Columbia Hills State Park - Crawford Oaks — Friday, Apr. 21, 2000
The Dalles Mountain Ranch State Park is a former 6,000-acre cattle ranch adjoining the 3,000-acre Columbia Hills Natural Area Preserve managed by the Washington Department of Natural Resources. This mountain on the north side of the Columbia River opposite The Dalles, Oregon, is a huge area free for the roaming. Drive State Highway 14 just a mile east of the junction with Highway 197 (to The Dalles) and go left on the Dalles Mountain Road. Follow the gravel road 3.5 miles to the ranch marked with an old farm wagon. Turn left just before the wagon and follow the gravel road past the farm house to a gate and parking area. From here you can follow the road to the top of the ridge, which is occupied by a number of communications sites and an FAA beacon for The Dalles Airport, or just take off and wander. We decided to make a loop hike by following the road to the ridgetop and out to its end. Despite the bright sun, we had the entire 9,000 acres nearly to ourselves due to a cold wind from the north. Bundled up in parkas, hats, and gloves, we persisted against the wind. From the top of the ridge, we could see Mount Hood to the south, Mount Adams and the Simcoes to the north, Mount St. Helens to the northwest, and look westward down the Columbia River Gorge towards Hood River and beyond. Beyond the last buildings and communications towers we followed a jeep track westward until we saw a faint track doubling back to the east. We dropped down the hillside and followed the track until it disappeared. From there we set a course cross-country, pausing for a lunch break when we dropped down out of the wind to cross the first of three canyons between us and the road back to the parking area. In the canyons we surprised several bands of mule deer, observing about 25 total. The Dalles Mountain Ranch reportedly also is home to Rocky Mountain elk and pronghorn antelope. The profusion of balsamroot turned entire hillsides yellow. Since cattle have been removed from these grasslands, the wildflowers have made a dazzling recovery. We also saw lupine, phlox, paintbrush, desert parsley, and many other species of flowers. Despite the wind, it was an excellent day and a grand hike over the mountainside.