Tom McCall Preserve and Mosier Twin Tunnels

We do our best to plan and prepare for all of our hikes, but we were reminded that now matter how much pre-trip preparation we’ve done things can still happen. For our last hike that meant an extra 4 miles of hiking.

We had headed back to the eastern end of the Columbia Gorge for a combination of several hikes near Mosier, OR. First up was the plateau trail at the Tom McCall Preserve. The trail sets off from the Rowena Crest Viewpoint located along the Historic Columbia River Highway 6.6 miles east of Mosier.
Rowena Crest Trailhead

The trail heads out onto the plateau toward the Columbia River passing several viewpoints and lots of wildflowers including our first bachelor button sightings.

Bachelor Button

Balsamroot at Rowena Crest

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Columbia River from Rowena Crest plateau

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The trail also passes a pair of ponds where we had to be on the watch for poison oak.
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After approximately one and a quarter miles the trail ends at a viewpoint on the edge of the plateau. Across the river was a train while below on our right were a pair of turkey vultures and on our left a couple of deer down in Rowena Dell.
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Deer below Rowena Crest plateau

After returning to the parking area we headed up the second trail at Tom McCall Preserve to Tom McCall Point. The summit of the point had been shrouded in clouds while we were on the plateau trail.
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The clouds were breaking up as we began our climb though.
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This path was wonderful. There were plenty of views as well as some wooded sections. We also saw several types of flowers that we had not seen along the plateau trail such as paintbrush, broomrape, larkspur, and chocolate lilies.
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The clouds finally lifted from the summit by the time we were about halfway up the trail.
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We were also high enough to see the entire plateau behind us.
Rowena Crest from the Tom McCall Point trail.

The views from the summit were impressive, but alas the clouds had not broken up enough to reveal either Mt. Hood or Mt. Adams which on a clear day would have been visible.
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Summit of Tom McCall Point

We had planned one more hike for the day since the two trails at Tom McCall Preserve only totaled 6 miles. The Mosier Twin Tunnel trail set off on the west side of Mosier at the Senator Mark O. Hatfield Trailhead.
Trailhead for Mosier Twin Tunnels

The trail is actually a portion of the Historic Columbia River Highway that has been converted to a hiking and biking path. Our plan was to hike out about 2.5 miles to an overlook of Koberg Beach State Wayside to add another 5 miles to the days totals. The path begins amid rock piles that reminded us of the lava flows in Central Oregon. Here the basalt cliffs that are typical of the gorge had broken up leaving the jumble of rocks. A fence separated the path from the rocks to protect pits made by Native Americans, possibly used as vision quest sites. One such pit is visible in the upper left hand side of the picture below.
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About a half mile from the start of the trail is the first viewpoint.
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Not long after the first viewpoint the trail comes to the first of the twin tunnels.
First of the Mosier Twin Tunnels.

Inside Mosier Twin Tunnels.

The first tunnel has a pair of windows carved into the rock wall offering views of the river.
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Upon exiting the second tunnel the path continues under an odd concrete structure. Dominique thought it reminded him of being in a parking garage. The purpose of the structure is to act as a rockfall shield able to withstand a 5000lb. boulder falling from 200ft above.
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Just under a mile from the tunnels is a second overlook at the county line between Wasco and Hood River counties.
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Our planned turnaround point was to be .8 miles from this second overlook at a .2 mile side path. We continued on toward the turnaround but Dominique wasn’t feeling all that well so he eventually took one of the car keys and headed back. It turns out he was only about 100 yards from our planned turnaround point. I was waiting for Heather by a gravel path that led off through a fenced meadow.
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Viewpoint along the Mosier Twin Tunnel trail.

This was in fact the path we were looking for, but it ended at the fence where there was no view to speak of and certainly no sign of a beach wayside. On top of that I had viewed the hike on Google Maps and had expected the side path to drop down a bit and this path led up. We also felt like we hadn’t gone .8 miles since the second viewpoint so I checked the Garmin which showed that Koberg State Park was still ahead. We decided this wasn’t it and continued on. We kept walking and talking thinking the viewpoint was going to be just ahead. We began seeing more and more people but it was now after noon and that made sense, but when we passed a couple with a stroller we both began to wonder what was going on. They didn’t look like they had hiked over 2 miles already. Then Heather spotted some signs ahead. There were quite a few and they were big which didn’t make sense for a small side path, then we noticed an RV parked above the trail to the left. Now we knew something was wrong for sure because there were no roads open to vehicles anywhere near our planned turnaround point. Then we saw the parking area, restrooms, and information center at the western trailhead near Hood River. We’d gone nearly 2 extra miles! The good news was they were nice bathrooms and we had spotted a snake and our first California Poppies (while on a hike) in those extra miles.
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California Poppy

It turned out that the main portion of Koberg State Park is located across the Interstate from the western trailhead, but a portion of it is also located below the outcropping that the gravel path led onto. There just isn’t anything there to see. We hurried back as quickly as our sore feet would let us. On the way we spotted a bald eagle soaring above the trees and some wind surfers sailing above the Columbia.
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At the car we found a napping kid who it turned out had stuck to our original plan better than we had. Happy Trails!

flickr: https://www.flickr.com/photos/9319235@N02/sets/72157652170987082/

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Lacamas Park

We officially kicked off our hiking season this past week, a week earlier than we had originally planned. We got things started by attending a slide presentation by Adam Sawyer author of “Hiking Waterfalls in Oregon”. He covered several waterfalls some we’d been to and others that we have yet to visit. We wound up adding one of the falls to this years schedule after realizing one of our planned hikes would have us driving right past the short path to Panther Creek Falls. The presentation got us excited about getting back out on the trails, and when we saw that the weekend forecast was for sunny skies and 70 degree temperatures coupled with reports of the camas blooms hitting their peak we decided to move our Lacamas Park hike up a week.

Lacamas Park is located in Camas, WA and is a much more urban setting than we are used to on our hikes, but it offers plenty of trails with very minimal elevation gain which we were looking for due to Heather having just run a half-marathon the previous week. In addition, a series of lily fields bloom in the park in April and early May (most years) and there are several visitable waterfalls. We began our hike at the Lacamas Heritage Trail located at the north end of Lacamas Lake.
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This 3.5 mile path squeezes between Lacamas Creek then Lake and a golf club and private homes. The gravel path also passed several benches and interpretive signs listing some of the plants and animals that might be spotted in the area.
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The area was full of birds, some we saw and others we just heard singing away in the crisp morning air.
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There were also plenty of flowers along the trail.
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The lake began to widen as we traveled along and would have offered a pretty nice view of Mt. Hood but the sky was oddly hazy so we could only make out the mountains silhouette beyond the far end of the water.
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It turns out the haze was likely caused by massive fires in Siberia and possibly a dust storm in China when the jet stream picked up the smoke and dust particles and delivered them across the ocean to the Pacific North West.

As the lake widened we spotted several ducks and geese.
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The Lacamas Heritage Trail ends at Camas Hertiage Park at the southern end of the lake but just across Highway 500 lay Round Lake and Lacamas Park. We crossed the road at a stoplight and entered the park.
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A series of signboards in the park gave all kinds of information on the area as well as a trail map of the park.
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We looked over the map which agreed fairly well with the one in our guidebook and headed off on the Round Lake Loop
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We crossed over the Round Lake dam and immediately realized that this was going to be a more confusing hike than what the maps had shown. There were several different trails heading off in various directions, all looking fairly well used. This wound up being the case throughout the park and even though there were a good number of signs the profusion of trails sometimes made it difficult to tell which trails the signs were referring to. We knew that we wanted to follow Lacamas Creek down to The Potholes so we picked the trail which seemed to be heading in the right direction and followed the creek. We found The Potholes easily enough and the water was really flowing.
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A short distance from The Potholes we entered a field of flowers.
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Mostly camas and plectritis, the meadow offered a nice view back to The Potholes.
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We continued on toward Lower Falls. The trail left the creek for a bit and passed through a forested section where we were serenaded by a little wren.
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At Lower Falls a footbridge crosses the creek, another possible starting point lays beyond, but to complete the loop we needed to stay on the east side of the creek. We did cross the bridge hopping for a better view of the falls but couldn’t find one.
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It appears we may have found one if we had stayed on the east side and explored further downstream, but when we returned to that side we just continued the loop which now lead away from the creek. We managed to find the correct trails and passed through a forested section of the park on a .4 mile path to an old gravel road. We turned left on the road and quickly spotted a sign announcing the lily field loop on the right.
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Before we took that loop we wanted to visit Woodburn Falls which was located off a left hand spur trial just a bit further up the road. This trail too was identified by a sign.
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The short trail led down to a pretty 20 foot waterfall that usually dries up after June each year. For our visit the water was flowing nicely making it a scenic little spot.
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After visiting the falls we returned to the gravel road and backtracked to the start of the lily field loop. The first lilies we saw were white fawn lilies along the trail.
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Then we came to the first lily field. It had both fawn and camas lilies but not in the numbers I had been expecting to see.
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We passed through a couple of these small meadows and I was beginning to think I had been mislead about the flowers when the path entered a larger field. Camas lilies carpeted the hillsides on either side of the path.
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The trail passed through a number of these meadows each full of camas flowers.
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After the final field the trail dropped back down to the Round Lake Loop Trail just a short distance from Round Lake. We completed the loop and recrossed the highway to get back to the Lacamas Heritage Trail for the final 3.5 miles of our hike. It was a little before 11am when we started back on the Heritage Trail and the day had warmed up nicely. We had given ourselves a mission on the final leg – to keep a lookout for turtles. We had yet to see a turtle on any of our hikes, or at any point in the wild for that matter, and had just read an article about their presence in the park we often take our runs in. The interpretive signs along the lake mentioned turtles so we knew we had a chance of seeing one so we set off watching for anyplace that looked like a good spot for a turtle. We were keyed in on the logs in the water which were playing host to some animals at least.
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We’d gotten almost to the end of the lake where it looked more shallow and was full of lily pads when Heather spotted it – our first turtle.
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We were staring at it for awhile before we realized that not far away on another log were more turtles. In fact there were turtles on a bunch of logs.
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Seeing the animals is one of the things we like about hiking and the first time you see one is extra special, especially when it’s one you’ve been looking for for awhile. We pulled ourselves away from the turtle bonanza and continued on the trail. Before we were finished we saw one more animal for the first time. A greater yellowlegs searching for food in the water.
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We probably saw more people on this hike than any of the others we’ve done save maybe at Multnomah Falls but we didn’t mind as it had a lot to offer. We managed to get 12.4 miles of hiking in, saw 3 waterfalls, some great wildflowers, and lots of wildlife. With all the options and access points Lacamas Park is a handy place for anyone to get outside and enjoy some scenery. Happy Trails!

flickr: https://www.flickr.com/photos/9319235@N02/sets/72157651646192359/

Columbia Hills State Park

Spring came early to the Pacific Northwest and many of the flowers are running a week or two ahead of schedule so I’d been keeping my eye on the wildflower situation in the Columbia Gorge. Recent trip reports from the east end of the gorge showing the flowers out in force, a promising forecast, and a free day at Washington State Parks made for a combination that I just couldn’t pass up. Due to Heather training for the upcoming Corvallis half-marathon she was unable to accompany me this time, but my parents were able to join me for three short hikes in Columbia Hills State Park.

The park is located in Washington just across the Columbia River from The Dalles, OR and encompasses 3,338 acres offering rock climbing, fishing, sailboarding, and many other activities in addition to the hiking trails. We started our day off at Horsethief Butte, a rocky outcrop left over from an ancient basalt flow popular with rock climbers.

Basalt cliffs on the opposite side of Highway 14 from the trailhead.
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The trail starts off with a nice view of Mt. Hood over The Dalles.
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The trail crosses a short section of flat grassland before splitting with the left fork heading up into a canyon of Horsethief Butte and the right fork leading around the mesa to rejoin the left fork on the far end of the canyon. There were a variety of flowers to be seen along this portion of the trail.

Manroot
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Bugloss fiddleneck
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Death camas
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Prarie star
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Large-flower triteleia
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Western stoneseed
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Larkspur
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Desert parsley
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When the trail split we took the left hand fork and headed for the canyon. At Horsethief Butte the dirt trail gave way to a short rock scramble up to the canyon entrance. At the top of the scramble the canyon opened up to reveal a good sized slot dotted with yellow balsamroot flowers.
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Members of the Mazamas, an outdoor group based out of Portland, were busy setting up and climbing among the rocks.
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At the far end of the canyon the view opened to the Columbia River and Mt. Hood.
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Here the trail dropped out of the canyon (without a rock scramble) to rejoin the right-hand fork. Before heading back we turned left and continued another quarter mile behind the butte to a viewpoint where poison oak patches were growing.

Poison Oak
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We headed back and completed the loop with Mt. Hood looming to our left.
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Next we headed to the Dalles Mountain Ranch, a short 4.5 mile drive away. To get there we drove 1.8 miles west on Hwy 14 and turned right on Dalles Mountain Road for another 2.5 miles to a fork. The trailhead for the ranch was to the right about .2 miles. Here an abandoned farmhouse and other buildings sat amid fields of balsamroot and lupine.
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We explored the area around the farmhouse first where several pieces of old equipment were on display along with the flowers and views of Mt. Hood and distant Mt. Jefferson.
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There were also a couple of trail options. I wandered down to Eight Mile Creek through a spectacular field of balsamroot and lupine.
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Our final stop was another short 1.4 mile drive up Dalles Mountain Road where a gate marked the end of the drive and the start of the Columbia Natural Area Preserve.
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We set off on the 2.5 mile hike up the closed road that would led us to the summit of Stacker Butte. Entire hillsides were covered in yellow from the balsamroot with a smattering of other flowers thrown in.
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The total climb was a little over 1100′ but it was never too steep and the sweeping views drew attention away from the climb.
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It was interesting to note the change in the mix of flowers as we climbed. Along the lower portion balsamroot and lupine dominated with a few prairie stars mixed in. A little higher up we ran into paintbrush and phlox.
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Next came larkspur and big-head clover.
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Flowers weren’t the only things we spotted. There were numerous birds and a few deer in the area.
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We had lost our views of Mt. Jefferson and Mt. Hood to the clouds, but when we reached the summit of Stacker Butte new views opened up. To the NW Mt. Adams was mostly obscured by a line of clouds, but Mt. Rainier and Goat Rocks were virtually cloud free.
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Almost directly below us lay Stacker Canyon where the Klickitat Rail Trail follows Swale Creek toward the Klickitat River, a hike we had done last April. https://wanderingyuncks.wordpress.com/2014/04/27/klickitat-rail-trail-swale-canyon-from-harms-rd/

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It was a little too windy (and chilly) to spend much time at the summit so after a quick snack break near an air control wigwam we headed back down the road.
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On our way down I got my first butterfly pictures of the year.

Sheridan’s Hairstreak
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Blue Copper
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With all of the options Columbia Hills State Park has to offer it makes a great place to spend a day outdoors, especially during the spring flower bloom. There are ticks and rattlesnakes in the area in addition to the poison oak so you’ll want to pay attention if you visit, but don’t let that stop you from checking this park out. Happy Trails!

flickr: https://www.flickr.com/photos/9319235@N02/sets/72157649434751593/