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.
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!