Klickitat Rail Trail – Swale Canyon from Harms Rd

Wildflowers, wildlife, and cows – oh my! Hiking season is officially underway for us. We kicked things off by making the 2 1/2hr drive to the Harms Rd. trail head for the Klickitat Rail Trial which is located about 20 miles NE of Lyle Washington. It was a long drive for a hike that was less than 8 miles, but the sights more than made up for the less than ideal ratio of driving to hiking hours. Wildflower, wildlife, and solitude were the themes for this hike.

Prior to reaching the trail head we had our first run in with wildlife. As we wound our way up the Centerville hwy on the way to our destination we were delayed by some turkeys who had decided to cross the road.

When we arrived at the trail head we found some conflicting signs. There were plenty of trail head signs and information as well as the seasonal port-a-potty that is there when the trail is open from October through June. As we headed down from the parking area to the gate which blocks car access as well as keeping cattle contained we noticed a “No Trespassing” sign. You can see it on the gate in the picture.

It stated that the sheriff would ticket and/or arrest trespassers. The smaller gate was held shut by some very strong barbed wire while padlocks kept the larger gate from being opened. We stood there for a moment trying to figure out what all this meant. I had been on the Klickitat Rail Trail Conservancy’s website that morning and there was nothing about a closure. We decided that since there wasn’t anything on the actual trail head board and the port-a-potty was there the no trespassing sign was either to remind people to stay on the trail and off of the private land that borders it, or it was an attempt by one of the locals to deter people from the trail all together. Either way we hadn’t driven for two and a half hours to turn back now so we climbed over the gate and set off.

A stiff breeze made it feel quite a bit colder than the 46 degrees that the thermometer said and we were glad we’d worn layers. The layers were intended to help keep ticks at bay since they are common in the area. We had a lot of company along the first portion of trail with many birds and several marmots busy with their morning activities.

There were plenty of flowers along this first portion as well. The most prevalent being desert parsley.
We also saw some larkspur:
Ballhead waterleaf:
Ballhead waterleaf
and camas:

We came to a second gate which was easily opened via a chain and quickly discovered cows. Having been raised in Central Oregon and done some work on farms growing up I knew what was coming. Not the brightest of creatures they stared at us for a long time before beginning to slowly move down the trail in front of us. They could have easily just turned right off the trail into the brush and let us pass but no. Not cows, they just kept walking, pooping, and staring at us as we continued behind them. When the reached a third gate they were hemmed, stymied. Again instead of heading right along the fence which would have taken them out of our path they gathered in the corner of the fence with no where to go. I finally convinced the brains of the operation that she should walk down the bank to the right at which time the rest of them followed suit allowing us to pass through the gate and leave them behind.

As we continued along the trail descending down into Swale Canyon the flowers and wildlife continued to change. We came across some mallard ducks, a rabbit, and a bald eagle.
Bald Eagle

New flowers included daggerpod and yellow balsamroot.

The marmots were keeping a close eye on us as we followed Swale Creek.

There has sprung up a tradition along this trail to make designs out of the old railroad scraps, and sometimes whatever else can be found. The most elaborate of the collections was placed on a rock shelf along the trail.

As we got further into the canyon, the hillsides began exploding with balsamroot in places.

Being an old rail road line when the trial crosses the creek it is on old trestles made into bridges. The 3rd trestle was the most scenic as we approached. In the distance we could see the shadows of the clouds passing over Stacker Butte.

From the third trestle the balsamroot began to steal the flower show. Patches of lupine were in bloom but much of it had yet to come out.
Lupine just starting to bud out:

Winding through the canyon we began approaching a more forested area.
Here we added paint to the flowers and a Great Blue Heron to the wildlife:

The balsamroot still ruled the hillsides:

The creek was hidden from the trail at this point but a lovely meadow of desert parsley was home to many happy birds.

Just up from the parsley meadow a pair of deer came up from the creek and headed off down the trail. They were nice enough to pose for a couple of pictures before bounding away though.

There was a small waterfall about 3.5 miles in that was mostly obscured by the trees then just a few tenths of a mile later we came to our planned turnaround point – a series of bedrock pools.
There was a small easy trail down to the creek where we paused for a snack since we were relatively safe from ticks on the rock.

I was searching along the bank for one of the many frogs we were hearing when I noticed a flower filled ledge across the creek. Upon closer inspection I realized it was shooting stars. I decided to try and hop the creek and get some closer pictures since I couldn’t seem to get the full effect from the far bank.

It had warmed up for our return trip. We kept all our layers though. We had brushed three ticks from our pants, two on mine and one off Dominique. The marmots had retired for the day and we hadn’t seen anything new for most of the return hike when we came back to third gate and the cows. Different direction but same story.

Just after taking that picture I looked up the hill to our left and saw a coyote standing up top looking down at us. Before I could get a picture of it standing there it took off back over the hillside leaving me with a very blurry, distant photo of it’s ears. After convincing the cows to move away from the second gate we left them behind and started the final leg of our hike. I turned back after a few minutes to take a look behind us and there went the cows up the hillside away from the creek. They apparently had hung out for a couple of hours just to accompany us on our return trip. šŸ˜€

We didn’t see any other people on the trail. When we returned to the trail head around 11:30 there were a pair of hikers and a pair of bikers just getting ready to set off. I took a couple of final pictures from the trail head.
Indian Rock beyond the farmland:
Camas field:

The total trip was 7.6 miles with just over 300′ of elevation gain. A nice easy start to get us into the swing of things. Until next time – Happy Trails

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A Brief Look Back

Well we survived the marathon, and even though it didn’t go as well as we’d hoped, we all finished. It was a beautiful day but that meant temperatures that were 15 to 20 degrees warmer than what we were used to and we all struggled to stay hydrated. While we recover from the race and prepare to put our hiking season into full swing I thought it might be a good time to look back at how we got started hiking.

Heather and I have now set out with the intention of hiking just over 100 times. It has become one of our favorite pastimes and we have learned a lot along the way, but it took us a long time to get here. In fact you have to go back almost 20 years to find that first hike. Heather and I were only dating at the time and I was taking a backpacking class in college. One of the assignments was to go on a hike. I don’t recall much from that class, but that one assignment planted a seed that would eventually grow into our love of hiking.

For the assignment I decided on the Fall Creek trail to Green Lakes in the Three Sisters Wilderness and Heather agreed to join me. Our knowledge of the trail consisted of the location of the trail head when Heather and I set out one day in mid-spring. If we had done even a little research we would have discovered that even though the trail heads in that area might be snow free in May the trails themselves are usually still buried under snow. We didn’t get far before we were forced to turn around and abandon the hike, but in that short amount of time a seed was planted.

We had the trail to ourselves that day (apparently everyone else had done their research) and the solitude of the path through the forest and along the creek was wonderful. We were having a great time when we began running into the first patches of snow. We hiked on for a bit but the snow was too deep and we realized we would have to turn around. We had both done some camping growing up but had never been anywhere as beautiful and peaceful and yet as wild as this hike had taken us. We were disappointed at having to leave the hike incomplete and agreed that we would return someday and make it to the Green Lakes. The seed was planted.

Life had other plans and the memory of that hike was pushed aside and buried, and the seed lay dormant. We started jobs and a family and became sedentary in our lifestyles. Eventually we started getting ourselves back into shape though. One of the ways in which we did that was to take walks whenever we had the chance. We walked in our neighborhood, in town, and even at Dominique’s sporting events. We took opportunities at other times too. We walked along the Deschutes River while staying in Bend and we walked around Suttle Lake while staying in a cabin there on summer. We weren’t consciously thinking about going on hikes, but looking back I can see that those walks woke up that sleeping seed and it began to grow under the surface.

It finally broke through during a company picnic at Silver Falls State park. We had decided to take a walk down to some of the falls when the picnic began wrapping up. It was a very hot day and we didn’t think to take any water with us. We made the classic mistake of wandering without considering the return trip. When we started to get thirsty we realized there was no way we were going to make the full 7 mile loop and took a cutoff trail back to the visitor center. Between the heat and the climb out of the canyon we thought we might not make it back. There was something about that experience though, perhaps not being able to completeĀ theĀ entire trail, that reminded us of the Fall Creek hike so many years before. Once again we began thinking that hiking might be something that we would enjoy doing.

It took us several more years to develop a hiking “routine” and to begin to figure out what worked for us. A mere 6 hikes from 2006 to 2009 was all we managed. Despite the small number the experiences on those hikes were enough to allow the seed to continue to grow and eventually mature. Each time we made it out we fell in love with the trails a little more. There was something about the experience of every hike that was satisfying and at the same time left us longing for more.

There are a number of aspects of hiking that combine to create that experience. The trail is a classroom, an art gallery, a gym, and an escape all at once. We find it benefits our minds, bodies, and souls. Every trail offers some combination of these aspects to varying degrees. The end result is that after a day of hiking we have taken on a physical challenge, experienced new sights, made new observations, reduced our stress levels, and most importantly been reminded of our place in God’s creation.

We have learned things about the wildlife and vegetation we see. We’ve learned about the history of different areas and why they appear the way they do. We have also learned how to use a map and compass to navigate, and we continue to learn what we are physically and mentally capable of.

A few other important lessons we’ve learned:

Always make sure you have enough water and food
Mosquitoes will cause a person to lose all sense of fashion
Sometimes you need to sit still and let nature come to you
Ponchos have a mean streak
Never trust a weather forecast
Three Fingered Jack and the Log Cabin on Black Butte
Always have a map and compass (and know how to use them)
Sometimes it pays to take the side path
Sometimes it doesn’t
Yocum Ridge
The number one lesson though is that there is no such thing as a bad hike.

When we headed out for my assignment 20 years ago neither Heather nor I had any idea what we were getting ourselves into. Today we can look back at that assignment and see that the seed planted that day is what led to our hiking pastime. As for our return to Green Lakes, it hasn’t happened yet. Just as it was the previous three years it is on our schedule. We have been derailed by snow, fire and lightning, but one of these days we will finish the hike that started it all. Happy Trails.

Ankeny Wildlife Refuge

Greetings! I know we weren’t supposed to be hiking again until after our marathon this coming weekend, but we managed to sneak a quick one in. We took advantage of a scheduled cross-training day to head out to the Ankeny Wildlife Refuge just south of Salem. This is the first hike listed in William Sullivan’s 100 Hikes in the Central Cascades book and according to the description April is one of the peak migratory months for the various birds that can be spotted there. A flat 2 mile loop along the Rail Trail worked perfectly for our cross-training needs so it seemed like the ideal time to finally go check out the refuge.

We parked at the Rail Trail parking area and set off on a gravel path heading to the start of the loop.
Ankeny Wildlife Refuge

Trail in Ankeny Wildlife Refuge

After a couple of hundred yards we reached the start of the loops where we took a right onto the Rail Trails raised boardwalk.
Boardwalk Trail

The boardwalk is necessary as the trail passes through a wetlands that is either under water or too muddy for passage.
Pond in Ankeny Wildlife Refuge

There were many small birds present as we approached the bird blind located just over half a mile along the boardwalk. Most of them wouldn’t sit still long enough for a picture but a curious Bewick’s Wren paused long enough for a shot.

We didn’t stay long at the bird blind due to the fact that we were supposed to be cross-training but the blind overlooked a marshy pond where ducks and red-winged blackbirds moved about.
Bird blind in Ankeny Wildlife Refuge
Red-winged blackbird

Shortly after leaving the blind a pair of noisy geese expressed their displeasure with our presence.
Canada Geese

We discovered the reason for their annoyance was the nest they had built near the trail.
Goose nest

The boardwalk ends at an old dike road where the loop turns left and follows the dike back around to the parking area. Being as early as it was in the year (the dike is only open from April 1st – September 30th) the dike was covered in damp vegetation.
Ankeny Wildlife Refuge

We encountered numerous red-winged blackbirds as we travelled along the dike and we also spotted a good variety of ducks in the many ponds.
Red-winged Blackbird
Ring-necked ducks (at least most of them were)
Cinnamon Teal

Other than our feet getting a lot wetter than we had planned due to the wet grass along the dike it was a peaceful trail. We had a bit of trouble locating the correct place to turn back toward the parking area and had to pass through about 10 feet of saturated ground to get back but that just helped make it feel more like a hike :). Ankeny Wildlife Refuge would be a great place to go if you’re interested in bird watching. Someday we’ll have to go back and spend more time standing still and waiting for the birds to come to us. Until next time – Happy Trails!

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