Umtanum Ridge

April and half of May slipped on by without a flower hike in Eastern Washington. With showers and rain forecast for the mountains and mid 70s temperatures for Ellensburg it was time to head east. Suzanne was free and accompanied me. We left Seattle at 7:00 AM and by 9:00 we were at the trailhead off Canyon Road along the Yakima River. On the drive over it rained from North Bend almost to Easton. At the trailhead it was partly sunny and already comfortably warm. There was one other group about to get hiking and a big empty parking lot. We crossed the suspension bridge into Umtanum Canyon and immediately turned left up the first side canyon. This trip was three weeks later than my hike here last year and I feared we might be too late for the flowers. Those fears were quickly put to rest.

There was a little balsamroot down low but a plethora of other flowers. Some I recognized from previous trips here but some I don't remember seeing. Different trips at different points in the spring seem to bring out very different flowers. I was pleasantly surprised at the variety of flowers and colors. We saw yellow, white, blue, purple, and red among others. Higher up pink bitterroot appeared. In fact this was the single best hike I have done for seeing bitterroot. They are just about at their peak now with more blooms still to come. We hiked up the canyon on the old road then turned off on the side trail heading higher. The higher we went the more types of flowers we saw. We also came upon a well camouflaged lizard. We were to see many more of them all around the ridge.

As we climbed it got hotter and muggier. The humidity had sweat pouring off my brow. One thing I have noticed while climbing up the middle section of the side ridge is the constant bird songs. I never see the birds but hear their songs close by. High up the side ridge more balsamroot were blooming. Not as many as I usually see but they were still nice. Just before reaching the ridge top a huge military cargo jet roared overhead. It was huge, like a C-17, and only a few thousand feet above us. The noise and closeness was a real shock. It looked like they were practicing low level flight.

Finally we crested the top of Umtanum Ridge. Clouds hid the mountains but the view to the north, south, and east was excellent. After climbing in the hot sun a cooling cloud now put us in the shade on top. Suzanne immediately spotted a flowering cactus giving hope that we would see many more in bloom. Alas, it was not to be. We saw only a few more flowering. It seems most of them are finished for the year. We turned left on the ridge and headed east. I wanted to go to the area where I saw so many blooming cacti last year. The bright yellow balsamroot show of last year was replaced with a wide variety of flowers. Bitterroot was the star but there were dozens of other varieties.

The ridge is never flat and we followed the undulations up and down. We decided to turn around at the steep drop where I saw so many cacti last year. I was disappointed to see that they were already finished but the other flowers made up for it. This was a good spot for lunch with great views in all directions. As we were getting ready to head back we met the first person since the trailhead. A lone runner stopped to talk for a minute. He was on his way to Selah and had started at Central Washington University in Ellensburg. It was just another 35 mile run with 4000'+ of elevation gain. Nothing like an extreme comparison to make you feel like a slacker.

Heading back along the ridge we met the brothers we had seen at the trailhead. The hike down from the ridge was much faster and easier. We dropped from the ridge top to the parking lot in just under an hour. We were back by 1:45 and the lot was nearly full. Based on the 5 groups we passed all day, most people were down in the canyon. The car thermometer read 82 degrees which was about 8 degrees warmer than forecast. It was plenty warm for me.

We missed the peak of the balsamroot and cactus but saw some of each. The variety of other flowers peaking was outstanding. After lots of snow hikes the past month a day of flowers without trees was refreshing. The flowers will soon be finished and the temperatures will be getting too high for me this far east. I'll be back next spring for another round of desert hiking.

Like Daisies
Delicate Flower
Red & Yellow
More Yellow
Suzanne & Sadie
Multiple Colors
Side Ridge
Well Camouflaged
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Photo Page 2

Trips - 2005