Wildflowers of the Columbia Gorge

One of the best things about exploring the Columbia River Gorge is the thousands of wildflowers in the area.  Given the variety of topography and climatic conditions – this could be a lifetime of work and for Russ Jolley I suspect it was.

Jolley is the author of “Wildflowers of the Columbia Gorge”, an indispensable companion for a trip or hike in the gorge.  My dog-eared copy has accompanied me on many hikes and trips for the past 25 plus years.  Recently I noticed that I had written dates by some of the flowers of where and when I had spotted a particular flower.  My earliest entry – April 6, 1991.  What a fun way to re-visit my younger self.

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Balsamroot and Indian paintbrush near the Memaloose Hills.

This early in the year – the best spot for wildflowers is the drier eastern Gorge.  Most are counting the days until the explosion of balsamroot, Indian paintbrush and lupine but we are still about a week away – although I did find a few near the Memaloose Hills.

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Pungent Desert Parsley

My early season favorites come from the Lomatium family – commonly known as desert parsley.  Here are two – the Columbia Desert Parsley and the Pungent Desert Parsley both rarely seen outside of the Gorge area.  I invite you to discover why it is called “pungent”!  I love photography – but it limits us to only one of our senses. 

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Columbia Desert Parsley – rare purple flower from the Lomatium family.

If you come visit – a great place to help you get started is the Friends of the Columbia Gorge website.  They offer hikes and other helpful information.  It is a great organization that is helping preserve the Gorge so we can enjoy it for years to come.

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Delicious food and great beer at Pfriem Brewpub, Hood River, Oregon.

Just as famous as Columbia River Gorge wildflowers – are the many breweries on the north and south side of the river.  A well-earned treat for the way home!

Sense of Place – Astoria, Oregon

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With no destination in mind – but with a firm desire to road trip – I left my last meeting on Friday with only the open road before me.  I had to get home from Dash Point, Washington to Portland.  This is a quarterly trip so I was used to the routine of getting on I-5 south.  Part of me wanted to get home and be a responsible leaf-raking home owner.

For no reason that I can explain, just north of Centralia I veered off the freeway and headed to the coast.  Ironically – the retreat I had been just attending was all about decision making. My head was full of ethical discernments.  This was spontaneous – absolutely no discerning other than seeing a road sign saying “Aberdeen/Raymond” next exit.

Taking all the anticipation out of this road trip tale – I ended up in Astoria, Oregon for 2 days.  Best decision I have made in quite some time – I must have learned something at that retreat.

Some of the highlights:

Early morning photo shooting in Astoria and exploring this wonderful and historic town – founded in 1811!

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Early morning at the Cannery Hotel

Wave watching at Cape Disappointment (not disappointing!!)

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Buoy Beer for dinner

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And finally, there is this little church about 2 miles west of the Astoria Megler bridge on the way to Ilwaco, Washington that I have passed a hundred times.  It’s in the middle of nowhere but is beautiful in its simplicity and isolation.  I have regretted never stopping and learning the story of this church by the sea.  I stopped.

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St. Mary’s Church, McGowan, Washington

History fans (I am one!) should read Peter Stark’s Astoria – recently released in paperback – for a closer look at the early years of Astoria.

Astoria has transformed from river city with an economy and industry (most significantly fish canneries) reliant on the Columbia River – to an artistic corner of Oregon – focused on tourism and the two mainstays of Oregon – beer and coffee.

The Columbia River is still a strong force.  Cargo ships provide entertainment as their huge hulks pass by the waterfront. And the nautical history is never far away – including the Flavel House Museum (George Flavel was the Columbia’s first river pilot back in 1850).  But you are more likely to see Willapa Bay Oysters featured on area menu’s than Columbia River salmon.

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Favorite Roads

Do you have a favorite highway or road?  One of my favorites (and conveniently close to home) is Highway 6, also known as the Wilson River Highway, that traverses the Oregon Coast Range from the Portland metro area out to Tillamook and the beautiful central Oregon Coast.  A gorgeous section of the Pacific Northwest that includes Cape Kiwanda and Pacific City, the Three Capes scenic bike route, Rockaway to the north and Neskowin to the south.

I love how the road twists and turns around huge Douglas Firs dripping with rain.  And to my right a river runs.  Trucks are parked at every wide spot in the road – it’s fishing season in the Oregon Coast Range.  I briefly think of one of my favorite books, “The River Why” by David James Duncan – the title river is based on this exact area.

The rainforest here is lush and green but fall colors still shine now and then where a vine maple or alder has found its ground among the evergreens. If you want to experience western Oregon – logging, history, fishing, homesteading, and our famous rain – Highway 6 from Banks to Tillamook is a great way to experience our state.  Pull over at the Smith Homestead park where history and hiking come together, learn about the history of highway building at the Charles Straub Wayside.

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I am startled out of my fly fishing day dream – coming around a curve in the road to enter the vast expanse of the huge Wilson River and Trask River flood plains.  Mountain river dreams are replaced with the visions of baby loafs of Tillamook cheddar cheese. Pastures spread out far and wide – in Oregon we are very proud of our cheese making legacy.  Born from these farms that lie before me.

One other note about Tillamook – it is home to one of the largest wooden structures in the world – a former WW II blimp hangar.  There were once two of these beauties that you could see from miles away – sadly a fire destroyed one of the hangar twins and only one remains.  The remaining structure is now an Air Museum.   The hangar encompasses an area of 7 acres!

And no road trip in Oregon is complete without beer.

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Time for a Road Trip

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Two days and counting… and I just can’t stay in a bad mood about this election.  I am concerned, I am worried, I am thinking about ways I can make a difference – and make this country better in the face of our challenges and our divisiveness.

My favorite quote of all time… “If you don’t think one person can make a difference, you have never been in a tent with one mosquito.”

But before I make like a mosquito – time to hit the road and head to the Oregon Coast.  What a beautiful part of the world this is and each part of the coast, north, middle and south has its own personality.

More on the northern and southern coastal areas to come – but this weekend I will be visiting the middle coast.  There is no geographic definition of where Oregon’s middle coast lies – but my definition (and I am an amateur geographer) would be from Tillamook south to Florence.

Areas we will be visiting on this trip – Pacific City and Newport and all parts in between.  Depoe Bay, Cape Foulweather, Devil’s Punchbowl and maybe as far south as Cape Perpetua and Heceta Head.  Those geographic names are enough to incite adventure and excitement.

No better way to overcome this election than with a bowl of chowder and some Dungeness Crab, a little adventure and a beer from Pelican Pub!