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

New flowers included daggerpod and yellow balsamroot.
Daggerpod
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The marmots were keeping a close eye on us as we followed Swale Creek.
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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.
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As we got further into the canyon, the hillsides began exploding with balsamroot in places.
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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.
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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:
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Winding through the canyon we began approaching a more forested area.
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Here we added paint to the flowers and a Great Blue Heron to the wildlife:
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The balsamroot still ruled the hillsides:
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The creek was hidden from the trail at this point but a lovely meadow of desert parsley was home to many happy birds.
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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.
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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.
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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.
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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.
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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. 😀

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:
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Camas field:
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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

Photos on flickr: https://www.flickr.com/photos/9319235@N02/sets/72157644343719784/
facebook: https://www.facebook.com/deryl.yunck/media_set?set=a.10203854494069953.1073741871.1448521051&type=3

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