It’s the season for desert hiking and wildflower appreciation

It’s the season for desert hiking and wildflower appreciation

Tri-City Herald

You felt it and maybe suspected it, but now you can verify it. March was a cold one. As we’re reporting, the average temperature for March in the Tri-Cities was 45 degrees, or 2 degrees below normal.

April also is expected to run colder than normal, but don’t let that stop you from enjoying some of the best desert hiking of the year. Spring’s cool weather provides a pleasant time to get outside before summer heat comes.

We’re also starting spring wildflower season, and April brings out our desert flowers at their best.

A hike up the Badger Mountain trail Wednesday morning showed some of the earliest of the balsamroot blooms in the bottom of the ravine as you begin the climb up the trail.

At the top of the first ridge, which I like to call Windy Knob because the wind can blow stronger there than even on top of Badger, a couple of other wildflower varieties are showing off in the very spare and rocky ground where most other plants can’t survive. Wish I knew their names, but they’re among the most delicate blooms of spring and seem to grow only at this mid-elevation.

Few blooms are showing on top yet, but soon there will be plenty of the hardy desert phlox showing up all over the ridge, along with many others. A ways down the hill, in disturbed ground alongside the ridge road, in a few weeks you will be able to find Piper’s Daisy, a delicate variety that grows only in the Columbia Basin.

Watch also for wildlife when you climb Badger.

On Wednesday, the brown dog and I encountered chukar, pheasant and quail. Ravens, which nest on the radio towers at the top, were riding thermal wind currents along the ridge, and the sage was full of sparrows dodging quickly about as a hawk circled overhead. A large flicker, a woodpecker species, popped onto a nearby sage to eye the intruders.

On a recent climb, a horned lark, brilliant in his plumage and brash in his manner, flew onto the trail a few feet away to declare his territory. Other trips have produced glimpses of coyotes and bullsnakes.

I haven’t seen rattlesnakes on the ridge, but other hikers have reported them. Some of those may have been bullsnakes, which are harmless but often are mistaken for rattlesnakes, but a few rattlers do live on the ridge. Don’t harm any of the snakes; this is their home, not yours, and they would rather get away than cause trouble.

Thanks to efforts of hundreds of volunteers coordinated by Friends of Badger Mountain, more than 3 miles of improved trail now extend across the Badger Mountain park. The land was acquired in 2005 thanks to fundraising efforts led by the Friends group.

Trailheads start at Richland’s Trailhead Park, which you can reach by turning off Shockley and going all the way up the hill, or off Dallas Road. The Dallas Road route is not as steep, and a friend with a bad back prefers it, but many people of all ages hit both trails at their own pace. On Wednesday, a couple pushing a baby in a stroller made it to the top — a good workout for sure.

An estimated 1,000 or more people climb Badger each week, and on weekend days with good weather you’ll have lots of company. The view is worth it.

Friends of Badger Mountain and others are working to try to acquire more lands on the ridgetops surrounding the Tri-Cities to save these expansive views for all to enjoy. Information on fundraising efforts and volunteer work party events is available at Trailhead Park.

So quit making excuses about the weather and get out and enjoy what our Mid-Columbia spring has to offer. You won’t regret that you did, even if it produces a stiff muscle or two.

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