Hikes: Coyote Wall
Every year on the day of our anniversary, we like to go for a hike in the Gorge or around a scenic area. Over the years we have covered some of the best day hikes in Portland, Eastern Oregon, the Columbia Gorge and the North Oregon Coast. This year we wanted to go to see the wildflowers and birds along the volcanic uplift, known as Coyote Wall in Eastern Washington. Overlooking the Columbia River the entire time, it is a special area with great views of Mount Hood, the rolling hills of Oregon, and the volcanic layers of the Cascade Range.
There is apparently a quartet of hikes in the Gorge on the Washington side, that we have been told to have on our Anniversary Hike list: 1) Hamilton Mountain, 2) Table Mountain, 3) Dog Mountain, 4) Catherine Creek to Coyote Wall. Having done all of these but Table Mountain,Tracy and I were feeling pretty smug until we tried to recall the section named Coyote Wall. We had been there with our friends, Jean Killhour and Dave Akers, and had remembered well the Catherine Creek side of the hike, but barely remembered the Coyote Wall section, except on our exit to the parking lot. We decided to go again from the Coyote Wall Trailhead and to enjoy it from that side.
We did not see a live coyote on the wall, today, but we saw a good variety of other wildlife, mostly birds, and had a canine coincidence later in the day.
View of Coyote Wall from the Trailhead
Since it was a Monday mid-morning in May, the Trailhead on Courtney Creek was nearly empty. Only a few intrepid runners were on the trail when we got there and we spotted only three other hikers on the trail all afternoon. The weather in Portland had called for showers, but we were blessed with crystal clear skies and only some cloud cover over the Cascades to the West. We hiked on mountain bike trails and jeep ruts most of the way, winding along a path on the eastern slope of the Wall with outstanding views toward the Columbia River and Eastern Oregon and Washington.
Our hike was a loop that circumnavigated the edge of an oak-tree lined slope, and some Meadowlark calling flats, as it switch-backed toward the Wall. Then the trail wandered through an area known as The Labyrinth. We spotted a cairn trail marker in the distance, and coming upon it, we saw the expansive vista of the Columbia Gorge heading west. Tracy asked questions about the volcanoes and the Lewis & Clark Expeditions, and the birds, which I gladly answered and made mental notes for this hike entry. She did not mind my fact filled head, as I served as the “Shell Answer Man,” for part of the day.
View all day of Columbia River
The area is totally volcanic and stark. The predominant color of the basalt layers is black, accented by bright lime green lichen. Looking up from the lava layers, the colors are more varied: dark green (trees) and azure blue (sky). With a sprinkling blue of bachelor buttons, white of the yarrow and clouds, red tinge of the Indian Paintbrush, and the yellow of the saxifrage, you get the picture.
The black basalt is many, many layers of a cake, as we looked across the Gorge to the Oregon side. When we got to the cairn, we saw that those layers extended to our side of the River as well, forming a magnificent wall. The angle is apparently called a syncline, because of the way it folds with younger layers in the lower elevated sections as it tilts toward the River. At the edge of the Wall, the enormity of the basalt chunks that have fallen toward the River is as staggering as the drop-off. Not the spot for someone with acrophobia.
Selfie Lip Lock
Coyote Wall toward Crybaby Wall
The area was apparently carved out millennia ago by the Missoula Floods. During the Ice Age, the massive sheets of Ice in northern Montana, near Missoula, were melting and forming lakes whenever the Volcanoes exploded and spread their basalt blasts over the area. As these lakes of water surged, they carved out the easiest route to low ground. The hundreds and hundreds of lakes and water channel carving dug out the Columbia Gorge, and what a magnificent gift from nature that effort was!
We especially enjoyed the birds: osprey and hawks and swallows, as they caught the uplift of the heated air as it hit Coyote Wall and sailed up 1,000 feet in a matter of seconds. The huge elevator shaft created by the wind and the wall were fun to watch.
Bachelor Buttons and one good lookin’ married guy
In one odd coincidence, Tracy and I drove to Maryhill Museum further east in the Gorge, to see if the exhibit were the kind of destination we should take Barbara Ipsaro on her trip to see us this October. In the permanent collection at the Museum, they have an exquisite display of baskets, pots, bead-work, and finery from the Native American Indians from the country. One particular photograph featured a black and white portrait of an Indian family, with the father of the family seated on a chair, surrounded by his children and wife. Looking closely, I noticed that the wife was holding a coyote in her arms. One can clearly make out the head of the coyote as it stares at the camera. Tracy did not notice the animal until I pointed it out. On our next visit to Maryhill, the image of the family and the coyote had vanished. Had we seen it at the museum or not?
Chemehuevi Man with a coyote c. 1900
The coyote is known as a “trickster” in most Indian traditions, but I have not seen one taken in by a family as a pet. This one may have been mythically released in the Gorge not far from the volcanic syncline we hiked today.
Birds Flying Near the Coyote Wall
- Western Meadowlark
- Ruby-Throated Hummingbird
- Stellar’s Jay
- Canada Goose
- Red-Winged Blackbird
- Black-Capped Chickadee
- Wilson’s Warbler
- Scrub Jay
- Red-Tailed Hawk
- Violet-Green Swallow
- Bank Swallow
- Common Raven
- California Gull
- English Sparrow