Hikers anxious to finally hit the trails this spring could be treated to a colorful late wildflower season throughout the Yakima Valley.
Unusually cold weather, rain, and even some snow kept the area’s trails somewhat unwelcoming and occasionally closed throughout April, a time when many wildflowers typically flourish. But Cowiche Canyon Conservancy spokesperson Cy Philbrick said all their trails are open, and David Hagen, a wildflower expert and former CCC board member, said despite a slow start he’s seen some promise for the next few weeks.
“I was expecting this to be a really good year because of all the moisture we’ve had, but then the cold has changed things,” Hagen said. “I’ve never quite seen it like this before.”
He said an initial wave of blooms enjoyed reasonably warm temperatures before cold and snow hit the second wave hard, particularly the common yellow balsamroot and the smaller, rarer purple triteleia flowers. Other smaller plants, including many of the species classified as yellow composites, also couldn’t fully bloom due to the weather.
That’s slowly changing, and Philbrick said they’re already seeing the flowers start to come alive at Snow Mountain Ranch and along the Cowiche Canyon Trail. Flowers at the Uplands should follow as we enter the prime time for lithosol zones, defined by their shallow soils consisting of weathered rock fragments.
“It’s a strange year because things are coming out at different paces,” Philbrick said. “You’re seeing combinations of things you might not normally see.”
Hagen’s heard reports of barrel cactus buds starting to bloom in the Whiskey Dick area, and a walk along the Tieton Nature Trail two weeks ago offered some encouraging signs. Other places where Hagen knows from experience wildflowers can put on dazzling displays include Waterworks Canyon next to Mt. Cleman and the Yakima Skyline Trail in the Yakima River Canyon.
The Cowiche Canyon Conservancy plans to offer educational opportunities for those looking to learn more, starting with a shrub steppe habitat walk with Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife habitat biologist Scott Downes this Friday from 8:30 to 11 a.m. at Snow Mountain Ranch. Philbrick said the nonprofit’s planning to host another mid-week hike in the near future.
Regular hikers know the Yakima Valley’s short wildflower season can vary considerably from year to year, as highlighted by what Hagen called an “incredible” 2021 following a “terrible” 2020. It won’t be long before this year’s flowers reveal a new color scheme along the trails before quickly fading away into the summer.