Wildflower peak bloom lasts just a few short weeks, but it packs a punch. It’s a celebratory rising from the deep, a makeover for the mind, a shimmying of the heart, a sloughing and shaking off winter’s mantle, no longer needed. Was it this beautiful in past years? Probably, but it’s as if I’m seeing it for the first time. Just like I always think that this particular winter will never ever end, I see the spring bloom as the most wondrous ever. Has there been a purple so deep, a pink so vivid, a white so glowing? Maybe. But each visit into nature replaces past encounters with new discoveries, more information, and a renewed sense of wonder and joy. Spring around here doesn’t allow for a jaded been-there-done-that response.
Have I been writing about flowers a lot lately? Yes. But coming right up are all the summery-travel-garden-social-adventure things to write about, so bear with me.
I go out of my way to get the peak timing right. This year we aced the cherry blossom peak time. We hit Camassia at the right moment. It’s been several years since we made it out the Columbia Gorge way to catch the annual phantasmagorical wildflower wonders, but I don’t remember why. I look for a perfect combination of peak bloom, dry weather, less muddy, a not too strong wind, and a free weekday. I’m not asking for much am I? Last week everything aligned.
We had a crazy deluge three days before our outing; the worst of it was an inch of rain in one hour, causing a sheet of water to course down our sloped yard. It did NOT get inside this time, thank goodness. We kept checking the basement perimeter with socks on (me) or on hands and knees (Alan) to make sure, since that’s how leaking was discovered the first time. The second time it just poured in under our basement door; no detective work necessary, just massive cleanup. Four mitigation projects later, and the house stayed tight this time. Still, we didn’t breathe freely until the storm passed.
A heat wave immediately followed, and just days later we had to start watering the garden! What a mysterious place this Pacific Northwest is. We wanted to get out to see the wildflowers before temperatures reached the 90s. We finally found the perfect morning, and were out the door by 8:30. That’s good for us, though a few friends prefer arriving on hikes for the sunrise. Someday… maybe.
Big vistas mixed with anticipation makes the drive out of town exciting. Weather and cloud cover continuously transform the views, so there are always surprising new ways to see it all. We soar over downtown and the Willamette River on the Marquam Bridge. Everything below was still sparkling and clean after the big rain. The water, the skyscrapers, and all the bridges on either side made for a gorgeous tableau. Mt. Hood and Mt. Saint Helens appeared on two horizons in various stages of undress, still snowy, somewhat cloudy. “I can’t believe we live here,” I say to Alan, for about the thousandth time. It still feels like a small miracle to be here in Portland, and surrounded by these dramatic views and sights.
As we get onto the Gorge highway, basalt cliffs rise up on our right as the Columbia River rolls past on our left. Seasonal waterfalls leak from vertiginous precipices, plus those heartier year-round falls. Newly leafed out glowing green maples intermingle with sturdy dark green conifers, creating a verdant checkerboard of frothy light and dusky shadow. Burn scars still remain six years after the Eagle Creek fire. Bare gray tree trunks line the cliff edges like sentries, while the understory is bright and alive.
We head to the Memaloose hills just outside of Mosier, and get off Highway 84 onto Highway 30, the “Historic Columbia River Highway,” a narrow two lane road that hugs the cliffs. Parking is tight at the Memaloose Overlook, where there’s a view of Memaloose Island. Memaloose is a Chinook derivation of “memalust” which means “to die.” The natives laid their dead to rest on several so named islands, and this one’s the largest.
Turning away from the river we climb into oak studded hills, already surrounded by broad patches of yellow balsamroot and purple and white lupines. Also lots of young poison oak, so I focus on staying on the narrow trail. That stuff does not like me. Or likes me too much.
The path forks into two out-and-back trails, and I remember this time to take the longer one first, up Chatfield Hill while I still have legs. We can take the other, Marsh Hill, when we come back down, if I have legs left. My four mile body is really happier with three, but I hate those limitations.
And it’s a great day to be aliveDarrell Scott, song
I know the sun’s still shining
When I close my eyes
There’s some hard times in the neighborhood
But why can’t every day be just this good
Crowds were fairly sparse along the way, but still, it seemed that every time Alan had a good shot at a bird, someone would pass, chatting loudly. An ash-throated flycatcher, a first, landed on a tree stump nearby, but got away before either of us could capture its image.
But the flowers held still for us, and the smaller clumps became broad swaths. We climbed higher, and the Columbia river dwindled to a narrow blue strip below, with Washington’s cliffs and hills just beyond, and blue skies over all. Keeping our eyes peeled for rattlesnakes, I discover a small turtle on the path, far from the now dry stream. I took a couple photos, then sadly realized he was dead, so this is now its death photo.
At the top – cue the Sound of Music theme song – I wanted to dance and swirl round through the thickets of dazzling yellow, orange, and purple, singing my heart out. But, gotta stay on the trail, so I hummed softly, absorbing sun, blue sky, clouds, the vivid greens and brightly colored petals surrounding me on all sides, the gnarly bare oaks, and Mt. Hood and Mt. Adams with their fluffed up cumulus toppings. What a great day to be alive.
Be sure to check out Alan’s excellent photoblog of more and different flowers!
9 thoughts on “A Great Day To Be At Memaloose”
Wowza. Now I’m thinking about a Gorge hike. Gorge-ous. Thank you.
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Get out there quick! So worth it. Probably Memaloose is over but there are so many others!
Peak wildflowers and peak migration seem to overlap so imagine how grateful I am that you found these stunning flowers! Gorgeous and I’m really happy you name them because it’s how I’m learning. Love the photos and the story but my favorite part might be how you describe how lucky you are to live in Portland! You’re wearing it well!
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Thank you BR, what a difference a few months makes, eh? From despair to jubilation. Thanks for always pointing out the PNW beauty.
Wow, so much beauty out there! Don’t know where to start my next visit🙉
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Patty you really can’t go wrong if you avoid November-April. 🙂 Thanks for reading!
CLIMB EVERY MOUNTAAAAAAIIIIIIINNNN (I know you meant ‘the hills are alive’ in your reference but I ended my read with this in my head). Super beautiful! Who lives in the middle of some of those vistas!? Let’s make friends with them. And no I do not think you are asking too much. You deserve a free weekday no wind peak bloom less mud the moon and the stars !!!! xoxox
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Thank you Mer, could you come up and make friends with them for me? Perfect. And we’ll howl our songs amongst the wildflowers together. xx
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