Another Hike

There are two ways to get to Yakima from the north. You can take Interstate 82, which engineers designed to go over three big ridges. Or you can take the Yakima Canyon route, on a two lane highway that follows the curves of the river. Don’t take this road if you’re in a hurry.

As I meandered my way back to Cle Elum this afternoon, it occurred to me that there’s no way to capture the place in a single photo. There’s too much to take in–the scale of the hills with the layers of basalt, the green of May and wildflowers at their peak, a raft of white pelicans on the river, the fresh leaves on the cottonwoods reflecting the sun, the call of a redwinged blackbird coming through the open window. I feel spoiled by the variety available in my home landscape. Mountains, forest, desert, rivers are all compressed into a narrow band between the top of the Cascades and the edge of the Columbia Basin.

I stopped for a walk at Umptanum Canyon, which flows into the Yakima. It was a warm day, and clouds of insects were rising above the water. Fly fishermen in their waders stood as still as herons, intently focused on the riffles. I crossed the suspension bridge and railroad tracks, and headed up a side trail looking for flowers.

Antelope bitterbrush

Bitterbrush (Purshia tridentata) and sagebrush (Artemesia tridentata) are the dominant shrubs, both lush with moisture from the spring rains. The fuzzy silvery leaves help the plants conserve water during the dry heat of summer.

Arrowleaf balsamroot

Arrowleaf balsamroot (Balsamorrhiza sagitatta) is one of the many yellow daisy-like flowers found in the shrub steppe. Sometimes the slopes turn golden with them all blooming at once.


According to my wildflower book, there are at least twelve lupines that can occur in eastern Washington. I don’t know which one this is, but it goes well with the sagebrush, balsamroots and showy phlox.

Looking up the Umptanum, which I’ve hiked alone and with companions numerous times over the last 20 years. Today I was stepping carefully, because it was warm enough for rattlesnakes to be active. And ticks–I’ve been feeling crawly for a couple days. But all I saw were butterflies and birds. From the shade of a basalt cliff came the buzzy chirping of a canyon wren, warming up for the clear descending notes that would come in the evening. And of course ravens, somewhere across the canyon.

As I headed back across the river toward the truck, it seemed to me that a person who listens carefully can hear the difference between the wind blowing through the Great Basin wild rye and sagebrush, and the wind blowing through Douglas-firs.

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