Catherine Creek – Wildflower Mecca

There are some iconic wildflower hikes in the Columbia Gorge and Catherine Creek is at the top of that list.  With its dry climate the wildflower season comes earlier to Catherine Creek.  It’s a great time to head east to the Old Highway 8 turnoff.

hittheroad
Old Highway 8 between Bingen and Lyle, Washington.

In early Spring – the landscape on the dry side of the Gorge is greener than it will ever be – especially this year when we had a long wet and snowy winter.  There is a lot of anticipation for the wildflower season.

lakeviewwithtree
Sunrise at Rowland Lake – near Catherine Creek.

The Catherine Creek area has several options for hikers – from easy and all access to more challenging and longer hikes up into the hills.  The view of the Columbia River cannot be beat no matter where you go.  Looking east you see the Rowena Gap and the town of Lyle. 

riverview
Looking east from Catherine Creek.

But we are here for the wildflowers.  A couple of days ago the Camas were everywhere putting the rolling hills in a sea of purple.  Making the bees very happy!

camasbee
Bee works a Camas bloom.

And on this day – I found a rare albino Camas.  This flower really stood out amongst his purple kin. 

albinocamas
Rare albino Camas flower.

I came early but soon the parking lot was full and I was joined by many others.  It’s fun to be able to see others out enjoying the early wildflowers.

hikerscathcrk

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.

balsamrootindian
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.

pungentdesertparsley
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. 

desertparsley
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.

pfriemscene
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!

Favorite Roads – Columbia Gorge

 

starvationcreek
Starvation Creek Falls

Trails, ravines, creeks, waterfalls, plateaus, valleys – vista’s ah yes the vista’s – a visit to the Columbia Gorge is an opportunity to visit one of the world’s greatest natural wonders.  But it can get crowded.

My recommendation – and something I have been doing more in the past year – is to visit the lesser known spots, especially on the Washington side of the river or at the eastern edge of the Gorge.  It is an opportunity to explore the geological and topographical variety of the Gorge as you travel from the wet western side to the arid eastern plateaus.

Recently I got up early one Sunday (ok it was insomnia) and drove out to a popular wildflower spot on the arid eastern side of the Gorge.  No one there to see this sunrise except me and a few crows.

cathcrksunrise2
Catherine Creek plateau looking east. 

Catherine Creek is a popular trail area – and because of its drier location – it will be one of the first spots in spring to have wildflowers.  But go early like I did – the small parking lot gets full fast.  This is a good thing – I love seeing families enjoying this special spot.  The hiking is easy and the scenery is wonderful.

The Columbia Gorge has so much to offer.  Take the road less traveled and discover your own special place.  If you want some ideas – leave me a comment and I am happy to share.

 

cabincrfalls
Cabin Creek Falls

 

Back to Astoria

Life is blessed is many ways.  Recently I have been taking every opportunity to appreciate the simple daily joys and blessings.  For me it is that first sip of coffee in the morning.  For you it might be tea or another beverage – but there is something about the reawakening that happens in that morning ritual.  And I take a moment every day to be grateful for this simple pleasure.

img_1333

For the past two years, I have been travelling closer to home – which in my case is the upper left corner of the United States.  The Pacific Northwest.  Like my daily rituals, I had not appreciated the beauty and history in my own backyard.

meglersunrisele
Sunrise on the Astoria-Megler Bridge.

A few months back I posted about Astoria – which is the oldest (and wettest) city in Oregon.  Founded in 1811 by John Jacob Astor’s American Fur Company – it has a rich and colorful history.  I am reading the book, Astoria by Peter Stark which I highly recommend. 

uniontownastoria
Early morning in Uniontown neighborhood in Astoria.

I stay in the Uniontown neighborhood, which was the largest Finnish settlement west of the Mississippi.  There are cozy coffeeshops, homes nestled into the hillside, and the masive Astoria Megler bridge – which traverses the mouth of the Columbia River.

Nearby is the Fisherman’s Memorial, a wall of names immortalizing the many lives touched by Astoria’s stormy relationship with the meeting of two massive forces – the Pacific Ocean and the Columbia River.

I am so blessed to live in this corner of the world.

 

Favorite Roads – Columbia River highway

rowenaloops
The famous Rowena curves of the Columbia River highway.

This is a continuation of my Favorite Roads Series… see first Favorite Road post here.

This post and others to follow – I will share thoughts and pictures on  my favorite road in Oregon – the historic Columbia River highway.  A 75 mile scenic two lane road following the Columbia River from Troutdale to The Dalles in Oregon.

img_0960
The highway near Rowena Crest is a great area to cycle.

Photographing the historic highway provides a bounty of creative opportunity – from waterfalls to tree lined roads to historic structures (Vista House, Multnomah Falls Lodge), bridges, wildflowers, hiking trails, basalt columns, and views – in the posts ahead I will share some of my favorite spots.  Today’s post is about one of the most famous sections of the highway – the Rowena loops and crest.

plateauwide-1
Balsamroot and lupine as far as the eye can see at Rowena Plateau.

As with many great rivers across the world, the Columbia River has a tremendous history – from native Americans to the explorers Lewis and Clark – the Oregon Trail, and in the 20th century the burst of dam building and the building of the new freeway which parallels the historic Columbia River highway.

Pictured at the top of this post are the famous Rowena Crest curves – one of the most photographed spots in Oregon.  When the highway was built vehicles could not manage anything more than a 10% grade – so engineers created a series of  curves and loops to make the gradual 500 foot ascent to the top of Rowena Crest – not knowing they were creating a photographer’s dream.

rowenanarrows
Rowena Narrows – where pirates would dwell.

Before dams flooded this area – Rowena was where the river narrowed as it passed basalt cliffs – Rowena Crest on the south side and Klickitat River watershed on the north.  Pirates and others tried to seize boats passing through the “narrows”.  There was a small army post at the base of Rowena Crest to protect the boats and others in this area.  A young Army lieutenant Ulysses S. Grant was commissioned here for a short time before he went on to become a famous Civil War general and then president of the United States.

rowenacrestview
View of Columbia River highway from Rowena Crest.

Oregon Mountain Snow Day

lodge
Mt. Hood Meadows

Coast, Columbia Gorge, mountains, wine country – such abundance and so much to be grateful for here in Oregon.  In 2016 I did a lot of exploring and only barely scratched the surface.  I can’t wait to keep going in 2017…

New Years Eve – my older brother Phil and I opted to explore Oregon’s Mt. Hood ski area.  He skied and I pulled a camera out of the bag that I haven’t used for a while.  I need to sell it but like an ex-lover, I wanted one more day together.

img_0013
Crystal cone

We went to Mt. Hood Meadows Nordic Center – full of friendly, fit, sober, Subaru owners!

phil1-1
Big brother looking awesome!

Sense of Place – Astoria, Oregon

chowder

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!

cannery
Early morning at the Cannery Hotel

Wave watching at Cape Disappointment (not disappointing!!)

capediswave2

Buoy Beer for dinner

buoy-beer

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.

stmarys
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.

ship