Snow Mountain Ranch

Wildflower Trail ~ Bench Loop Trail

 

FEBRUARY 12, 2011   I needed a change of pace and found it on this work party/hike at Snow Mountain Ranch.   The sun was shinning, and my drive east of the mountains was pleasant.   I got a good look at Mount Stuart and the surrounding Stuart Mountains as I drove east of Cle Elum and saw magpies, crows, redwing black birds and flocks of Canada geese.  It was cold--only 28 degrees--when I stopped at the rest area near Selah, but by the time I reached Snow Mountain Ranch, it was warm enough to hike in just 1 layer of clothing. 

A large group of volunteers participated in this work party to help weed out an invasive plant--Scotch thistle.   I hadn't hiked at Snow Mountain Ranch since it burned last summer, and I wasn't sure what to expect from a burn in brush steppe country.   At first glance, at least to my untrained eye, I didn't see where the fire had been.  Once we started hiking up Cowiche Mountain, though, the damage became evident:  here was scorched soil and the charred skeletal remains of sagebrush.  We split into 2 groups with plans to start on opposite ends and work our way to meet somewhere in the middle.  We started on the Wildflower Trail and soon found clusters of young Scotch thistle plants growing among a liberal sprinkling of sagebrush buttercups--already in bloom.  We weeded this area and moved higher up the mountain, where another patch of thistle grew thick.  A warm wind blew in, but it soon became brisk and whipped up a dust storm that darkened the sky and blew grit into our eyes.  At noon we stopped working for the day and started our hike out.  I opted to complete the Bench Loop hike on the return trip and saw a single, bold little grass widow in full bloom.  It was an unexpected but not unwelcome sight--will it be an early spring?   

Parts of the Bench Loop trail were very muddy, and my boots were thoroughly caked with mud by the time I got back to my car.  The wind had not calmed, so I abandoned  my original plans for a quick hike in Cowiche Canyon while I was still in the area.  It was a windy drive to the mountains, where it became a rainy drive back home.  But I spent the day in the sun, saw early  wildflowers, and caught a glimpse of the incomparable Mt. Stuart--it was a good day.