trees were adorned with colorful lanterns

So that morning, Cheri and I headed down I-5 for Salem.  Since it was a weekend and early, there weren't many people strolling the grounds adjacent to the capitol building yet.  The state capitol building has a large park directly in front, lined with rows of gorgeous cherry trees.  On this day they were all in full, pink bloom.  Oh my, time to get to work!  We both grabbed our cameras and began roaming the area.

Blossoms and capitol building

I really like the Oregon capitol building.  It has a unique design that's very different from most state's capitols.  On the very top of the "dome" stands a golden statue of a pioneer - meant to commemorate the first non-native people to arrive in Oregon via wagon trains.  However, to my disappointment, the capitol building was undergoing renovations, and because of this the dome was surrounded by ugly scaffolding.

World of pink

I was also disappointed that the rows of daffodils lining the middle and outer edges of the park were past their prime.  However, it was such a nice view I took photos anyway, despite the withered flowers.  (Note to self - next year I need to get here earlier in March!)

Lots of color

Cheri and I spend a happy half hour wandering around the pink trees and purple blooming azalea bushes.  After we'd taken enough photos, Cheri decided it was time to head for home.

Plentiful blossoms

However, the day was still young.  There were lots of trees in bloom back in Portland.  Not done quite yet, Cheri suggested touring some parks back home, starting with the Pittock Mansion.  

Gnarled tree at Pittock Mansion

The Pittock Mansion is a Portland landmark.  This grand estate was built in 1914 as a private home for publisher Henry Pittock and his wife Georgiana Burton Pittock.  Now owned by the Portland Parks Bureau, this mansion is open for tours and its 46-acre estate is beautifully landscaped.  The building is situated on a large hill that provides amazing views of downtown Portland.

Portland's Pittock Mansion

Although one must pay admission to tour the mansion, wandering around the grounds is totally free of charge.  Although much of the flowers were yet to bloom, we did find one cherry tree and several others with white blossoms.  The estate grounds are lovely any time of year, flowers or not.

Portland skyline from Pittock Mansion

Of course, we had to get some photos of the downtown Portland skyline from the mansion's overlook.  A popular place to photograph sunrise, I'd been here with Cheri a couple of times.

Lovely flowering trees along Washington Park road

After touring the Pittock mansion grounds, Cheri drove through nearby Washington Park.  One section of the park road was lined with white-blossoming trees that were so gorgeous, we just had to pull over and snap some shots.

Cherry blossom close-up

Cheri ended up at the Washington Park International Rose Test Garden.  No roses were blooming yet, but the daffodils and cherry trees sure were!

Blooms at Portland Japanese Garden

Adjacent to the Rose Garden was the Japanese Garden.  Although they charged admission to enter, we both decided it was worth spending the money to check out.

More Japanese Garden beauty

There wasn't as much blooming in the Japanese Garden as the lady at the ticket counter claimed.  But it was a beautiful, calming place to visit.  Everything was meticulously landscaped.  But being it was a Saturday the place quickly became packed with people.  Time to leave!

Dew-dropped Camilla bloom

Our final floral subjects for the day were several vibrant Camilla bushes, full of huge flowers, which weren't far from Washington Park's rose gardens.

Red Camilla blooms in Washington Park

I especially liked the bright red blooms.  A splash of color amidst the greenery.

Cheery daffodils

A productive morning, we were home by noon, our memory cards full of colorful images.  Blossom time never lasts long enough, so I'm glad we were able to get out and capture some of the beauty before it faded away. 

Sunday, April 21, 2024

Wildflower Time at Catherine Creek

It's that time of year once again - wildflower season.  And if you've followed this blog for any length of time, then you know how much I love to photograph wildflowers.

Dew-speckled grass

Early in March, things start blooming first in the eastern reaches of the Columbia River Gorge.  This area's warmer and drier weather provides the perfect climate for early wildflowers.  A signal that spring has really arrived for good is when the grass widows start unfurling their petals.

It's grass widow season!

A tiny flower sporting a lovely shade of purple, these blooms cover the grasslands east of the Cascade Mountains.  Grass widows have the distinction of being the first spring wildflower to bloom in large quantities.  The very best place to see fields of these lavender beauties are the trails around Catherine Creek, on the Washington side of the Gorge.

Caught this train rolling along the Columbia River

Upon seeing online reports of grass widow sightings, I messaged friends Debbie and Barry, inviting them to join me for a hike in the Catherine Creek area.  So one sunny Monday morning had us pulling into the large roadside trailhead.

Up close and personal

Trails radiate out in all directions from the parking area.  Most of them are located on the north side of the road, but the south side has a paved path that loops around the area between the road and Columbia River.  Since this path is relatively short (about a mile in length) and I'm usually after a longer trek, I hadn't hiked it in quite awhile.  But upon exiting the car, I spotted a huge purple patch of grass widows blooming right next to the path's beginning.  Before my friends knew what was happening, I was across the road with my camera pointing at the flowers.

Debbie spotted a couple of Lewis woodpeckers

Debbie and Barry followed me over, and we all oohed and aahed at the high concentration of grass widows.  Many photos may have been taken.  Looking ahead, I glimpsed more purple petals further down the path.  Of course I had to go check it out!

Bundles of purple joy

My friends and I ended up walking the entire paved path.  There were so many flowers to see!  And I'd forgotten there were some great views of the mighty Columbia River from several vantage points.  I glimpsed the tippy-top of Mt. Hood's white peak.  Then a long train came chugging down river-level along the Oregon side.  So much to see!  My photos weren't just limited to wildflowers.

So. Many. Grass widows.

And that wasn't all - there were also lots of birds flying around the area.  Debbie and Barry are avid birders so while I was photographing the grass widows, they were searching the nearby trees and bushes for feathered friends.  Eagle-eye Debbie spotted a couple of colorful Lewis woodpeckers sitting in a tall tree, and with a little patience, I was able to get a couple halfway decent shots of them.  A definite highlight of the day!

Yellow bells!

Our little detour across the road had been quite productive.  But we'd driven a long distance to hike and weren't ready to quit after a paltry mile, so once my friends and I returned to the loop's beginning, we wandered back across the road for more.

Purple-dotted foreground

Where to go now?  Since we hike here every year, my friends and I followed a familiar path that led down to a bridge spanning Catherine Creek.  Of course, progress was slow as I stopped frequently to photograph yet more grass widows (good thing Debbie and Barry are patient people!)

A sweet bloom

After crossing the bridge, our trail led steeply up the opposite creek bank.  Besides grass widows, other wildflowers were blooming on this slope.  Most notably I spied several clumps of cheery yellow bells, another early spring favorite.

Love the Mt. Hood views from the trail

Our trail kept climbing and as we ascended great views of the Columbia River and Oregon side of the Gorge unfolded.  I especially loved seeing the slopes dotted with hundreds of purple grass widows.  This area was more open and grassy, and we began to hear the lovely song of the Western meadowlark.  My friends and I searched the surrounding areas for a glimpse every time we heard one call, but these elusive birds kept ducking down into the tall grass.

Wildflowers surround this downed tree

Stopping for a quick lunch break, we enjoyed panoramic Gorge and river views while downing our sandwiches.

My friends climbing up a hill

There's so many trails that criss-cross the hills in this area and my friends and I were having a hard time deciding which path to choose.  We followed the clifftop above Catherine Creek until the trail dived back down into a small valley.  Then Debbie decided we should keep climbing to another high plain.

A cheerful clump of grass widows

That was fine with me.  The views got even more stunning the higher we hiked.  And of course, there were plenty more grass widows scattered about.  I didn't remember ever seeing so many of these purple flowers around here.  Must've been a banner year!

Sweeping Gorge views

It was an unseasonably hot day.  Not yet used to such temperatures, the heat was starting to get to both Debbie and I.  After climbing for a short distance more, we both decided we'd had enough uphill for one day.  We made a group decision to head back to the parking area.

Debbie poses by Mt. Hood

Years ago the valley adjacent to Catherine Creek was the site on an old ranch.  Our return route took my friends and I through the remains of an old fence and corral from this homestead.  A tall, basalt cliff rose on one side of the valley and as we passed by I noticed the landmark rock arch that's situated on a part of the cliff wall.  

Catherine Creek rock arch

As my friends and I hiked up the last incline that would take us to the parking area, we came across a hillside that was packed with wildflowers of all shapes and colors.  Of course, the grass widows took center stage - and they were blooming in abundance.

Mother Nature's bouquet

Although I already had a memory card full of purple flower images, I just couldn't resist snapping more photos of this flowerful scene.

Grass widows were thick near the trailhead

Here's one more bonus image - because you can never have enough wildflower photos!


Although with all the photo and birdwatching stops my friends and I didn't cover much ground - I think our grand total was a measly 5 miles - it was still wonderful to be out among the wildflowers.  After a long, cold, rainy winter, seeing colorful flowers blooming sure does brighten your day!

Monday, April 15, 2024

March Skiing at Mt. Bachelor

My final ski trip for the season was at a familiar place - Mt. Bachelor, up the road in Central Oregon.  The largest ski area in the state, I'd swooshed down its slopes many times over the span of 30 years.  As a matter of fact, Mt. Bachelor is my favorite place to ski in Oregon - and also is in the running for my favorite resort anywhere.

Beautiful view of Tumalo Mtn.

The multi-resort IKON passes my friend Kim and I purchased this season allowed for 5 days here.  We'd used one of the five in early January trying to ski on a miserable, rainy day.  After that experience, we decided to save our remaining days for March, when the snow, and the weather were more reliable.  (The Cascade Mountains usually get their highest amount of snowfall during the month of March.)

"The Cone" with all it's squiggly ski tracks

After skiing other resorts (and our home hill, Mt. Hood) in January and February, the chosen month for our Mt. Bachelor trip finally arrived.  The second Tuesday of March had Kim and I turning into its parking lot, eyeing the snowy, foggy conditions.  Snow was falling heavily, which was good.  However the swirling snow, combined with fog, made seeing where you were going mighty challenging.  (We skiers refer to this reduced visibility as "skiing by Braille.")

Gotta do a ski selfie!

No matter, we'd come to ski and ski we would!  So Kim and I rode up the lift and carefully picked our way downhill.  The newly-fallen snow was wonderful to swish through, and nearly made up for the lack of visibility.  We had a great morning, and after a coffee and granola bar break for lunch, went out for more.

Super-long line to Summit Lift

Although the second day began with more of the same weather as the first, it didn't take long for the snow to stop falling and skies to clear.  Hooray!  Sunshine and powder - my favorite!  And temperatures remained cold, which helped the snow stay soft and fluffy.

Lots of sunshine!

Conditions were good enough that Mt. Bachelor staff decided to run the Summit lift that afternoon.  The highest chairlift at the resort, it takes skiers to the very top of 9,068-foot Mt. Bachelor.  Due to its exposed location, the resort only opens it when there's low wind and high visibility.  Kim and I happened to go by the bottom of Summit right as it opened.  We considered taking a run from the top, but the humungous lift line changed our minds.  It snaked all the way up the adjacent slope!  There was plenty of other places to ski that weren't crowded, especially now that half of the people were in line for the summit.

Snow-flocked trees

Instead Kim and I enjoyed a delightful afternoon, enjoying the lack of crowds, sunshine, and fluffy, powder snow.  When skies are clear, skiers are treated to amazing views of the adjacent Cascade peaks surrounding Mt. Bachelor.  I soaked in the wonderful mountain panoramas and tried to snap images with my phone.  (For obvious reasons, I don't ski with any of my "big girl" cameras.)  When Kim grew tired, she decided to quit early and rest at the bar.  Having a bit more energy still, I opted to take a few more runs before also hanging it up for the day.  

Lovely scene under the Outback Lift

I headed over to the slopes underneath the Outback Lift, one of my favorite places to ski at Mt. Bachelor.  Located on the shadier, colder side of the mountain, snow was still firmly stuck to the trees here.  It looked like I was skiing through a bunch of flocked Christmas trees.  So pretty!  A great way to end another fun day.

Could almost see the adjacent mountains

The third day at Mt. Bachelor, Kim was feeling sore and needed to rest.  No problem - my brother Dale, who lives in the nearby town of Bend, decided to join me.

One day I skied with my brother

The forecast called for clear skies and temperatures still cold enough to preserve the snow.  Yeah!  I was excited for another day of good conditions.  But what I hadn't bargained on was the wind.  It was absolutely howling.

Interesting clouds

Although I had a great time skiing with my brother and catching up on his life, the strong wind definitely put a damper on things.  Riding the chairlift was a mighty cold experience.  (And during strong winds the resort runs the lifts slower than normal, so the uphill ride takes even longer!)

The Viking lifty was back!

Our fourth and final day at Mt. Bachelor dawned sunny and warm.  But that pesky wind was still blowing strongly.  Oh well, at least it wasn't as cold as the previous day.

Keeping those skiers in line

The warm sunshine, and the fact it was Friday, brought the skiers out in droves.  After enjoying short, and sometimes nonexistent lift lines for the past three days, it was kind of a shock to have to wait in fairly long lines.

"Front row!  C'mon out!"

But luckily our favorite lifty was back!  (For those who don't ski, "lifty" is what we skiers call the people who operate the chairlifts and manage the crowds trying to access them.)  There is one man who works at Mt. Bachelor that dresses up as a Viking on warmer days.  To our delight, Kim and I spotted the Viking that morning while in the lift line.

Someone drew the Mt. Bachelor logo in the snow under the lift

Not only was this guy dressed to the nines in full Viking attire, he also was so enthusiastic about his job, you couldn't help but smile along with him.  As skiers passed by, the man dished out high fives, and happily posed for photos.  I happened to notice his name tag even said "Viking."

Another fun thing to see - as Kim and I sat down on the chairlift and it began its uphill journey, we noticed someone had stomped out the Mt. Bachelor logo into the snow below us.  I tried to snap a photo of the good work, but in case you can't quite make it out, I posted a copy of the real Mt. Bachelor logo above for comparison.

Enjoying our ride

By afternoon, the temperatures had risen well above freezing.  In areas out of the wind, it was quite warm.  The snow began to soften up, destroying the nice fluffy powder I'd enjoyed the previous days.  Kim and I both agreed if not for the wind keeping things relatively cool, the snow would be too sticky to ski on.

Kim soaks up the sun

Tired from multiple days of skiing, Kim and I threw in the towel early the afternoon of our last day.  Enjoying a burger and beer in the lodge, we were entertained by a group of people doing a "shot ski."  This zany tradition is rumored to be practiced at most ski areas.  It's where multiple shot glasses are adhered to a ski and several people get together to tip the ski in unison and drink from these shot glasses.  I'd always heard of shot skis, but until today had never seen a group actually drink from one.


Shot ski later in the lodge

Having had a midweek season pass to Mt. Bachelor last year, which I used a record 17 times, five days this season was not nearly enough.  Kim and I both agreed that while it was fun to try out the IKON pass and visit some favorite resorts, we're going to skip the IKON pass next season and go back to buying a midweek season pass here at Bachelor.  It's one of our favorite resorts and we really missed coming here.

But at least we had a good time this week and made the most of the IKON pass days we had.  Until next season, Mt. Bachelor!