Escaping the crowds

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Trail into Conboy Lake Wildlife Refuge

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.

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Historic log cabin built in the 1800’s.

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.

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This is probably a weed but I still love it.

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.

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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.

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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. 

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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!

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Bee works a Camas bloom.

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

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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.

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