Wednesday, April 21, 2010
Umtanum Ridge 1000 in 1
The meaning of the word Um(p)tanum is contentment
I took a day off from work and spent it hiking the Umtanum Ridge south of Ellensburg. This area is further east and south from the Ray Westburg trail and marks the eastern edge of the L T Murray Wildlife Management Area. The exciting aspect of these explorations is seeing how the distance of about 15-20 miles, as the Raven flies, presents a completely different ecology
The Umtanum Ridge forms the west wall of the Yakima River Canyon. The winding highway from Ellensburg to Yakima is often overlooked for the faster I-82 further east. The canyon skirts the west edge of the Yakima Firing Range, a large mixed military training area north of Yakima. These areas represent some of the largest preserved habitat in the state.
Here on the eastern edge of this basalt lobe, it is much drier and hotter in the season. The canyon is stunning with a twisting and turning highway that gives you in your face views of basalt walls. Up in the walls raptors of all kinds; hawks eagles falcons, nest in high concentration. You will also find Raven Turkey Vulture and Canyon Wrens.
When I arrived early on what was expected to be a hot day I could hear a Canyon Wren calling from high in the walls. Umtanum Creek was running and I started along the trail watching for surprises. It didn't take long to find a bit of Prickly Pear Cactus. That was a surprise. The trails, which start at the end of this bridge over the Yakima River, are not well marked, the guide book warned me of this. I doubled back and soon found the track. It skirted along a steep wall to the left and I made my way up hill following a trickling creek.
It was interesting to see how each steep up slope held little in the way of plants aside from the rabbit brush, sage and grasses. When a somewhat level area was reached a community of flowers would present themselves. The overwhelming numbers of Gold Star was something to see. Higher up I could look over to the next hill and clearly seen a light wash of yellow as it too was carpeted with these little yellow gems. They have quickly become a favorite of mine.
I found many of the flowers here smaller and more "stunted" appearing than those found in other environments. They also appear to be a bit behind in the bloom cycle. The elevation here is higher and drier. I suspect that Spring is just getting underway. The Gold Star and violets dominate.
I found some Brodiaea here. Those at Catherine Creek, already well opened, colored white with blue stripes. Here they are still closed and the solid dark blue mentioned in my field guides.
There were a lot of Phlox many of them tucked under shading rabbit brush and sage.
Lupins are just getting into their bloom.
The climb was unrelenting. This is a 1000 in 1, you gain 1000 feet elevation for every mile. The round trip to the top of the ridge along the ridge and back is six miles, so a pretty good work out . It is the type need to do at least a couple times a month if I can. This one served to remind me that I am still not content with my hiking shoes. This was the first serious downhill trial and they did not perform well.
The views from here are wonderful. You can almost imagine no civilization but from half way up the ridge you can see the distant ribbon of I-82 and occasional radar and other towers on ridge tops. That is I-82 tracking left to right through the center of the landscape.
I was thrilled to have the area to myself. Local residents were all around. Western Meadowlarks sang all over. They are so shy but I saw plenty of exuberant display flights where the males fly and sing to impress.
A Raven really put on a show and I was not sure if he was trying to impress another bird or perhaps show me how tough he was. He made one pass making a sound like I never heard before. He almost sounded like a grouse or pheasant and was undulating and gliding in a very unusual fashion. He circled back and began to torpedo and make swooping barrel rolls. It really seemed that he did it just because he could. After the barrel roll display he flew off and I never saw another Raven the rest of the day.
I had a wonderful close encounter with a Gopher Snake. This was the first time I ever met this snake and made very sure its pattern was laid out appropriately for the safe Gopher Snake as opposed to the more exciting Western Rattlesnake. Thoses are Gold Star flowers.
You are looking at the flowers, aren't you?
Reaching the top of the ridge I saw yet another smaller hill to climb. The road that crossed top of the ridge line serves as the "you are done" marker. But that little hill promised a possible view of Mt Adams and Mt Rainer, so up I went.
I am so glad I did. I found Hedgehog Cactus, another first find. These are rare now and on the state "Sensitive Plant" list so I had to be very careful where I stepped. These were so well camouflaged in the soil and soon I found one, then another. They are already setting buds and will bloom later in May. That will be something to see.
The trip down, as expected, was so much faster than the trip up. I am so happy to have explored this area of the trail and need to get back and follow the trail at tracks along Umtanum Creek to the waterfalls. I have been to the waterfall from the upland side. It is a favorite little area of the road I use to patrol monitoring bluebird boxes. I never visited from the downriver approach. I want to see what is around that bend and where this green area goes.
I felt like I had been on a foreign journey to a very new type environment. A wonderful five hour workout produced some new first sights and a feeling of relaxation.
Well from the ankles up.
I need new shoes