But in hiking through Black Canyon up to the crest of Umtanum Ridge, we got a taste of the old Northwest, when hikers were relatively few and far between. (Yea, I'm old enough to remember the days when you could backpack a week on the Pacific Crest Trail in late summer and see only a few other hikers.)
En route to the trailhead, we missed our turnoff and drove several miles beyond it on our first try. But we got to see more of the bucolic and historic Wenas Valley as a result.
Despite being born in Seattle and raised in both Washington and Oregon, there are many places and trails left for me to explore in the region. So I was happy to see some new (to me) landscapes.
As we were lacing up trail runners and sorting out our packs, another vehicle rolled in and parked nearby. That father and daughter were the only other hikers on the trail, and we didn't cross paths.
|View back down valley from trailhead parking.|
While it looks fairly arid, the bunchgrass, sage, cottonwoods, and abundant wildflowers were rich with a late spring green. Add the chorus of crickets, quaking aspen leaves, wildflowers, and a myriad of colors and sizes of butterflies, and it felt almost enchanted.
About a mile up the trail, we passed a vibrant green oasis beside a stream, where a dilapidated old log cabin still stood in a grove of quaking aspen.
At the top end of the canyon, where it widens out amongst sparse ponderosa pine forests, a three-wheeler ATV (all-terrain vehicle) came down the trail and turned up a fork in the road we didn't take. We didn't see or hear them again.
As we walked upward along the dirt road, I marveled at the lush and healthy pine forest, with almost no sign of the dreaded pine beetle damage that's killing forests all over the western U.S. (Yes kids, climate change is happening and wreaking havoc in ecosystems around the world.)
Along the way we passed a few forks in the gravel road/trail, but stayed right each time. When we topped out on the ridge, we were treated to views of the Kittitas Valley below, the jagged granite Stuart Range beyond, and miles of forest and range land. Unfortunately clouds obscured views of Mt. Rainer and Adams.
|Stuart Range in the distance|
I was surprised to see the delicate flower pictured below growing on the windswept ridgetop in the dried, cracked soil. If any of you native plant geeks know what this is, I'd love to hear in a comment below.
I spied a coyote dashing through the forest below as we descended. Compared to the rangy coyotes I see around north Seattle, this one had a more brownish, bushy coat. I was very happy not to see any rattlesnakes, which aren't uncommon along this and many trails east of the Cascade crest.
Wind and spits of rain swept through the canyon as we trekked down, flattening the bunchgrass in waves and trembling aspen leaves like thousands of tiny cymbals. It was a visual symphony.
Happy trails and thanks for visiting Pacific Northwest Seasons!
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When You Go
With over 13 miles on dirt road from Ellensburg, overall it took us well over 2 hours drive from north Seattle to the trailhead. We took I-90 east and got off at Exit 109 onto Canyon Road, then turned left just about 1/4 mile onto Umtanum Road, which crossed back under I-90 and wound 22.5 miles to the trailhead through a gap in Untanum Ridge and on into the Wenas Valley. The turnoff to the trailhead is marked by a big sign with a map for the Wenas Wildlife Area.
A Discover Pass is required to park at the trailhead.