Monday, June 8, 2015

Cowiche Canyon Wildflowers

Although I love hiking through the lush evergreen forests of Western Washington and the scenic views from the trails to the peaks of the Cascade Mountains,  I also enjoy the totally different rugged beauty of arid central Washington.  We recently took a day trip to see the Cowiche Canyon in the Yakima area.  It was a perfect sunny day with temperatures in the 60s and the wildflowers were in bloom.  Fortunately my border collies, Tim and Hank are always happy to be my companions on a road trip and hike.

The Snow Mountain Ranch Cowiche Canyon Trail Head

Where is Cowiche Canyon?

Directions: From Highway 82 just north of Yakima, take the exit to SR 12 .  Exit SR12 at 40th Avenue and proceed 1.5 miles south to Summitview Avenue. Turn right and drive 8.8. miles, then veer left on Cowiche Mill Road. Proceed 2.5 miles and the Snow Mountain Ranch trail head parking lot will be on your left a short distance past the Cowiche Creek Nursery.

The Cowiche Canyon Conservancy

The Cowiche Canyon Conservancy is a land trust founded in 1985 and its stated mission is to"Protect our shrub-steppe, and connect people to this vanishing landscape."  It now owns and manages 5,000 acres in the canyon including 30 miles of trails.  The conservancy funds trail development, restoration of native landscapes and plants, monitors trails, wildlife and vegetation and provides environmental education. We only hiked a small portion of the trail system using the Cowiche Canyon Snow Mountain Ranch Trail Map.  Dogs are allowed off leash, but should be "walking with their owner" to make sure you can clean-up after your pet and to keep them from chasing or harassing wildlife.

As you can see from the following photos, the native wildflowers put on a magnificent spring display.  If you are interested in wildflowers in the Pacific Northwest and being able to identify the many species that can be found in the diverse habitats, I recommend the book, Wildflowers of the Pacific Northwest as the best guide.

Just past the trail head parking lot, we encountered the first wildflowers.  The golden yellow blooms of the arrowleaf balsamroot were scattered along the trail.

Arrowleaf Balsamroot (Balsamorhiza sagittata)

Soon we  passed through a grove of Garry Oak trees, the only oak tree species that is native to Washington State.

Garry Oak (Quercus garryana)

Next we crossed a bridge across Cowiche Creek.

Cowiche Creek, Yakima County, WA

After crossing the creek, I spotted a large golden currant shrub covered in fragrant blossoms.

Golden Currant (Ribes aureum)
The trail curved and we entered a large grassy meadow,

Cowiche Canyon Meadow
 On the far side of the meadow, I spotted some basalt columns which are a very common rock formation east of the Cascade Mountain Range.

Basalt Rock Column - Yakima County, WA
A common shrub of  the central Washington steppe habitat is the antelope bitterbrush.  Their pale yellow flowers were in full bloom in Cowiche Canyon

Antelope Bitterbrush (Purshia tridentata)
Another beautiful wildflower in full bloom was the Giant Head Clover.

Giant Head Clover (Trifolium macrocephalum)
There were numerous mats of low-growing phlox in several colors - white, blue and pink.

Spreading Phlox (Phlox diffusa)
I'm not sure of the particular species, but brilliant blue lupine were scattered around the area.

The hike was a steady climb and when we got to the top of a ridge, we paused to enjoy the view of the valley below.

Border Collies Tim and Hank with a view of the valley
 Each time we arrived at the top of one ridge, we could see there was yet another one ahead, all covered with blooming wildflowers.

Wildflowers of Cowiche Canyon
We encountered several species of wild onion.  Unfortunately I was unable to identify which ones.  Does anyone know which species this one is?

Wild onion (Allium - species?)
Along the trail was another species of currant, wax currant, also in full bloom.

Wax Currant (Ribes cereum)

There were small patches of these beautiful sagebrush violets.

Sagebrush violet (Viola trinervata)

We finally arrived at the top of Cowiche Mountain at the boundary of the Cowiche Conservancy land and took a break to enjoy a peek-a-boo view of the summit of Mt. Rainier in the distance.

The top of  Cowiche Mountain with a view of the top of Mt Rainier in the distance
On our descent down the trail, there were additional treasures to be seen including these shooting stars.

Poet's Shooting Star? (Dodecatheon poeticum)

When I wasn't looking down at all of the wildflowers, there were also great views of the orchards of the Yakima valley.

Orchards of the Yakima Valley
There were some trail signs at forks in the trail to help orient us as to our location.

Cowiche Canyon Trail Sign
 Since much of this part of the Cowiche Canyon Conservancy land was formerly a cattle ranch, there were some relics of the past like this old bathtub that had been used as a water trough.  Hank was being snoopy and couldn't pass up looking to see what was inside.

Relics from the cattle ranch

As we neared the end of our hike back at Cowiche Creek, Tim, Hank and a friend couldn't resist taking a dip.

Border collies, Tim and Hank returning from a splash in Cowiche Creek
This was such a beautiful place on such a perfect spring day.  I wished that we had another day to explore more of the Cowiche Canyon.  Next spring I'd like to come back and either bring our 5th wheel to camp or possibly spend a night in one of the pet-friendly hotels in the Yakima area.

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