A trip up the Columbia River Gorge can be a study in climate extremes, as witnessed
today, as I took off in the late morning on an impromptu field trip to look for dodecatheons
in the wild, and generally to see how the spring season was progressing.
As I left, it was cool and drizzly in Battleground, Washington but it started raining
harder as I neared the Cascade Mountains. It continued harder and harder, pelting
the windows, at one point turning to ice pellets. It continued this way, on and
off, for about 40 miles, until I reached the east side of the mountains, near The
Dalles, Oregon, where, as I suspected might be the case, the sky was clearing and
the sun was shining, the clouds having dumped most of their rain over the mountains.
But the famous Columbia River Gorge winds were blowing strong, the air temperature
was barely 50 degrees, and it was very cold. I spent most of my time roadside botanizing
from my car.
It is a late season. We have had very little sun to warm the soil, and not much
is in bloom yet. But Sisyrinchium douglasii has been in bloom for over a month already,
and there are still remnants of flowers to be found. Erythronium grandiflorum was
a surprise to me, in full bloom today. Here, on the east end of the Gorge, these
cheery yellow flowers are almost always found popping up through the dried oak leaves
beneath Quercus garryana (Oregon White Oak), (unfortunately almost always mixed with
poison oak). Fritilliaria affinis (syn. F. lanceolata) is a common associate in
this environment, and although these are just starting to bud, I can see that in
a few more weeks they will be abundant. Hydrophyllum capitatum var. tompsonii, another
narrowly regional endemic, also inhabits this environment and is just starting to
The Columbia River Gorge
March 26, 1999
Lomatium columbianum is another early bloomer, mostly past bloom now, but with some
flowers still hanging on. This plant, with it’s great dense clumps of finely divided,
very glaucus foliage, and big purple flower heads is endemic to the Columbia River
Gorge, one of it’s botanical treasures. The foliage will decorate the open hillsides
for another few months before the heat of the season drives it underground. Yellow
Lomatium grayi, with bright green finely divided foliage is also abundant and in
full sunny bloom. It is a smaller plant than L. columbianum and contrasts nicely
My search for dodecatheons led me to the dryland, almost treeless areas east of
The Dalles, where I know Dodecatheon conjugens to grow in unusual color forms. There
was no sign of them yet, however - too early, too cold, so I crossed over the bridge
at Biggs, and headed back to Battle Ground on the Washington side of the river.
I was hoping to get to the Lyle area where I had seen Dodecatheons starting to open
two weeks ago, where I knew Fritillaria pudica would be starting to bloom, before
it got too dark.
This is the point in my excursion where the warning lights lit up on the dashboard
of my Isuzu Trooper, the windshield wipers slowed, the seat belt sign started beeping
slowly, and after a few miles, the car sputtered to a halt, and I discovered that,
although I did remember to bring my cell phone and a warm coat, food and emergency
supplies, I forgot to bring my wallet with ID, credit cards, phone numbers, roadside
assistance card, and money, (except for scrounged up change in the back seat of the
car and a few dollars that were stuffed in my pocket.)
So, with the help of a cell phone, a semi-local towing company, and my good friend
Kim who rescued me late at night, I did not have to sleep in my car. I am home,
and my car now sits in Stevenson, Washington, waiting to have it’s fan belt replaced.