Category Archives: Seasons

Holiday Cheer is Here!

‘Tis the season, and rangers and volunteers in the Gorge are feeling holiday spirit!

Last week, rangers changed the light bulbs on “Thor’s Crown” from all white to red and green.  And over the past week, rangers and Vista House volunteers have been working on decorating Vista House’s first ever tree!  As always, it’s been a team effort to make the holidays happen.

Special Thanks

  • To the Olcott Christmas Tree farm in Corbett, Oregon for donating the perfect tree.
  • To the Friends of Vista House Volunteer Development Committee for donating ornaments and helping to decorate.
  • To the Friends of Vista House Volunteer Coordinator for donating a train for under the tree.
  • To the Park Rangers and Vista House Volunteers for keeping the lights on and the tree watered.
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We found the perfect tree! Mr. Olcott graciously cut it down for us.

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. . . and then generously loaded it into our park truck!

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Many thanks to Olcott’s Christmas Trees in Corbett, Oregon for donating our first tree!

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Rangers were dedicated to getting the tree just right!

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Thanks to Vista House volunteers for their time and donations!

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Join us at Vista House this weekend or next to catch the holiday spirit!  We’re open Friday, Saturday, and Sunday, 10 am to 4 pm, weather depending.

Don’t have your own tree yet?  Check out this guide to local tree farms from the Pamplin Media Group:

http://pamplinmedia.com/sp/68-news/283724-160016-over-the-river-and-though-the-woods

 

 

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In Her Own Words: Cycling the Historic Columbia River Highway

In October of this year, visitor Linda Hill rode her bicycle from Portland, Oregon to The Dalles.  One of our Park Managers had the pleasure of meeting Linda at Senator Mark O. Hatfield West Trailhead outside of Hood River and asked that she share her story.  Kindly, she did.

 

1 Leaving Portland

Linda Hill leaving Portland for her 100-mile ride along the Historic Columbia River Highway

I spent 4 wonderful days in early October 2015 cycling a hundred miles from Portland to The Dalles along the Historic Columbia River Highway.  This was my dream ride to celebrate my 61st birthday and I savoured every moment.

3 Heading down to the Waterfalls

Heading down from Vista House to the waterfalls.

4 Horse Tail Falls

Horsetail Falls along the Historic Columbia River Highway.

The location of the small towns along the route let me slow down to a very enjoyable rhythm of 20 to 35 miles per day.  This pace gave me time to stop when I wanted to chat with people and enjoy the views, waterfalls, tunnels, plateaus, and a few of the many trails along this stunningly beautiful bikeway.

Even though there are plenty of campsites along this route, I decided to stay in a few of the many motels in Troutdale, Cascade Locks, and Hood River.  This decision meant that I didn’t have to carry much gear and I had a comfortable bed to sleep in each night. 

5 Bridge of the Gods

Bridge of the Gods in Cascade Locks.

By traveling weekdays instead of on the weekend, the traffic was very light on the portions of the historic highway that are shared with cars.  The ride from Troutdale to Cascade Locks is probably the most beautiful day of cycling I have ever had.

6 West Mark O Hatfield Trailhead

Senator Mark O. Hatfield West Trailhead, outside of Hood River.

The decision I felt best about, though, was to make use of the Columbia Area Transit (CAT) Dial-A-Ride Service to get around the yet-to-be re-connected 10 mile stretch from Wyeth to Hood River.  After watching the ODOT videos about the plans for the final 10 miles of trail, I had no interest in attempting to share any part of the I-84 Freeway with huge trucks hurtling along at 80 miles per hour.  I was especially worried about the narrow section around Shellrock Mountain that is described by Park Rangers as ‘frightening’ and ‘harrowing.’

8 Rowena Loops

Coming down the Rowena Loops on the Historic Columbia River Highway between Mosier and The Dalles.

What a relief to find out about CAT and their bicycle friendly busses. I simply called 541-386-4202 a couple of days ahead and booked an early morning ride from Cascade Locks to Hood River.  Then after being shuttled around the scary part, I hopped on my bicycle and spent a wonderful day riding up the easy 5 percent grade to the West Mark O Hatfield Trailhead and then on to the famous Mosier Tunnels, the town of Mosier where bike racks are works of art.  I climbed up and up some more to Rowena Crest and then rode the swooping loops down toward The Dalles.

At the end of my trip, I caught the scheduled CAT bus service from The Dalles back to overnight in Hood River and then the next morning I caught the bus back to Portland.

9 Columbia Area Transit

The Columbia Area Transit bus.

ABOUT THE HISTORIC COLUMBIA RIVER HIGHWAY

The Historic Columbia River Highway was designed by Samuel Lancaster and constructed between 1913 to 1922.  Its purpose was not merely to offer an east-west transportation route through the Columbia River Gorge, but to take full advantage of every natural aspect, scenic feature, waterfall, viewpoint and panorama.  When bridges or tunnels were designed, they stood by themselves as artistic compliments to the landscape.  The Columbia River Highway served millions of travelers and became one of the grandest highways in the nation.

When transportation needs required faster and larger roads, sections of the old highway were bypassed. By 1960, a new interstate highway had replaced nearly all the older road.  In the 1980s, new interest in the old scenic highway began to resurface.  Lost sections of highway were identified, unearthed and studied for potential renovation.  Ambitions restoration projects began.  Since the 1987, the Oregon Department of Transportation (ODOT) has been charged with working with Oregon Parks and Recreation Department (OPRD), the State Historic Preservation Office and Travel Oregon to preserve, enhance, and reconnect the Historic Columbia River Highway.

Much work has been accomplished since that date.  63 of the original 73 miles of the Historic Columbia River Highway are now open to travel either by motor vehicle (by Highway or connecting county roads) or by foot and bicycle (State Trail.)  Only 10 miles are needed to complete the connection.

To learn more about cycling the Historic Columbia River Highway State Trail, check out our website:

http://www.oregon.gov/ODOT/HWY/HCRH/pages/trail.aspx

 

Flame-Free Foods: Don’t Let the Fire Ban Rain on Your Picnic

Due to extensively dry and hot conditions, Oregon State Parks everywhere have banned fires.

The ban covers all open fires, including those in designated fire rings.  For parks in the West Gorge (between Troutdale and Cascade Locks), it also includes briquettes.  (Propane stoves are okay—check with your destination park to confirm.)

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Open fires, including campfires in fire pits and briquettes on the grill are banned in Oregon State Parks in the west end of the Gorge.

And visitors are not the only ones affected by the ban.  Even park rangers are scratching their heads now that they cannot burn charcoal briquettes for their annual Volunteer Appreciation BBQ.

At a loss for what to do without the grill?  Here are some ideas.

 

SANDWICHES

If you’re like me, this is one of the first places your brain went when you heard the words “fire ban.”  Cold cuts, lots of spreads, a variety of cheese, garden-fresh veggies . . . the options are limitless with a good old-fashioned sandwich.  Everyone can build his or her own to his/her own liking.  But.  Sandwiches can be somewhat, well, boring.

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Instead of bread, try creative wraps!

Here’s the twist.  Instead of loaf of bread, try:

  • Bagel sandwiches
  • Loaded pita pockets
  • Flavored wraps
  • Multiple gourmet breads cut and sized for multiple mini-sandwiches

 

FINGER FOODS

And if your brain tracked like mine, soon after sandwiches you thought of trays.  Trays full of delicious finger foods.  Again, it’s bound to be a crowd pleaser as you’re sure to have something for everyone.

kabobs

If it can go on a skewer, it can be a kabob!

A few twists on the ol’ veggie tray:

  • Fruit kabobs
  • Veggie kabobs
  • Cheese and sausage kabobs
  • Bread or cracker platter with a various sweet, spicy, and tangy dips
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You can never go wrong with the artful tray.

 

ELECTRIC APPLIANCES

Thinking outside of the box and depending on where you’ve planned to hold your picnic, you might have access to regular old electricity.  Our picnic shelters and our improved campsites have power.  What can you do with power?  Plug in your kitchen appliances!

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What’s in your pot? Crock pots and blenders and other appliances can easily be plugged in.  Check with your park to see about electricity availability.

A few appliances and picnic suggestions:

  • Electric Skillet + Power = Grilled Cheese Bar
  • Electric Skillet + Power = Sandwich Melt Madness
  • Crock Pot + Power = Chili Bar
  • Crock Pot + Pre-Baked Potatoes + Power = Baked Potato Bar
  • Fondue Maker + Power = Fondue Party
  • Toaster + Power = Toast Bar
  • Blender + Power = Smoothie Station

 

OTHER BAR-IFFIC  IDEAS

The build-your-own or bar-method of food is always a solid one.

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I’m dreaming of chips, pickles, and cheese on my BLT on sourdough toast.

In addition to the above, here are a few every-day and “outside-the-bar” ideas:

  • Salad Bar:  Spice this staple up with nuts, chopped meats, crunchy toppings, fruits, and different kinds of greens.
  • Cool Pasta Bar:  Use a range of flavors and shapes of pre-cooked noodles; sliced and diced veggies, meats, and cheeses; variety of dressings.
  • BLT Bar:  Assorted breads, veggies, spreads, flavors of pre-cooked bacon.  Include a “toasting station.”
  • Nacho Bar:  Use the crock pot for cheeses and meats; switch up your chips for more choices; think of the Baja Fresh array when planning your salsas.
  • Trail Mix Bar:  Go nuts with unusual dried fruit; candies like gummies, Mike & Ikes, and coated chocolates; crunchy grains like pretzels, chips, and cereals; and, of course, nuts.
  • Cupcake Bar:  Various frostings and creative toppings.
  • Ice Cream Sundae Bar:  You know the drill.  Call your local grocery store to see about dry ice for the cooler.
  • Ice Cream Float Bar:  Mix it up with unusual sodas and frozen creams.
  • Ice Cream Sandwich Bar:  Exactly what you think it is.  Fun!
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Desserts can be more fun when you build your own!

TAKE OUT(SIDE)

All of this sound too complicated?  For a few extra bucks and a lot less hassle, you can always order your hot food from a local restaurant or store and then supplement with your own sides and desserts.  Simply order ahead, and then take your take-out outside.

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Fried chicken from a restaurant is quick, easy, and can substitute for grilled chicken.

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When in doubt, pizza is usually a pleaser. Especially now that it comes in everything from gluten- and cheese-free to meat-lovers.

Have an idea you’d like to share?   Please post below!

Ice Ice Baby

For those of you who have wisely chosen to stay away this past week while the Gorge pounded out its first windy ice storm of the season, I thought we’d share a whip of the tempest.

Ice in the Parking Log

The sun’s reflection on the ice that coats Rooster Rock’s parking lot.

 

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The effect of that ice.  An accident on I-84 that sent rangers scurrying home.

 

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Weather changes quickly in the Gorge. On November 7, our big leaf maples looked like this.

 

Snow and Maple Leaf

By the following week, the trees sat naked, leaves lodged in snow.

 

Ice on Cliff

Icicles form at water seeps along the Columbia River Highway.

 

Shepperd's Dell and Bridge

Trails and bridges are coated with ice . . . and will be slow to thaw in the shadows of the Gorge walls.  This is a look at Shepperd’s Dell.

 

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Shepperd’s Dell hourglass waterfall.

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The trail at Latourell is closed due to ice, but you can still admire the contrast of the icy falls and the glowing lichen from the lower viewpoint.

 

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When I arrived at Multnomah Falls (not a State Park, but a flagship of the Gorge), two visitors were beyond the fence at the lower pool side (not permitted).  While there are many reasons waterfall pools are closed, it is especially dangerous in the winter — water seeps into cracks between columns of basalt rock and then expands when it freezes . . . peeling off slabs of rock and sending them flying onto whatever lies below.

 

Haunted (Vista) House

October at the Vista House is always an interesting month . . .

From the shift in weather and beginning of the winter winds, to the outside weather (rain) making its way inside, to the shorter hours that the building is open, everything changes.  And this last change, being closed more often to the public, means that the local “residents” of Vista House have more time to be in their building alone.   Besides the mice, one of these local residents is (I believe) the ghost of the building’s architect, Edgar M. Lazarus.

Vista House_Haunted

Who resides at Vista House when all of the visitors go home?



Many staff who have worked in Vista House late night in the fall have reported feeling the presence of Lazarus.  I have felt it before, too.  However, I have never been scared of it.  It is a nice, almost nurturing, presence to me.  I feel that he is just there watching over his building.  Happy that we are there, too, keeping watch and taking care—which is why I think I don’t find it scary.  If I was causing damage at Vista House, it might be a different story.

One of the ways Edgar Lazarus makes himself known (other than just the “feeling” that he is there) is by playing with the elevator or “lift.”  The lift is situated in the basement level of Vista House—volunteers in the rotunda level push toggles and buttons to raise and lower the lift.  The control box at the main level desk is the only way to operate the lift.  That said, I have had times when the lift is completely powered off, I am in the building by myself in the hallway in the basement when the lift door will start to open and close.  Or times when I’m upstairs and can hear the lift door opening and closing even though I can see with my own eyes that no one’s hands are on the control.  At times, it is just the outside door opening and closing; at other times, both the inside and outside door start opening and closing.

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Vista House architect, Edgar M. Lazarus.

I have always attributed this lift movement to Lazarus.  When the renovations were made on Vista House in 2004, we kept everything original (or at least as originally designed) EXCEPT the addition of the ADA elevator or “lift.”  This was the only “modern” addition to the building.  I do not think that Lazarus is upset by the lift, more than he is interested in it.  I think Lazarus, being an architect with a quizzical mind, is intrigued by the lift—curious about how it works—and that he is simply playing with it.

I had always attributed the change in the temperature/weather as the sign that strange-ness was coming to Vista House.  However, upon further research, I recently found out that Edgar M. Lazarus died on October 2, 1939 after a bitter dispute over his fees for the design and construction of Vista House.

Is it just a coincidence that Vista House’s ghost-play starts in October?

Or does the spirit of Edgar M. Lazarus begin making his rounds each year on the day he died, taking up residence in Vista House—the building he is best known for and one he felt he was never fully paid for?

 

(Special thanks to Ranger Mo Czinger for this ghostly account.)

Mystery Photo Answer

Did you figure out last week’s mystery image?  Do you still have a few questions?

Before I reveal the answer, let me show you two more photos and give you a few more hints.

 

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Material Hint: Look closely at the mid-right section of this photo. See the (dangerous) piece of flair woven into the object? It should help you reel in the answer.

 

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Object Hint: Take a peak inside this object — it has a soft lining of moss and lichen.

A few other things to mention:

  • This was found after ranger fell a hazard tree near Benson Lake — Benson is located near Multnomah Falls, between the Historic Columbia River Highway and I-84.  There is a lake, a pond, a creek, and the Columbia River nearby.
  • It was hanging suspended from a cottonwood tree branch about 20 feet up.
  • The dimensions of the object are 3 1/2″ wide by  5 1/2″ long.

Ready for the answer?!

Okay, here it is:  . . . We do not know.

That’s right.  We do not know.  Well, not everything at least.  We know that it is a bird’s nest.  And we know that it is constructed of fishing line and lined with moss, lichen, and a strand of carpet.  What we are not 100% certain of is its maker.  Our first three initial guesses out of the birds who weave nests were wren, bushtit, or oriole.  Bushtit nests look more like long hanging socks.  And while some wrens weave nests, the wrens in the Gorge are not great weavers, and this nest is a piece of art.

Our best guess for the maker of this nest is the Bullock’s Oriole.  These are common at Benson; they often nest in cottonwood trees near streams and waterways; they are marvelous weavers of hanging basket nests; and they’ll use hair, twine, or grass for a nest (or perhaps fishing line!)  Our only hesitation is that the nest seems a bit small for this medium-sized bird.  A quick search reports that the average Bullock’s Oriole nest is 4 inches wide and 6 inches deep — our is 1/2″ shy of each of those.  So it may be a smaller Bullock’s nest.  Or it may not.

And this is how naturalist studies often go.  A definitive answer is not always possible.  More research is often required.  And not the kind that is found on the Web or in a book.  No, the best research here will be done at Benson State Recreation Area during the Bullock’s mating season.

So, I’ll see you at Benson between this coming May and mid-July!

 

 

The Beach Is Back

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A sandy Gorge beach awaits you at Rooster Rock.

The beach is BACK . . .

. . . And it’s free of rubble

(Hey-la-hey-la the beach is back)

We see it wavin’ better come out on the double

(Hey-la-hey-la the beach is back)

The wind has died down and the sky is mostly blue

(Hey-la-hey-la the beach is back)

So come out now ’cause it’s quite a view

(Hey-la-hey-la the beach is back)

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Kiteboarders enjoy bounding from shore to shore in early season winds this year.

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Meanwhile, windsurfers take their chance to perform a river dance.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

It’s true; the beach is back at Rooster Rock State Park.

As many of you know, Rooster Rock used to be the place to go for sandy river-level picnics, sandcastles, and swims—but things have changed over the years beginning with the floods of 1996 that swept massive amounts of beach downriver.  Today, a wide, rambling shoreline is a rarity.  And the perfect wind and weather window is now.  So, if you get a chance, take a drive out to exit 25, and enjoy the sand between your toes while it’s here and while it’s warm.

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Turkey Vultures are the custodians of the beach – -here, they clean up a carp carcass.

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A Great Blue Heron finds a lunchtime snack along the pole dikes.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Wondering what the beach used to look like?  Take a peek!

 

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Rooster Rock’s parking, c.1960.  Check out those cars!

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Rooster Rock’s beach, c.1960.  Note the clothing and hairstyles.

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Rooster Rock’s beach-goers, c.1960.  Imagine your family here!

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Hope to see you here soon!

 

For the Love of Lupine: A Naturalist Study

The other day, I was driving through one of our Oregon State Parks, and a sea of purple flowers caught my eye.  Lupines.  A towering field of the beauties in full bloom.  I made a mental note to stop back with a camera.

Lupines_Field of in Early Evening

Hanging out in a field of lupines is the perfect, peaceful end to a day.

Early that evening, I drove by a second time.  I couldn’t help myself.  I leapt out of the truck and headed straight for the field.  An hour later, I emerged.  Late for dinner and grinning from ear to ear.  In 60 minutes, I traveled no more than 10 feet and took 100 photos.  I had a million questions.  I have been scouring my wildflower guides and the internet since, and rather than less, I now have even more.  Although I know far more about the lupine than when I set off to study them, I find now that I feel like I know less than ever.  So goes the journey of discovery.

Below is the condensed version of what I found:

Lupine, the Plant

Flowers_In Bloom Side View

Lupine in bloom – a side view. These plants were about a head shorter than I – so up to 4 feet tall.

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The view from above of a lupine in full bloom.

Flowers_Early Side View

Another side view of lupine – this one is early in its blooming stage. You can see the upper flowers have not yet opened.

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View from above of an early bloom.

 

Flower Arrangements

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When I looked more closely at the flowers, I found that some of the flowers spiraled up the stem – like a string of DNA!

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However, on other plants, the flowers were arranged in a circle like a wagon wheel with tiers stacked upon one another. Are these two the same species?

 

A Closer Look at Flowers

Flower_Up Close

Here is a close-up of the lupine flower – the top part is called the “banner petal.” Note how curved it is! The lower petals are two and called “wings.” Tucked inside the wings are two more petals forming the “keel.”

Flower_Up Close Inside

Here is an inside peek into the lupine flower – I learned by watching the bees, that a light pressure on the top of the wings causes the keel of the flower to pop out. The two petals that make up the keel protect the inner workings of the flower. Inside are the male and female parts of the flower – including the pollen that the bees are after.

 

Leaves

Leaf

The leaf of a flower is an important part of identification! Unfortunately, it is this leaf that is throwing off my ID. This flower is the size of a “broadleaf lupine” (few other lupines are as tall!) – but the leaves do not seem particularly broad or as round as described. A mystery.

 

Seeds

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The lupine seed!

Lupine_Seed in Dried Flower

Here you can see the banner petal, wings, and keel surrounding the seed. It gives an idea of how it all unravels!

Lupine_About to Seed

Going backwards, here is a flower just before seeding.

Lupine_Flowers in Various Stages of Seeding

One plant will have flowers in various stages of seeding.

 

Bumble Bees

Bumble Bee

While I stood among the lupines, a soft buzz filled the air. Bumble bees were everywhere!

Bumble Bee_Giant Pollen Baskets

Check out the GIANT pollen baskets on this bee!  The bees store pollen on the tibia of their hind legs (the lower portion of the last set of three sets they have.)

Bumble Bee_Working on Flower

After pushing open the wing petals, the bee dives in with its hind legs to gather pollen.

Bumble Bee_Leaving Flower

Then the bee pushes off and heads to the next flower. From my observations, the bees tend to start low on the plant and then spiral their way up making frequent stops. Check out the keel petals still poking out from the wing petals!

Beyond the Fall: A Latourell Loop Hike

Most of us, when we go to Latourell Falls, pull off the Historic Columbia River Highway into the parking lot, walk the 25 yards or so to the viewing point, snap a few photos, and then jump back in our vehicles to zoom off to the next waterfall.  I’ll admit, I’ve done this very thing numerous times. 

A few of us walk down to the base of the falls and then wind around under the Highway to find ourselves in some weird park we’ve never seen before and then scurry back to where our vehicles are parked.  I’ve done this, too.

Even fewer of us do what I (after rangering for nearly 7 years in the waterfall wonderland of Silver Falls) now highly recommend.  Which is this:  Park at Guy W. Talbot State Park on the north side of the Historic Columbia River Highway just west of Latourell Falls (follow a state park shield with a picnic table) – technically, Latourell Falls is IN Guy W. Talbot, but few know this or park here.  Use the very nice restroom if needed.  Follow the braided, paved path uphill, keeping right.

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Penny postcard of Latourell Falls. What has changed since this was taken?  (Besides the spelling?)

What you’re about to do is hike the Latourell Falls loop backwards.

Backwards, you ask?  Yes.  Here’s why.  If you’re willing to hike 2+ miles, it is worth it to see the upper and lower falls at Latourell – most of us, as I mentioned, only see the lower falls and miss out the upper.  Waterfalls, as we all know, are quite a treat.  So, for this (and I’d argue, all) waterfall hikes, do the work first – hike uphill in the forest first, and then, as you wind downhill, you’ll be rewarded with first the upper falls, and, finally, the lower falls.  A couple more hundred yards, and you’ll be back at your vehicle.  And a nice restroom.

I just hiked the loop backwards (having already completed frontwards) and confirmed, at least for myself, that it is the best direction.  And don’t worry, your forested hike up has a few things in store for you, too.  Take a look . . .

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Fairybells. Easily confused with a handful of other similar lilies.

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Larkspur – what a handsome flower!

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Piggy-back Plant is in the saxifrage family; one of the odd purple-brownish flowers in the Pacific Northwest forest.

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The Salmonberry flower is always an eye-catcher and typically one of the early bloomers.

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Pacific Bleeding Heart – about ready to seed!

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Our striking white Trillium flowers turn a gorgeous purple as they age.

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Fringe Cup, also from the Saxifrage family.

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Corydalis – somewhat similar in looks to a Bleeding Heart when you first learn wildflowers, these two blossom around the same time and can be find in similar habitats.

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Banana Slugs are everywhere once you train your eyes to see them. This one was about 4 inches long, but they can be over 9!

Stop and ID the Flowers

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Twayblade – This subtle little guy is actually an orchid!

A couple of us rangers are attending the PCTA Trails Skills College in Cascade Locks this weekend and couldn’t help but to stop and ID the flowers.

Near Tooth Rock Trailhead:

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Not my first of the year, but the Calypso Orchid is always a treat to find!

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If you remember your mythology, Calypso was a beautiful nymph, hidden in the woods.

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Wild Ginger was the surprise wildflower of the day! This is one of my favorite flowers to hunt for in the spring. Gently lift the Wild Ginger leaves to find this purple-brown beauty.

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Wild Ginger was all over the place above Tooth Rock Trailhead – look for the heart-shaped leaves.

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Surprisingly, Vanilla Leaf was in bloom in a few spots. You can guess what this dried leaf might smell like.

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Twayblade is so small, it is easy to cruise right by. Found this one while marking a trail – and dropped everything for a quick photo!