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!





Waldo Lake Oregon – Water Doesn’t Get Any Purer Than This!

26 09 2014
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Paddling over the indigo waters on a calm morning.

 

There are a lot of breathtaking places to paddle in Oregon. Many places with jaw dropping views. But only one, Waldo Lake Oregon, has such pure water and easy back country kayak camping – with no power boats to interfere with the serene experience!

Waldo Lake is unique in Oregon. It’s 22-miles around, making it the 2nd largest natural freshwater lake in the state. It’s natural – not a reservoir. It’s high elevation – 5,414ft. No power boats. Just human powered craft, like canoes, kayaks, or row boats, and when the wind picks up – you’ll see sailboats plying its waters. The water is so pure Waldo Lake set the world’s deepest visibility record – you can see down 157-ft! It is almost as pure as distilled water.

I organized a group of 12 friends (and Cameron, a 3-year old happy camper) who convened at Waldo this past weekend. Waldo is renowned for its primitive camp spots on the west side of the lake. But this weekend, dry conditions caused the Forest Service to issue a ban on campfires outside established campgrounds.

 

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Katie, Christian and Cameron

We needed a fire to cook a salmon for six – because my friend Daniel Fox, who was paddling from Victoria BC to San Francisco, had stopped in Astoria, Oregon and just caught a nice Chinook salmon on the way! It had to be cooked on the fire. So, we settled on camping at North Waldo Campground. It was almost full when we showed up – only three campsites – and we needed all three! It was totally last minute. We all had packed compactly for wilderness camping. Once the car camping decision was made I pulled out everything. The barbeque, the tiki torches, the tablecloth!

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Happy hour watching sunset!

The salmon turned out delicious and there was plenty for all. Simple – cooked in olive oil wrapped in tin foil and some dill added. On the side were veggies cooked in tin foil. Really yummy!

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Folks at site #32! Waldo Lake awaits.

Morning all awoke at a different pace. At campsite we were up by 7:00 and ready go to by 9:00 – but a visit over to George & Kristi’s site revealed they’d just awakened when I got there at 9:30.

My breakfast was just oats, berries and yogurt…Kristi’s was more like home! Either way breakfast in the woods is better than at home!north waldo campground,waldo lake camping For me, anyway.

 

 

 

 

View west with kayaksIt was time to set out on the lake. There is much to explore. There is “the burn” on the north side, full of coves and warmer water.On the west side there are primitive camping sites for miles. There is a trail to a lookout, up 2,000ft, where views of Central Oregon can be glimpsed. And halfway down the west side of Waldo Lake, Rhododendron Island. It’s a good spot to land your craft for a picnic!

The water of Waldo Lake is “dramatically ultra oligotrophic” meaning crazy clear with little organic matter. Chemically speaking, it’s more pure than distilled water. At an elevation of 5,414 feet, it’s so high it has no incoming streams. The water comes from snowmelt or springs. As such it’s so pure that a food chain is not supported. We saw only four seagulls and certainly no ospreys.

Words cannot really describe the clarity or color of Waldo Lake’s waters!

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Shadow, some 60 feet down. In deeper water the blue darkens.

Out in the middle of the lake, the water can appear purple-indigo. Look up ultramarine blue.

I took a photo of myself from under the water.Rod from underwater - Copy

We experimented with taking underwater photos from all sorts of angles.

 

 

 

 

kayaking waldo lake,paddling oregon,camping oregonOne such photo was taken by Bill Baxter from underneath his kayak! It makes the surface kind of look like blue mercury!

It was a glorious day! Our group split up. Some, led by April, set out to kayak to a trailhead and climb some 2,000 feet to an abandoned fire lookout. From there you can see the lake plus all of the Central Cascades Region of Oregon including Diamond Peak, the Three Sisters Wilderness, and Bend.

The rest of us paddled south to have a picnic at Rhododendron Island. On the wind protected side of the island it was HOT!

 

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Bill shows Cameron a frog!

After lunch we dared the chilly waters. Bill seemed less concerned than most and was out there with mask and camera quickly.

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You can see across as well as down

 

It took me forever to finally get all the way in the water. I should have just dove in!

Julie’s thermometer said it was 66 degrees. That is not terribly cold!Half Underwater

We all got together for a Mexican “bar” meal back at the campsite. It was a make-your-own burrito affair.

We set out the ingredients, then one would wrap up in aluminum foil & melt/heat over the fire!

Katie gets Cameron ready for the water

Katie gets Cameron ready for the water

It was a good reward after the hikes, paddling and picture taking!

We all agreed we will come back next year.

NOTE!! Waldo Lake is full of biting bugs/mosquitoes until mid August.

Plan your trip for late August or September. We think the best way to experience Waldo Lake is to camp outside the established campgrounds on the west side of the lake. There are plenty of gorgeous sites. But if your preference is for car camping, we recommend making a reservation – we managed to get the last three sites! Waldo Lake is unusual in that it gets more busy after Labor Day – and that’s because everybody’s avoiding the mosquitoes.





Class Reunion! Mount Hood Meadows Powder Skiing with a College friend!

16 03 2014

IMG_0933During the recent 80″ powder snow dump on Mount Hood, Oregon, I met with Katy Brown, a college friend I’d not seen in 30 years, and we had an epic day at Mount Hood Meadows!

Back in early February 2014, my good friend from college, Katy Brown, sent word she’d be coming to the Portland, Oregon area checking out colleges for her son, and they’d be staying in Government Camp on Mount Hood to ski for a few days. Wow! I had not seen Katy in 30 years, although we’d kept up via Facebook. This could be great if we could do a reunion on the ski slopes!

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This was the easy part. Later on, it was a complete whiteout. Road=sky=side of road.

What would happen was beyond our dreams – almost too much! Let’s just say it made for memories! We made plans to meet February 20th at Mount Hood Meadows for a day on the slopes. Little did we know that a giant storm would blow in, dumping 80″ of dry powder plus some significant wind, making for insane conditions, not only challenging driving!

As February 19th approached, the snow piled up and Katy sent word from Government Camp, where they stayed, that the snow is “out of control up here!” Winds of over 40mph were reported at Mount Hood Meadows. She lives in Boston. She marveled at the giant snow blowing machines we use to clear the highways!

No matter what, I was going up there to meet Katy after 30 years! I have a 2013 Ford Escape with Michelin Ice-X studless snow tires, and I was confident I’d make it no problem. The morning of February 20th I headed up, but I made sure I brought my snow shovel and ice melter with me. Up on Mount Hood, on highway 35, there were super heavy duty snow clearing machines on the road, slowing the traffic to 5mph. It was so slow that a bus following a road grader lost traction and became stuck in a snow bank. Myself and maybe 8 other vehicles got round it, but the next two miles were crazy. With 40mph winds and snow blowing, it became hard to tell where the road was and the snow bank was. I passed 5 or 6 cars stuck before I finally got to the ski area. Success! I got to Mount Hood Meadows. But it was like Antarctica in the parking lot. Opening the car door let loose a maelstrom of violence! 4x4s were spinning their wheels. The cargo box on my roof was frozen, and I had to use de-icer to unfreeze the lock to get at my equipment.

I was the lucky one. Katy was behind, and got stuck in the mess behind the bus/road grader. But theyIMG_0941 eventually made it! Yay! We recognized each other right away. After getting comfy in our ski outfits and Katy’s rental gear we headed out.

It was crazy snowing and blowing! It was blowing over 50mph on the upper slopes at Mount Hood Meadows so I took Katy over to Hood River Meadows, a lower elevation area, and we were rewarded with a mile of uncrowded, powdery runs!

Katy negotiates a secret spot!

Katy negotiates a secret stash spot!

Since I am intimately familiar with the ski area, I encouraged Katy to get into some tree skiing in areas I knew she could handle and she loved it! So all afternoon, we had a treat in store for Katy. Run after run of un-tracked powder. IMG_0937

What a day. Katy’s son Will was out there, too, and he said it was the best riding he has ever done in his life!

For me, living in Portland, it sure was good. But we get these storms several times a year. I think I’m taking them for granted! We gathered back at Government Camp a their rented condominium, at The Grand Lodges.  Very nice place!

I hope Katy’s son Will goes to school around here. That way I get to visit Katy every winter!





Opal Creek Oregon – Explore Ancient Forests

9 03 2014
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Here I am at the entrance to Jawbone Flats. A few hardy souls make this their year-round home.

We recently spent a weekend at the cabins at Opal Creek Oregon! Opal Creek Ancient Forest Center and its Jawbone Flats Cabins sit inside the Opal Creek Wilderness, the largest old-growth wilderness in Oregon.

It’s about a two hour drive from Portland. The village houses the Opal Creek Ancient Forest Center, plus cabins in which visitors may lodge. All around lies the incredible ancient wilderness with its myriad trails, crystal pure creeks, and countless examples of edible plants such as mushrooms.

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The village is a museum of early 20th Century mining equipment. The irony that is Opal Creek Wilderness is that an extractive industry saved the old growth forest, while rampaging logging was going all around it. It was privately owned mining operation and never logged. Later, a political movement launched a campaign to preserve the area and in 1996 Congress established the Opal Creek Wilderness. The village is “off the grid,” meaning all electricity is locally produced by a small hydroelectric generator harnessing the creek’s power.

To get to Jawbone Flats, you must hike two miles from a parking area. You need to bring in everything you need to eat. Kinda. There is a twice daily shuttle that can bring up your stuff from the parking area. It’s a really pretty hike by Opal Creek. Along the way you pass by some dilapidated mining equipment.

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We reached Jawbone Flats and found our cabin. It’s really nice! You can probably house 10 people in the cabin. Very comfy, and the rear of the cabin has a deck overlooking the creek. Then we settled into our rooms.

Next, we headed out onto some trails! Opal Creek Wilderness is truly a jewel! The old growth evergreens are unmatched, and the creek is so pristine.

ImageIt’s such a beautiful area. I highly recommend it. If you go in the summer, the Opal Creek Ancient Forest Center has a menu of classes and trips to choose from, each guided by highly knowledgeable staff intimately familiar with the area.

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After our hike, we headed back to the cabin for happy hour, a wok cooking session, and playing board games! Lots of time spent chop chopping ingredients for the wok, and then delicious productions coming off the stove!

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After dinner, it’s board game time! If you want a quiet getaway not far from Portland, and want to witness a forest ecosystem unchanged since ancient times, Opal Creek is worth a visit.





Timothy Lake, Oregon – Leading A Horse to Water!

13 09 2013

IMG_0711  This is a quick blog post about a trip to Timothy Lake, Oregon, which I took before my Eastern Oregon byways trip (see last blog). Timothy Lake is 13 miles south of Mount Hood. It’s an easy 1:20 drive from my home. So, if I want to get outside but don’t have a big window of time, sometimes I head up there. If you read my last blog post, you know that I suffered a back injury a couple of weeks prior to this week. Well, it turned out that on this trip, sleeping on hard ground was great. I slept like a baby. I actually slept better than in my own bed. But a week later, at Anthony Lake, everything changed.

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Trees in Oregon grow really tall…!

This post is about happier times. With only a couple of days in the middle of the week free, I hurriedly packed my car and headed up to Timothy Lake. With my back trouble, I left the kayak at home. I found a west facing camping spot – with nice trees above.

I set up camp and then hiked down the lake two campgrounds distant. It was such a pretty day, and my body enjoyed the easy exercise.

Along the way I encountered a family with horses. They did something completely unexpected. They started leading the horses into the water!

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Mom, daughter and horses. All somehow cooperating!

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Daughter learns you can lead a horse to water, but…you can’t…

 

It was so endearing. These big animals, who could cause harm, totally cooperated with the human tenders…even kids. The adults rode them into the lake, and the kids guided them out.

Horses are so gentle. It was something to see! I was sure the horses weren’t comfortable out there in the lake. Yet, they trusted their owners – enough so that they even went beyond standing – even swimming!

I thought that was pretty cool. Then I returned to my campsite. It was a quick walk down to the water, and I enjoyed the sunset with a magazine and a pint of beer.

Then it was time to make a fire, and I had a lot of wood.

IMG_0713I made a “log cabin” style fire, which went up big. Very nice. Following, it was time for dinner. I brought up some freshly made tortellinis, which were easy and delicious. Plus a nice green salad.

Then crawling into my tent, I managed to have a super restful sleep. I had no idea one week later camping would turn out to be so painful.

Till next time!

It is September. This month is usually the best month for enjoying the outdoors. No bugs. Good weather. Crowds – gone after Labor Day. But sadly, my ability to get outdoors is hindered by my back and hip injuries. I am confined to the city, and I am following docs orders and trying to get out before the weather turns!

Wish me luck.





The Blue Mountain Oregon Scenic Byway – Ought to be Renamed “Skyway”

10 09 2013

Blue Mtn BywayToday I took my time and ate a leisurely breakfast at Anthony Lakes. I’d check out Oregon Route 52, the Blue Mountain Oregon Scenic Byway – on my way to the Columbia River! I’d planned to spend more time out here, but a previous injury cut my trip short. I had to head back home.

I confess to starting the trip with a mending back and leg strain problem – I typically like to hike when camping, but I knew I’d just have to spend a lot of time driving. Last week, I camped, and had no problem with my mending back. But the night at Anthony Lakes was horrific. I had lots of leg pain, and getting up caused stabbing pain. These would ease with walking a bit, but remaining still, including driving for hours, or sleeping, worsened a strain in my leg. With no access to ice out here, I made up my mind to head home right away and get some attention.

The injury was caused at work lifting a heavy kayak. It caused a lower right back strain. The back strain was mending well, but somehow favoring it caused a strain in my right leg. What I learned was that inactivity like driving and then arriving at camp, just having a fire and sleeping (more inactivity) was a recipe for disaster. I decided to cut the trip short so that I could spend the night at home icing my injury in Portland.

Nevertheless, I’d travel the scenic routes on the way back to the Columbia River. Oregon Route 52 meanders along the top of Oregon’s Blue Mountains, before reaching Ukiah, Oregon, and following Oregon Route 53 along agricultural valleys and past vast wind turbine farms before connecting with the Columbia River. I decided I would have to stop every so often and walk 20 minutes to keep my leg loose.

After packing up, I headed up and over the Elkhorn Mountains, once again climbing to about 7,300ft. Once I reached the North Fork John Day River Campground, I would be at the intersection withe Route 52. There was an information kiosk. I noticed right behind some walk-in campsites and checked them out. Oh Man….! For easy walk in sites these were to die for. With the North Fork John Day River burbling right behind, and even with pre built tent staking sites. And NOBODY around. Gorgeous.

Oh well. Next time! On to the Blue Mountains. Today I was to discover something something totally unexpected. Unlike other scenic byways, most in valleys or with big mountains above, this one goes right along the tops of high altitude meandering meadows. Not only that – there are gates all along the byway where you can literally just go out and drive out there and camp. ANYWHERE.

Blue Mtn Meadow

Wow! Just go and camp anywhere.

I couldn’t resist. With my new higher ground clearance car, no problem. These went from horizon to horizon! There were islands of evergreens amongst the meadow, a couple with people camping there. But no established campgrounds.

I am an avid star gazer. With no city lights around, and dry, and such horizon to horizon views, I had to come back to check out the stars out here! OMG. AND, best part: There is absolutely NO ONE out here. Seems everyone is in the Wallowas, or down by the Three Sisters?

If it weren’t for my back / thigh strain, I would definitely spend the night out here.

But I must push on.

The scenic byway has many points with views west, or northwest. With nothing obstruting all the way to the horizon. The North Fork John Day River cuts through this area. Its valley seems to dominate the area.

Blue Mtns ViewSometimes I felt like I could see all the way to the Pacific. I stopped at a wildlife preserve with a short interpretive hike – a great place for lunch.

The hike was only a quarter mile to a shady island with two picnic tables and limitless view. All along the way I saw coyote, elk, and deer scat. It must be busy!

When done, I descended to Ukiah.

Ukiah is another Eastern Oregon town – crazy small, with its own vibe. Clearly expressed by the welcoming committee!

Ukiah Horse

Twice on the outskirts I had to navigate folks on horseback…but that is the way things are done in Ukiah!

Continuing on, through forest / ranch lands…and river valleys, and past vast horizon-to-horizon wind farms, I found the Columbia Gorge.

Wind Farm PanoramaIt seems from these vantage points, green energy is going limitless!

Only I can hope. Till next time!

 

 

xxx