Rowena Crest – Columbia Gorge: Carpets of Wildflowers and What a View!

14 04 2015
rowena crest,mosier,columbia gorge,hiking,wildflowers,lupine,balsamrot,columbia river highway

Balsamroot and lupine everywhere

In the spring, head just east of the Cascades in the Columbia Gorge, and take historic highway 30 up to Rowena Crest – and you will be dazzled with unlimited views and wildflowers stretching to the horizon! I was impressed with the wildflowers over at Lyle, Washington, just across the river, and I was anxious to check out the Oregon side. I went out there with my friend Jessie and we were treated with a huge display – especially of the yellow balsamroot.rowena crest trail,hiking,columbia river gorge

Oregon’s Historic Columbia River Highway leads up to Rowena Crest trailhead. Once there, it’s not a hard hike to the views and wildflowers. It’s utterly fantastic. Unlike Lyle, where you have to hike 1,100 feet up to get to the top, you arrive already up there. The hike round trip to the view point is only about 1.5 miles, and it’s full of fields blanketed with wildflowers and littered here and there with ponds. At this time of year the parking is busy but once on the trail, we found solitude.

The area is atop a gently rolling landscape. The geology here is a full of exposed geologic history. It’s a history steeped in cataclysms of a planetary scale. A hike to the edge reveals a pancaked landscape – steppes of lava – carved out by the Columbia river 1,000 feet below. And now for some jaw-dropping history!

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Looking east from Rowena Crest Oregon.

Millions of years ago, in Eastern Oregon, basaltic lava flowed in a series of 300 eruptions over thousands of years. They are known as the Columbia River Flood Basalts, and they covered an area stretching from Idaho to Washington and Oregon – in some areas the total thickness reaches 9,000ft! The flows reached the Pacific. They were so big that they filled entire valleys and some of the Eastern Oregon mountains like the Elkhorns or Blues are just the tops. In between flows, Cascade volcanoes erupted depositing 20 foot layers of ash. This can all be viewed along the Columbia Gorge. More recently ice ages shaped this land. During a recent ice age, an ice dam formed near Missoula, Montana, forming a lake the size of Lake Erie and Ontario combined. Periodically that dam broke, sending water and chunks of ice down the Columbia River Gorge all the way to the Ocean. This scoured the Gorge. It all makes for a fascinating view.

But we were here for wildflowers! Along the trail lots of lupine, which had not come into full bloom, but also blooming balsamroot.

Jessie takes some macro shots

Jessie takes some macro shots

There were other wildflowers, like buttercup, and several others I cannot name. Some were tiny, delicate and pink.

I saw two bachelor buttons – only two along the trail. I guessed that more will come into season as spring rolls on.

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Bachelor button

There was also a patch of May Bounty – each like a microscopic daisy.

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May bounty

The plateau is also home to some ponds complete with their own tiny ecosystems. Each pond comes complete with frogs, tadpoles, salamanders, crickets, trees, lily pads, red-winged blackbirds and reeds.

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Sit quietly and listen to the frogs, crickets and red-wing blackbirds!

In sum, a visit to Oregon’s Columbia Gorge in the Mosier area is a must-see experience in the spring. Wildflowers area out earlier out there, and chances are a cloudy day west of the Cascades will be drier. A refreshing break!

Columbia Gorge Wildflower Hike – Lyle Orchards!

11 04 2015

It’s Apcolumbia gorge,hiking,lyle,lyle orchardril in Portland, OR, and this year’s warmer, drier winter has made for early wildflowers in the eastern end of the Columbia Gorge! With a window of nice weather Laura and I headed out east of the Cascades, where wildflowers carpet the sides of the valley. Laura found a less-frequented hike on the Washington State side, named Lyle Orchard. It’s about 5 miles round trip and climbs to 1,100ft – which offers a spectacular view of the Gorge and the flowers.

The trail is maintained by the Friends of the Columbia River Gorge. At trailhead, there is a welcome sign that has a slew of unpleasant warnings. lyle orchard trail,cherry orchard trail,lyle,washington,hiking,columbia gorge hiking

Take your pick. Rattlesnakes? Ticks? Cliff falls? Or poison oak? While beautiful, this trail has its perils, and the poison oak is the most obvious, as it is virtually everywhere.

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Poison Oak

The trail climbs steeply through a scrubby forest. Even at lower elevation, Wildflowers are popping out all over. IMG_0103

I heeded the tick and poison oak warnings. And I only had shorts on. So I ensured I didn’t brush against any of the waxy-rusty looking leaves. It didn’t take long for the trail to open up into more and more open meadows. And the further we rose, the more flowers we glimpsed.

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Laura revels in flowers!

Lower down blue colored lupine appeared.

There were buttercups. We saw bear grass.

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And higher up, carpets of yellow balsamroot flowers splashed the hillside.

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Suksdorf's Desert Parsley

Suksdorf’s Desert Parsley

IMG_0116 Laura Winding Trail

I found the 1,000ft elevation gain a good workout. And it’s not terribly long. I got a good sweat going.

There are wineries in the area. So before you go, you might want to Google wineries near Lyle, Washington. On our return, we visited the Domaine Pouillon Winery.

Laura purchased two cases of wine at 50% off! Awesome deal.

How to get to the trailhead: Take I-84 East out of Portland. At Cascade Locks, Cross The Bridge of the Gods and head east on WA-14 past Stevenson, then Bingen, then Lyle – and east of Lyle there will be two tunnels one right after the other. The unmarked trailhead and parking lot is the next left after the 2nd tunnel.

Well worth a visit!