Tuesday, May 30, 2017

Tackling the Coyote Wall

A Columbia River Gorge Landmark

Ah . . .  the Coyote Wall.  I have taken hundreds of photographs in summer, spring, winter and fall of this Columbia River Gorge landmark.  Best seen from the Oregon side of the river in Mosier, its sensuous curve and ominous basalt rocks make it one of the most interesting and most photographed of all the geological formations around here (and there are many).

Since moving here, I have attempted to make it to the top many times, but a few weeks ago I finally succeeded.  It took me a full three hours to make the round-trip six-mile journey but I was in no hurry.  The wildflowers were in bloom, the day was sunny but not too hot, and the views were tantalizingly beautiful.  I lagged way way behind my travel buddy who is in training for mountain climbing.  I'm more of a stop and smell the roses kind of hiker.  I'm resigned to the fact I'll be hiking alone from now on.  It's fine.  I have my water bottle and whistle.  I just wish the snakes would stay off the trails.
The Coyote Wall (aka the Syncline) is located east of Bingen, Washington on State Highway 14.  Turn onto Courtney Road and if you're lucky, there will still be a parking space in the small lot.  On the weekends, cars line up on the highway.  The first part of the walk is along an old road at the base.  It's a bit unnerving seeing all the fallen boulders.  Just hope you aren't underneath when another one comes tumbling down!
But getting up close and personal to these giant columns of basalt is euphoria to a geology nerd like me.  (Oh and by the way this is actually an anticline not a syncline, but oh well . . . .)

You have several different trail options once you begin the ascent.  We opted for the trail hugging the ridge, but this one goes straight up.  There are other less strenuous switchbacks, which we took on the way down.  (Easier on the knees.)

My heart began racing almost immediately, but like I said, I stopped often to admire the views and they just get better and better the higher you climb.
If I'm going to keep up with my travel buddy, these arduous hikes are going to become routine.  I was proud of myself for making it and happy to see there were a few youngsters huffing and puffing their way to the top as well.

Beware the crazy mountain bikers on the way down, especially if you're a stop and smell the roses kind of hiker like me!

Monday, May 22, 2017

Forbidden Catherine Creek Arch

Exploring the Pacific Northwest

There is a sign at the top of the hill:

Throughout time, remarkable geologic features such as mountains, rock formations and waterfalls have held special legendary, cultural or sacred meaning to people.

Catherine Creek Arch is one of those features.  Be respectful and remain outside of the fenced area.

Six years ago, this basalt arch was still accessible and hikers could walk across its span and down underneath its opening.  Now you can only glimpse it (just barely) from below.  It is completely fenced off.
I cannot find any information as to why it is so sacred to Native Americans, but I did find something from the Forest Service about the instability of the rock,  Looking up at the talus and scree, I don't doubt their concern.  This past week, those concerns hit home.  A massive landslide of rocks came tumbling down a hillside on my beloved Historic Highway 30 just east of Mosier, Oregon, where I live.  It was on the Rowena Crest Loop, one of the most beautiful and interesting sections of this highway.  The slide completely covered the road with 500 cubic yards of rock.  One was eight feet wide!  Fortunately, no one was beneath it.


The geology of the Columbia River Gorge is what brings thousands upon thousands of tourists here from all over the world.  I get out and hike among these basalt cliffs on a daily basis, and I confess there are times when I look up at the towering pillars and a wave of anxiety hits.  I'm always able to shake it off and trudge forward.

Nature is beautiful, but nature can turn on you.  Often without warning.  You just hope and pray you are not in the wrong place at the wrong time.

I'm in a pensive mood this morning.  My travel buddy is planning a summit of one of the Cascade Mountains this summer ( and that scares me).  We are also going to Olympic National Park for a week of exploration.  Now that he is retired, our agenda is filling with more and more adventure.  I can't let fear paralyze me from living the kind of life I want to live.

He wanted to go see the Rowena rockslide this week.  I refused.

Fear isn't necessarily a bad thing.  It makes you cautious.

But facing it head on?  No thanks.  Not if I'm going to keep on truckin'.


Friday, May 19, 2017

Cathedral Park

Exploring Portland

Portland, Oregon, is a city of bridges.  The St. Johns Bridge in the northern part of the city is the most beautiful, and the fact that there is a bucolic park underneath its Gothic arches makes it one of the most relaxing places to go when visiting here.  Yesterday, my travel buddy and I did just that.  Tired after running around doing errands, we grabbed a coffee at the local Starbucks in the St. Johns neighborhood and took it to the park for a much needed break.
Turns out this place has a lot of history to it.  For one thing, the Lewis and Clark expedition camped here way back in 1806.  Then in the mid 1800's a trapper named James John ran a ferry across the Willamette River from here to the fishing town of Linnton.  The neighborhood and bridge were named after him.

This gorgeous steel suspension bridge was designed by David Steinman of New York City in the late 1920's and completed in 1931.  Its central span of 1,207 feet rises 205 feet above the river.
Because construction began only a month before the Stock Market Crash of 1929, it provided many locals with continued employment during the Great Depression.

The park was not added until the 1980's and what an ingenious plan.  Walking underneath those cathedral-like spans is pure magic.  Many people were out yesterday.  Walking dogs.  Pushing baby strollers or sitting on a bench like us, soaking up the sunshine.

An amazing structure.

An amazing day.

Tuesday, May 16, 2017

Chocolate or Checkered?

Wildflowers of the Pacific Northwest

Identifying wildflowers can be a tricky business.  The above beauty is a case in point.  Many people on the Memaloose Hills trail were calling it a "chocolate lily" and we were all excited about it, but when I got home and looked it up my Wildflowers of the Pacific Northwest field guide, I started to have doubts.  It looked more like a Checkered Lily (aka Mission Bell) than the darker chocolate one.  It was more mottled than solid brown.  The range wasn't quite right either.  Turner and Gustafson had the chocolate one growing further north in Washington and British Columbia.

And yet?  It did have a putrid odor like the chocolate lily.  And that's what everyone was calling it. So which one was it?

My travel buddy walked right by this clump of chocolate-colored lilies because their blah color didn't stand out among the brighter yellow, orange and purple flowers surrounding them.  I pointed them out and he was astounded.

To us, they were gorgeous.  And rare.  We met other hikers later on who were equally ecstatic.  "Did you see the chocolate lilies back there?"  they all asked.

And really . . . it is that excitement such beautiful flowers create that is important.  We could all agree they were lilies.  But were they Fritillaria affinis or Fritillaria camschatcensis?  I'm poking fun at myself as I write this.  I'm not a botanist.  And I suspect, neither were they.  I can't remember scientific names no matter how hard I try, so why bother?

The chocolate lily is more of a common name for this lovely flower, no matter what it is.  A mission bell?  A spotted mountain bell?  Or the real deal?  I shouldn't get too picky about the appropriate genus and species.

The chocolate lily is a name I can remember.

Monday, May 15, 2017

The Flower Choked Memaloose Hills

Exploring the Pacific Northwest

While walking through these vast fields of yellow balsamroot and purple lupine, that scene from the Wizard of Oz kept popping into my mind--where Dorothy and the Gang have to walk through a field of poppies before getting to the Emerald City.  All of a sudden the wildflowers in the Columbia River Gorge are so abundant it seems unreal.  I am living inside a movie set.  I've never seen anything like it in all my long long life.
The Memaloose Hills Trail can be found opposite the Memaloose Overlook on Old Route 30 between Mosier and The Dalles, Oregon.  Because of its popularity this time of year, I recommend going early on a weekday because there aren't very many parking spaces.  A 3-mile loop will take you up and down some gentle slopes, making this hike an easy one.  I loved that I ran into a man on crutches.  A broken leg was not going to stop him from experiencing this Springtime Extravaganza.  I also had to step over many other photographer hobbyists who were sprawled across the path trying to get that gorgeous National Geographic macro shot.

An easy task to accomplish in this movie set landscape.