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Sunday, May 29, 2011

Kittitas County Ramble

Using Professor Mass' blog and YouTube pod cast I knew the only open weather for Saturday was going to be Kittitas. How lucky I am that the center of our state is one of my favorite places to explore.

I decided to go where I would. I knew that I was not going to be able to get back for some time and I knew I have missed some of the best of the far dry side. I got up super early to get on the road.

My first stop is one of my favorite places, Elk Heights. This spot along the freeway is where the pine forests and hills give way to the basalt flows and grasslands of the dry side. As always the wind was ripping here and its temperature reminded me that they are still skiing some places in the mountains. Brrr. But who can resist Balsamroot and lupins in the fields.

I took the surface road along the Thorp Prairie and got a close up look at some of the farms and houses that have clearly been here over 100 years. Behind this barn complex the land gives way to a deep cut in the basalt. This Hwy 10 road used to be the main east west highway through the state. The Thorp area and the land to the east through Ellensberg supports some of the best hay agriculture in the country. The hay here is rich and plentiful. It is also huge business. Much of the product gets placed directly into shipping containers and winds up in the best barns in the far Pacific Rim. The hay for the Sydney Olympics came from this valley.

By the time I got to Ellensberg I could see the wind turbines and noted that they were barely turning. I know they can choose to run them or not, but could I be in luck and have a calm day? If so I knew there is not time like now to get up to the Colockum Management Area along Hwy 10 and sleuth out some of the fun plants of the dry side.

There were several trucks and trailers with off-road vehicles. Over the way a lone woman appeared to be weeding or picking something. As I walked near I saw the cross I had noted before. She was cleaning bits from around it. Hand made, sprayed in Camo with name and date of one far too young. The woman could be his mother. I was reminded that this Memorial Day means there are outings missing some of the loved ones. I have to imagine this young man once roamed these hills on his motorcycle. She did not look up and I did not disturb her in her loving task.

The area was nicely quiet and with no wind I felt that my foot falls were making far too much sound. My binocular straps are on swivel clips that squeak and chirp. Sometimes they make me stop and wonder who is behind me.

But I could hear music. My Pavarotti! A Sage Thrasher sang his run-on song; on and on like an aria. Lovely warbling all over the scale, it always sounds ever so slightly rusty, as if he needs a drink.

I also heard a Western Meadowlark. The lone bird up on the slope acted like all Meadowlark when I am on foot. Flighty mistrusting and never willing to hold still. I don't know how I got so lucky to capture this one photo. I really had my lens zoomed up.

Birds never seem to be in the right position relative to sun light sky or background. That is what I thought would happen with this Loggerhead Shrike photo, but I am pleased to present him to you. This bird is also known as the " butcher bird". They capture bugs and impale them upon thorns and barbed wire spikes for safekeeping. His song is small , private chortles and chips.

Clearly all these birds have hopes for a happy nesting season.

I enjoyed being in a gully and looking up slope to see lovely big sky like this.

I hiked further north than usual and turned back to enjoy the ridge and how it changes as you go up slope and gain the top. This soil, in places is bare basalt rock and here I find Hedgehog Cactus.

Most of them are past bloom, others barely started ( like the above) , but I got lucky with this one. Bonus bugs too!

Dominating the ground here are the woolly-pod vetches / locoweeds (Astragalus) and Buckwheats (Eriogonum). These are an annoying array of plants that take tons of study to get to know. I am usually content to recognize them for what clan they belong to. The Buckwheats are favorite flowers of many of our butterflies. While the wind was not blowing I was not seeing much in the way of butterflies. I know they like to fly at certain times of day. Around here seeking out wet areas and mud pans is a great way to capture pictures. I kept hoping the clouds would break and warm the area enough, perhaps drawing the bugs out of hiding. Nothing ever happened.

I was content to wander up over the ridge looking for the prize I knew should be here. I was not disappointed. The Bitterroot are just coming into bloom and I found many. This will likely be my only chance for the year and once again, I know my love of this flower is justified.

Rediviva, reborn

The roots spring back to life when soaked in Spring rains and the succulent stems support the tough buds as they break out of the dry , crusty lithosoils.

I walked further east than usual and enjoyed the down slope of the ridge. Where the slop develops a pitch the soil gains moisture and the grasses start again. Here, looking east I can just make out the other side of the Columbia River and where the agriculture area starts again. To the South I can hear occasional sounds of artillery on the Yakima Firing Range. It echos and bounces over these hills.

Rock outcrops break the south slope of this ridge and I looked for Horned Toads and other surprises but found none. Just more flowers,

Brodiaea , Tritelia

Rock Penstemon


and the every challenging daisy clan. I believe these are Townsendia

I headed back along Hwy 10 to Ellensberg and noted not very far from the ridge the pavement was soaking wet. It had poured rain not a mile from where I was. I wandered the roads back to Ellensberg stopping to admire this old barn.

Some of the fields flood up at this time of year when tiny creeks burst in the flats and the flooded fields support Wild Iris.

So it was a lovely slow type day. I needed something relaxing and not too challenging. It has been an intense, fast, busy couple of weeks. Even though it is a three day weekend, busy stuff and work calls on Sunday. Monday weather promises to be not that great but we will have to deal with that when it arrives.

Today I said good-by )( or rather "thanks" ) to a traveling companion of the last few years. I never met her, but she was always with me on Sunday morning. Liane Hansen of NPR retired after 22 years of sharing Sunday Morning with us. I knew I could count on her to tell me something new and share The Puzzle with me. Her voice carried me along over many miles.

Have a lovely "retirement" Liane, you will be missed. I hope your new road is filled with many adventures and wonderful discoveries.

To you all, I say goodbye for a few weeks. I too am off on an adventure.

Someplace like here...only different.


  1. Reading this I feel like I am somewhere like that only different too. That fencepost looks just like mine and the meadow lark sings here too. The loggerhead shrikes here are amazing. I was hanging laundry on the line this morning and they perched on the line and watched me with interest. Of course my camera was in the house.

    Thanks for the tip about the mountain lion shape. I think it was the shape of the cat that made me think it was a bobcat. The cat looked like the rest of the bobcats I have seen, but the coloring was different and it was large. If it happens again, I will not worry so much about the tail, but look more closely at the shape. Thank you so much for all your comments and for sharing your amazing knowledge of seemingly everything. Don't tell me you know how to cook too!! Have a great trip.--Inger

  2. Thank you ever so much for this blog. I love to visit and witness, through your lens and words, Washington state. Please keep it up!