Field Trip to Catherine Creek

February 28, 2009: The first field trip of 2009 and the first field trip to Catherine Creek, located near Lyle, WA. To get there we traveled through the scenic Columbia River Gorge eastbound from Troutdale, OR, using I-84.

The Gorge is common to us so the magnificent scenery tends to blend into the background as we tend to the task of traveling. But this day we were taking notice so our senses may have been raised by our first outing of spring. The wind was blasting whitecaps on the river and pushing our vehicle around on the highway, giving a bad omen for the day.

We passed Multnomah Falls (second highest in the USA but a piker in the world); Beacon Rock (second largest monolith in the Northern Hemisphere, behind Gibraltar); Bonneville Dam; and, crossed the Columbia river into Washington using the Bridge of the Gods at Cascade Locks. Fresh snow just a little higher in elevation was visible along the way yielding postal card type vistas.

On the Washington side we followed Highway 14 eastbound. Both sides of the river are hemmed in by highways. I-84 on the Oregon side and State Highway 14 on the Washington shore. Railroad tracks join the transportation routes and occasional tugboats pushing barges can be seen on the river.

We passed a slow moving train, pulled upriver by five diesel powered locomotives, so we saw an opportunity to photograph the train emerging from a tunnel. Finding a safe place to park roadside we waited patiently for the train to make its grand exit. Automobiles and trucks roared past, noise amplified by the tunnel. Some drivers were kind enough to honk and wave as they zoomed past.

BNSF locomotive
BNSF Locomotive (Burlington Northern and Sante Fe); Tunnel #3

Eventually the train arrived but passed all too quickly. If we hurried we might catch it exiting other tunnels but we were satisfied with the pictures we had.

The parking lot at Catherine Creek was nearly full. It is popular as a hiking trail head as well as for its wildflower displays.The skies on the eastside of the Gorge were overcast, no wind, slightly chilly but wonderful for photography. This day we would see Grass Widows (Olsynium douglasii); three species of Lomatium (L. grayii, L. piperii, L. columbianum); Prairie Star (Lithophragma parviflorum); Western Saxifrage (Saxifraga occidentalis); and the green stuff that will support the beautiful bitterroot flower (Lewisia rediviva). A few warm days hence will cause blooms to carpet the area. It will be awesome.

We continued the trek eastbound and checked our favorite patch of Cactus (Opuntia sp. fragilis ?), not yet in bloom, then ended our easterly travel near the Maryhill Museum and the Stonehenge monument. Rather than cross the Columbia into Oregon we decided to reverse our travels on Highway 14.

It was a memorable day.


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