Cowiche Canyon Trails, Yakima

Part 2 of our Yakima Summer brought us to the Cowiche Canyon trail system, maintained by Cowiche Canyon Conservancy and the BLM. In dry, windy heat we came to see the immense and unique beauty of this shrub-steppe landscape. Arid, sparse, rocky, rugged and at times disorienting – with over 30 miles of hiking trails through landscapes as varied as meadows, oak woods, and bone-dry basalt cliffs – this is 5,000 acres of truly wild beauty.

Due to the heat (and how I respond to it), we barely touched the tip of the Canyon, but what we saw was stunning. We walked along Cowiche Creek a short way. Lined with sparse, twisted willows (Salix sp.) and red osier dogwood (Cornus sericea), the sound of the creek harmonized with bird song, insect buzzing, and dry leaves moving in the wind. We crossed a small wooden bridge and the trail turned, leaving the creek behind. Before us rose sharp rocky cliffs accompanied by some of the thirstiest plant life I’ve seen since hiking Canyon de Chelly (Arizona) years ago. But life thrives here in the Canyon: black bear, cougar, coyotes, rattlesnakes and a wide variety of birds. And the variety of plant life is astounding. At this time, the University of Washington is attempting to introduce a very rare plant (found only in one place on Earth) to the Canyon – the Umtanum Desert Buckwheat, Eriogonum codium. A small population of this plant was found in 1995 in the Hanford Reach National Monument region. Because this area is so prone to wildfire, and habitat destruction by human activity, the desert buckwheat (also known as the basalt desert buckwheat) is experiencing population decline at an alarming rate. Therefore, the University of Washington’s goal is to develop of population of this plant in the Cowiche Canyon where the plant can be protected.

As I mentioned, we barely touched the surface of this wild, beautiful region of Washington state. This autumn we plan to return and hike most, if not all of, the trails. But in the meantime, these few pictures will give you an idea of what this landscape has to offer.

At the trailhead.

Surprisingly green at the trailhead.

Cowiche Creek

Leaving the creek area and entering the Canyon.

I believe these trees are black cottonwood (Populus trichocarpa) but I didn’t get close enough to confirm.

I was getting lightheaded from the heat so this picture is blurry, but I think this plant is desert parsley (Lomatium dissectum).

Ahead of us, the green faded into beiges, grays, and browns. And at this point, we turned back. For more information about the Cowiche Canyon area, the site below offers good information:

I hope you will have the time to visit this most unique and wild area. And in the meantime, I wish you clear skies, cool water, and time enough to enjoy it all.

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