Sunday, June 25, 2017

Dog Mountain Morning

My choice of hikes this spring kind of look like a "Gorge's greatest hits."  There was Coyote Wall, Dalles Mountain Ranch, Memaloose Hills, and most recently, Eagle Creek.

Of course this list wouldn't be complete without a journey up the steep, wildflower-covered slopes of Dog Mountain.

Sun breaking through the forest

A humble hill on the Washington side of the Columbia River Gorge, most of the year this trail doesn't get much love.  But when the balsamroot bloom in late May, hikers flock here in droves.

My friend the balsamroot

During peak bloom, vehicles pack into the small parking area, and cars line the side of Hwy 14 in either direction.  Then last year authorities downsized the parking area through a re-striping project, posted "no parking" signs along the highway, and vigorously enforced these new rules.  Hearing horror stories of the lot filling by early morning and huge crowds on the trail, despite the parking restrictions, I stayed away in 2016. 

Spectacular first view of the upper meadow

But Dog Mountain is one of my favorite spring hikes, and I'd missed visiting it's flower fields. This year I decided to go anyway.  The heck with the crowds and parking mess!

Prime bloom, baby!

Close monitoring of local hiking and wildflower Facebook pages gave me clues as to when peak bloom would occur.  Then I picked the closest Friday and made sure to leave my house bright and early.  My plan worked like a charm - pulling into the parking lot at 6:30 am, I was the 8th vehicle.

The balsamroot covered Dog Mountain's slopes

Since I've hiked "the Dog" dozens of times, I usually don't take many photo stops in the first half.  The path starts murderously steep, and stays that way much of the first mile, switchbacking through a mostly viewless forest.  I put my head down and slowly trudged up the incline.

Classic Columbia River view from Puppy Point

About halfway to the top views open up, and weary hikers are treated to a preview of the summit vistas.  The Columbia River stretches out below in a bright blue ribbon, perfectly framed by the steep cliffs of the Oregon side and Wind Mountain on the Washington side.

Looking towards the eastern Gorge

I was delighted to see cheery sunflower-yellow balsamroot flowers gracing the hillsides here.  About the time I reached this lower viewpoint, the moring sun burst through the trees, creating a great sunburst photo op.

My kind of sunshine

But even better stuff awaited on top!  So after a quick photo session and snack break, I continued my climb.

Steep trail winds through the upper meadows

The second portion of the trail climbed relentlessly.  It was a tough, grueling trek but again I took the "slow and steady" approach.  Before I knew it the forest began parting to reveal the stunning summit meadows.

Wind Mountain view

The upper meadows were in prime shape.  Covered with thousands of balsamroot flowers, the slopes were colored yellow.

Kaleidoscope of color

The trail cut a path through this wildflower paradise and I followed it an old lookout tower site.  Perched over the Gorge, it gave higher panoramic views of the river and Gorge cliffs below.  Nicknamed "Puppy Point" by the local hiking community it was a great place to soak in the iconic views of Wind Mountain and the Columbia River before the final half mile summit slog.

Looking back towards Puppy Point

As always, my pace always slows when I reach the lower summit meadows.  So. Many. Flowers.  I just want to capture it all!

Relaxing on the summit

It took quite awhile for me to cover the final distance to Dog Mountain's summit.  The morning light illuminated the flowers and Gorge below perfectly, and I was in photographic heaven.

Wind Mountain and the western Gorge

Finally, I joined about a dozen other people for a quick mid-morning snack and rest break on the very top.  Tiny buttercup-like flowers covered the meadows, and I spied the very tip of Mt Hood rising over the Oregon side.

Can you spot Mt St Helens?

As always, I take the Augspurger Mountain Trail back down.  Although longer, it's not as steep, and passes by more outstanding wildflower meadows.  And you get a bonus view of Mt St Helens.

Dewy phlox blooms

And, as expected, the upper Augspurger Trail did not disappoint! Not only balsamroot, but I also saw lavender phlox, deep purple larkspur, stunning orange Indian paintbrush, white prairie stars, and even a nice patch of chocolate tiger lilies.  Truly Mother Nature's kaleidoscope!

Soaking in the sun

Come, walk down the Augspurger Trail with me.  I'm going to cut out the commentary, and just let you all enjoy the next few photos.

The flower fields on Upper Augspurger Trail were fantastic too.

Yellows and purples

I never tire of this view!

Flowers in the sunlight

After leaving the lovely upper meadows, it was a quick downhill trek through peaceful green forests until the parking area came into view.  Now late morning, it was plum full.  I spotted a line of four vehicles circling the parking lot like vultures, waiting for open spaces.  A pickup truck spied me walking to my car, and patiently waited while I took off my boots and loaded my gear.

Indian Paintbrush

Waking up early paid off big time.  Not only did I get a parking spot, I also had the trails largely to myself and - bonus - wonderful morning light to boot.  And it was great to revisit one of my favorite spring wildflower spots!

Sharing with:  Through My Lens

Thursday, June 22, 2017

Eagle Creek with the Masses

I don't know what I was thinking.......Maybe I was jonesing for a Gorge waterfall fix.....maybe I wanted to see the wildflowers.....maybe I had vacation hangover.  Whatever the reason, I decided to hike the Eagle Creek Trail one beautiful Saturday in mid-May.

Cable and flowers

What's the big deal, you ask?  Only that this spectacular, uber-green, waterfall-filled trail is by far the Columbia River Gorge's most popular.  If you want to avoid the masses (which I normally do) this is not the place to go on a sunny weekend.

Eagle Creek, far below the trail

But the weather was supposed to be gorgeous, and throwing caution to the wind, I decided Eagle Creek Trail would be my hike of choice. 

All was going well, I got to the trailhead early enough to snag a good parking spot, and the weather was still foggy and cool just the way I like it.  Then I realized I'd forgotten my custom orthotics.  Doh! 

What to do now?  I wasn't about to turn around and drive the 45 minutes back home.  I'd hiked a short distance without orthotics once before but planned to travel 12 miles today.  Hmmmmm.....I was already here and it was a beautiful day.  My feet might get a little sore, but what's the worst that could happen?

Shelf blasted into the rock

After making a couple of quick boot adjustments, I shouldered my backpack and was off.  The trail follows lovely Eagle Creek for a short distance before climbing high above its gurgling waters.  Parts of the path hug steep cliffs, created by blasting a shelf into the rock itself.

Field of purple

I was pleased to discover the wildflowers out in force!  These gorgeous purple-hued flowers carpeted the side of a steep slope.  (I later learned they were called Blue-eyed Mary.)

Blue-eyed Mary

Last winter's cold temperatures and near-record rainfall wreaked havoc on Gorge trails, and Eagle Creek was not spared.  I'd read on hiking forums about landslides and downed trees littering the area.  But by late spring, volunteer trail crews had patched things up quite nicely and the tread looked great (huge thank yous!)

RIP, Metlako viewpoint

But not everything could be fixed.  With great sadness, I passed by the remains of the Metlako Falls viewpoint, which collapsed and slid into the creek during one of last winter's fierce storms.  Before it's demise, hikers could perch on a narrow overhang that offered glimpses of this lovely cascade.  (See this post, 6th photo, for an image of the falls)  Now the overlook is completely gone, and its remaining steep bank dangerously unstable.  I don't think hikers will be able to view this waterfall for a very long time now, if ever.

(Oh and I noticed, to my amusement, that the Forest Service misspelled "Metlako" on the sign......)

Ferns were out in force!

But on a happier note, farther down the trail I was pleased to see the damaged bridge over Tish Creek had finally been replaced with a shiny new span.  (See this post for a photo of the mangled one)

New bridge over Tish Creek

Ferns and moss decorated the adjacent cliffs, creating a tunnel of bright greenery.

Drippy cliff face

Onward I trekked, past tall, drippy cliffs with cable handrails to assist timid hikers.

More cable rails

Spring snowmelt combined with recent rainfall had swelled Eagle Creek and it's rushing rapids far below were mesmerizing to watch.

Eagle Creek rapids

Loowit Falls was gushing mightily from the far canyon wall.  A patch of purple larkspur flowers added to the lovely scene.

Loowit Falls

The past few times I've hiked Eagle Creek Trail, my turnaround point has been at High Bridge, about 3 1/2 miles in.  But the trail continues much further.  At six miles hikers encounter spectacular Tunnel Falls, so named because the trail ducks behind it in a short tunnel.  I'd never continued past this point, but had heard there was one more great waterfall a short distance beyond Tunnel Falls.  Today's goal was to finally reach this last cascade.


The last 2 1/2 miles beyond Loowit Falls seemed to take forever.  By now my feet, used to being supported by orthotics, were beginning to protest.  But I trudged onward, and finally, hearing the roar of rushing water ahead, knew I was almost there.

Base of Tunnel Falls

What a sight for sore eyes!  It had been many years since I'd hiked all the way to Tunnel Falls.  The cascade was still as spectacular as I'd remembered.

And the tunnel behind it was cool to walk through.  This time I even thought to take a video.

Tunnel Falls, in her full glory
One of the benefits of starting early is a lot less people on the trail.  But by the time I finally reached Tunnel Falls, the crowd had caught up to me.  Quite a few hikers lingered on the adjacent narrow trail and it took some jockeying to pass by. 

The "vertigo mile"

After a few obligatory photos (okay, more than a few), I located a rare trailside flat spot.  Unoccupied for the moment, I quick claimed it for myself.  Time for a well-earned break!  I enjoyed my lunch, and then fixed a few hot spots on my poor feet (I hadn't used moleskin for many years, but luckily still had a few pieces in my first aid kit!)

Rainbow above Twister Falls

Belly full, and feet protected, it was time to find that final mystery waterfall!  Returning to the trail, I followed it onward.  The path narrowed to a skinny tread perched high above a near-vertical cliff face.  As treacherous as it looked, I'm sure it turned back many hikers with a fear of heights.  (I'd heard this section was nicknamed the "vertigo mile.")

Twister Falls

And then rounding a corner, I came face to face with the unnamed cascade.  Two thick streams of water tumbled down a basalt cliff face, twisting together as they fell.  Although lacking an official name, many hiker forums referred to this waterfall as "Twister Falls."  It was an astounding sight - made even better by the presence of a colorful rainbow above the top.

Back to Tunnel Falls

Right then and there Twister Falls became my most favorite waterfall on the Eagle Creek Trail.  And it was only a quarter mile further down the trail from Tunnel Falls.  Why had I waited so long to finally see it? 

Well past noon, people were now parading down the trail in a steady stream.  Returning to Tunnel Falls, I had to maneuver around several large groups as I again navigated the skinny path through the tunnel.  I took another video to show you how precarious it was.

Hikers perched on a narrow ledge

Heading back I encountered tons of hikers.  Due to its close proximity to a large urban area, many of the trail's visitors were not well versed in outdoor etiquette.  I passed a least three people who were smoking (!!) and three or four others who had bluetooth speakers in their backpacks, blaring out loud music (my personal pet peeve).  I saw evidence of wildflowers that had been picked and left beside the trail, and noticed quite a few toilet paper "blooms" under the bushes. 

Oregon Grape

But the act that irritated me the most was coming upon two young boys who were tearing chunks of moss from the forest floor and flinging them into the creek.  Their parents sitting on the creek bank watched the entire thing, and said nothing.  I was sorely tempted to confront the boys and their parents, but being a woman hiking by myself I was a bit concerned about my safety (you never know how people will react).  So I bit my tongue and hurried away.  (Readers, I ask, what would you have done?)

Back through the canyon

By the time I reached High Bridge again, my feet were making loud protests.  Without the orthotics, they were rubbing in places that usually never got sore.  Only a few more miles to go.....I put my head down, tried to ignore the aches, and decided to get it over with as fast as possible.

The closer I got to the trailhead, the larger the crowds.  I even passed a couple of rangers assisting a young man who appeared to be ill.  (I considered telling them about the moss-throwing kids, but they looked too busy). 

Narrow chasm below High Bridge

Finally - hallelujah! - the final bridge and trailhead came into view.  I located my car in a now-packed parking area and gratefully pulled off my boots.  Although red and sore, my feet had only one small blister to show for this nearly 13 mile trek.

And although the Eagle Creek Trail was green and stunning as usual, I think I've learned my lesson.  Next time I'll think twice about tackling this trail on a sunny spring weekend.

Thursday, June 15, 2017

Hawaii Day 6 - Aloha and Mahalo

(Continuing the recap of my early May trip to Hawaii's big island...)

Where had the time gone?  Five days blew by in the blink of an eye, and now the morning of day six my hubby and I were already packing for our journey home.  The saying is true - time flies when you're having fun.

But our flight didn't depart until 10 pm, leaving us one final bonus day in paradise.

Friendly koi

Since hotel check-out wasn't until noon, hubby and I took one last long walk around this lovely resort.  I discovered a second, larger koi pond with incredibly friendly fish, who followed me like puppies as I traversed the adjacent walkway.

Bright pink blossoms

Oh how I loved all the brightly-colored flowers in Hawaii!  I passed one tree that had the loveliest pink blossoms.  They looked like the flowers used to make leis.  

One blossom on the ground

Discovering a few blossoms lying on the ground below, I couldn't resist picking one up and sticking it behind my ear.  Feeling like a real Hawaiian princess, I debated taking it home with me.  Then I remembered the stories about people having bad luck after bringing rocks home from the islands.  Although uncertain if the curse applied to flowers, I decided not to take the chance, and left the bloom behind in my hotel room.

Pu'uhonua o Honaunau (Place of Refuge)

Nearing midday, hubby and I packed the rental car with all our luggage and headed towards Kona to see more big island sights.  One place on our list was Pu'uhonua o Honaunau National Historical Park, known as Place of Refuge.  We'd snorkeled in the adjacent bay and seeing the thatched buildings from our guide boat intrigued us.

Konane - a Hawaiian strategy game

In ancient Hawaiian times, the royal grounds of Pu'uhonua o Honaunau were considered to possess extraordinary mana (spiritual power).   The Pu'uhonua also served as a place of refuge for those who broke sacred laws, called kapu.  If someone violated any kapu, the penalty was instant death.  But if the accused was able to elude their pursuers and make it to the Pu'uhonua they were safe.  After being absolved by a priest they were free to return home.

Hale o Keawe

This historical park was located on beautiful Honaunau Bay.  A self-guided tour led visitors along the adjacent shoreline, displaying artifacts and buildings that depicted ancient Hawaiian life.  

Canoe house

Large thatched a-frame buildings were replicas of places that housed canoes.

Close up view of Hale o Keawe

One prominent structure in the park was a thatched roof building located beside a small cove.  This was known as Hale o Keawe, a heiau (temple) used as a royal mausoleum housing the bones of 23 ali'i (chiefs).  The bones were thought to give this place immense spiritual power and it was revered by the Hawaiians, even to this day.

Oceanside view of royal mausoleum

The park was divided into two areas - one was the ancient royal grounds, and the other was the Pu'uhonua (place of refuge).  A large rock wall defined the Pu'uhonua area.  This wall was amazing - up to 12 feet tall, 18 feet wide and over 950 feet long.

Massive stone wall

The park literature stated that this wall was built over 400 years ago.  And, incredibly, it was built using dry-set masonry.  The stones were painstakingly fitted together without use of mortar. 

This stone wall separated the royal grounds

After admiring the fascinating craftsmanship of the stone wall, hubby and I returned to the Hale o Keawe for another look.

Ki'i (wooden images of Hawaiian gods)

Two large ki'i, wooden images of Hawaiian gods, were situated at the head of the lagoon.  These fierce-looking carvings were placed on shore to alert visitors of the great spiritual power that existed in this place.

The ki'i alert visitors of the great spiritual power here

In the heiau itself were more carved wooden figures depicting Hawaiian gods.  Some very intricate woodworking!

More carved wooden images

I was very impressed by this National Historical park.  It did a great job of explaining the fascinating Hawaiian history that took place here.  

Gecko sighting at Kona Brewery

Only late afternoon with still lots of time to kill, hubby and I decided to find the Kona Brewing Company.  We had a great early dinner and brews, and I enjoyed a sinful chocolate brownie topped with ice cream.  But the highlight of our visit was spotting some cute geckos that resided in the brewery's immaculately landscaped grounds.

Crashing waves at Wawaloli Beach

After topping off our rental car's gas tank, we headed to a nearby Wawaloli Beach.  Only a mile from the Kona airport, hubby decided it was a great place to watch the sunset.

The waves don't bother this fisherman

But before the sun sank, I had a great time trying to capture the waves crashing over it's lava banks.

Turbulent seas

The churning sea was fascinating to watch.  Quite a few locals were hanging out on the rocks, some fishing, others exploring, while a few just sat quietly, enjoying the lovely evening.

Sunset over the water

I watched the sky begin to turn orange, as the sun slowly sank towards the horizon.  My last sunset in Hawaii!

Sunset reflections on the lava shore

The big island saved the best sunset for our last night.  As the sun got lower, the sky erupted in a fiery glow.  This glow reflected on the waves and in a tiny pool of water trapped by the lava rocks.

Colorful sky and clouds

Truly a spectacular way to end our trip!  As the sun disappeared from the sky, I bid this lovely island a fond "Aloha"(goodbye) and "Mahalo"(thank you).

Aloha Hawaii

A memorable vacation I won't soon forget!

(In case you missed any of my Hawaii posts, here are links:)
Hawaii, Day One
Day Two, Hawaii Volcanoes National Park
Day Three
Day Four - Snorkeling and Luau
Day Five