Tuesday, May 7, 2024

The Labyrinth

I can't get enough of the eastern Columbia River Gorge in springtime.  The first place where wildflowers bloom in spring, it's a welcome relief from the winter gray.  After hiking the Catherine Creek area two weeks prior, I was ready for a return trip.

Bright green new leaves at the trailhead

So on April 1st (April Fools day!) I hatched a plan with friends Debbie and Barry to hike the nearby Labyrinth Trail.  Hands down my favorite trail in the area, it's beautiful any time of year.  But in spring, with plentiful wildflowers and bright green new foliage, the scenery is stunning.

Beautiful waterfall

The weather looked great for our chosen day - sunny and dry.  But what I hadn't paid attention to was the wind forecast.  Stepping out from my friend's car, it blasted my face, threatening to blow the ball cap from my head.  Ok, I wasn't expecting that!  But the Gorge had a reputation for strong winds, and although annoying, it wasn't a deal breaker.  My friends and I simply tightened down our hats and carried on.

Larkspur in bloom

Our hike today started out following an abandoned road for a half mile.  Along with sweeping views of the Columbia River, the old road also passed by a beautiful waterfall.  Surrounded by green moss and yellow desert parsley, the cascade made worthy camera fodder.  The morning light even hit the water at the right angle to produce a rainbow.

Prairie stars in bloom

Leaving the abandoned road, my friends and I began winding uphill through an area of rocky promontories.  Wildflowers lined our trail from the very beginning, a mixture of desert parsley, purple larkspur, and frilly white prairie stars.

Interesting cloud

Scruffy oak trees were the predominant vegetation here.  While I admired the wildflowers, Debbie and Barry scoured the tree branches for birds.  Although we'd seen several Lewis woodpeckers in the vicinity a couple of years ago, today the rascals were nowhere to be found.

Debbie and Barry are all smiles!

Our trail led us past a small creek, complete with a gurgling waterfall.  Then we climbed higher, past a tall monolithic rock of columnar basalt, surrounded by a dense patch of desert parsley.

More lovely larkspur

The wildflowers continued to impress, with more larkspur lining the trail - and even a few patches of bright yellow balsamroot - the first blooms of this flower I'd seen for the season.

I've always liked this oak tree perched in a scenic spot

We came to a trail junction and opted to head away from the Labyrinth Trail, eastward towards the Catherine Creek area.  A path I've traveled many times before, I was looking forward to seeing more stunning scenery along this leg.

Mt. Hood sighting

We contoured across a hill, our views of the Columbia River continuing to impress.  Climbing above the trees, this area was one large open grassland with views for miles.  The Columbia River flowed below in a shining blue ribbon.  At one point, I glimpsed Mt. Hood's white pinnacle rising over the opposite shore.  Now totally exposed, we felt the entire brunt of the wind's wrath.  I pulled my neck gaiter over my hat to keep it from blowing away.  

Pacific hound's tongue

This open ridge was occasionally interrupted by small copses of oak trees.  Passing through one wooded area, I spotted some tiny bright-blue flowers.  Thanks to Barry and his iNaturalist app, they were identified as Pacific hound's tongue.

Lots of yellow desert parsley blooming

My friends and I passed through an area thick with blooming desert parsley.  The flowers, coupled with views of the Columbia River made for some nice lens candy.

Debbie stops to take in the scenery

Mt. Hood also made another appearance!  Looking towards its snow-capped peak made me wonder what the skiing conditions were that day.  Judging from all the clouds swirling around its summit, I guessed it might be windy there too.

Interesting clouds on Mt. Hood

After a quick lunch break where my friends and I opted to sit on the trail instead of the grass (this area has a reputation for plentiful ticks!) we were off again, heading towards some tall, rocky cliffs.

First balsamroot of the season!

Weaving our way through a narrow opening in the rock walls, we navigated a talus slope that led my friends and I to the cliff's rim.

Cliffs near Catherine Creek

If we kept heading eastward, we'd end up at the Catherine Creek trailhead.  But today our goal was to hike along the clifftop uphill to a junction with Atwood Road.

Oodles of shooting star flowers!

I was delighted to see a bumper crop of purple shooting star blooms brightening the nearby grasslands.

Shooting star close-up

My friends and I began our climb along the exposed cliff rim.  The winds gusted mightily, and we all had to secure our hats and anything else that happened to be loose.  The day was warming up and I was actually glad for the wind during this uphill trek, as it kept me from overheating.

Our route took us along the cliff's rim

One of the good things about this otherwise grueling climb, the views were mighty fine.  More vistas of the mighty Columbia and nice panoramas of the river's opposite shore.

Nice views of the blue Columbia River

Finally we all reached the Atwood Road junction.  A relatively level mile along the top of the bluffs took us back to the Labyrinth Trail, the final leg of today's trek.

Downhill through the desert parsley 

Back down through the huge desert parsley patch, with the lone pillar of columnar basalt in the background.

The desert parsley was thick!

When I'd hiked here a couple years ago, my friends and I had spotted two climbers attempting to ascend this large basalt block.  But not today.

Columnar basalt rock

The late afternoon light was illuminating the trail quite nicely.  Although tiring from the hike, I still couldn't resist snapping just a few more images.

Amazing springtime views!

The wildflowers were definitely the star of today's show.  I'm not sure how many varieties I photographed that day (and if I included photos of them all, this post would be twice as long!)  But that's why I hike here in the spring.

Another great day in the Gorge!

A great day to be out in the Columbia River Gorge!  


  1. ...WOW, the views go on forever.

  2. A fabulous walk. It surely doesn't get any better with the stunning scenery and endless wild flowers.

  3. Beautiful--- I wish I could get out there once more. We've never done it in the Spring.

  4. Some stunning scenery you see up on that trail

  5. Amazing photographs! I enjoyed them all!

  6. Spectacular views and flowers both! I loved the views of Mt. Hood, and the purple Shooting Star.

  7. We have only driven through the gorge, never hiked it. The first thought that came to mind was "Windy"! I recall the RV being pushed around by the wind constantly.

  8. Another fabulous virtual visit to this spectacular area, on this stunning day, except for the wind. ❤️❤️


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