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!


  1. Beautiful. I've always found there is more to do and more variety to see on the Washington side.

  2. Unfamiliar flowers to this Englishman, but I'm happy to have made their acquaintance! A walk should never be judged by its length but by its quality.

  3. ...spring is a glorious time of year.

  4. I can see why it would take a long time to get anyplace with all these flowers. Sad that so few people will actually get to this location to see flowers.

  5. It isn't the distance, it's the journey and my oh my, what a sensational purple journey this was! Crisp blue sky and Columbia vistas!

  6. I always look forward to your wild flower photos. It is the variety that I enjoy so much.

  7. Those Grass widows are amazing, as is the landscape where you found them. Perfect colour too!

  8. Wow, gorgeous blooms and awesome views! Our desert blooms this year were just so so, even though we had a lot of rain (by desert standards). Love your photography!

  9. So pretty. All that purple and then the Yellow Bells, both are very charming.


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