It’s a June weekend and the weather is finally getting nice so I want to escape the city.But so does everyone else – the hiking and nature spots within an hour of Portland are busy.Trailhead parking is full by 11:00am.I am an early riser so getting ahead of the crowd is not a concern.I just want something more quiet and peaceful.
I head instead to a little known wildlife refuge in SW Washington.Conboy Lake Wildlife Refuge is about an hour north of the Columbia River and is a wonderful oasis of animal and bird life.I arrived late in the day relatively – it was 10:00am but the early birds were long gone, but I still had a wonderful easy hike on the edge of the refuge.
There is an historic log cabin next to the parking lot which I explored.The interior walls are lined with newspapers from the early 1900’s.Was this for insulation or decoration?
The approximately 4 mile hike was easy, flat and I didn’t see another soul.Even though the bird life was scarce – there were plenty of wildflowers to photograph and enjoy.Next visit I will get an earlier start to the day and I hope to catch some of the 25-30 Sandhill Crane pairs that mate here every year.Now that would be something special to see.
For a couple of Sundays now I have been getting up early and heading east into the darkness of pre-dawn.The camera and tripod loaded up to catch sunrise pictures in the eastern Columbia Gorge. Being outside, far from the city, as the day begins and the sun breaks the horizon – that is my happy place.
One of my creative inspirations is the YouTube channel by Thomas Heaton.He is a photographer from England who produces fantastic videos about his adventures in photography, near his home in England and all over the world.
He is collaborating with the BBC on a project called #realhappiness.In a nutshell – encouraging all of us to get up early and get out in nature.Thomas’s involvement is soliciting photographers (that means you) to submit sunrise photos from their happy place to the instagram hashtag #realhappiness.Check out this short video and be inspired.
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.
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.
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.
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!
And on this day – I found a rare albino Camas.This flower really stood out amongst his purple kin.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!
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.
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.
My recipe for happiness begins here with this flower. The trillium. Three white pedals, three broad leaves. So simple yet so perfect.
Their peak bloom time is brief. Walking in Forest Park, here in Portland, Oregon – they are busting out all over. And each one is lovelier than the last.
Yesterday I interrupted my routine – stopping in the woods for a walk instead of commuting with thousands on the freeway. And that made all the difference. Yes this is a nod to Robert Frost. And William Stafford – “is there a better moment than now?”
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.
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.
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.
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.