By Allen Thomas

The Vancouver Columbian

DALLESPORT, Washington — Could there be a billion showy yellow balsamroot blossoms scattered on the south slope of the Columbia Hills leading up to Stacker Butte in Klickitat County?

It’s a rhetorical question, but the answer is: Probably not.

But add the purple of prairie lupine, accented by crimson paintbrush and other wildflowers, and it combines into a dazzling scenic treat that doesn’t last long.

The eastern end of the Columbia River Gorge slowly will bake in a hundred hues of brown-to-beige-to-gold-to-gray by late June.

But right now, it’s a must-visit for anyone who enjoys the color of wildflowers on a macro scale.

Columbia Hills State Park includes the Horsethief Lake area and Dalles Mountain Ranch in a 3,338-acre park.

While the park campground is along 97-acre Horsethief Lake, it’s the slopes of the former Dalles Mountain Ranch and adjacent 3,600-acre Columbia Hills Natural Area Preserve to visit to see stunning flower displays.

Drive east on state Highway 14 to milepost 84.4, then turn north on Dalles Mountain Road. Follow the gravel road for 3.4 miles to an old wagon with “Dalles Mountain Ranch’’ on the side.

Leave the main road and take the left fork driving past a residence to a parking lot 1.48 miles up the hill.

At the parking lot, you leave state parks land and enter the state Department of Natural Resources’ Columbia Hills Natural Area Preserve.

The road is gated closed at the parking lot, but many visitors walk the 1.7 miles and 850-feet elevation gain to the microwave tower near the top of Stacker Butte.

The tower is at 2,900 feet elevation.

The road continues another 0.8 miles and 300 feet elevation to another group of communication towers.

The balsamroot and lupine bloom was nearing its peak recently at the parking lot. By now, the flowers should be more spectacular along the road leading to the tower. Once at the tower, views of the Centerville area to the north and east, or south to the Columbia River, are available.

Columbia Hills Natural Area Preserve is Washington’s largest such preserve at 3,600 acres. It was established in 1993 to protect the state’s largest populations of three rare plants — obscure buttercup, hot-rock penstemon and Douglas’ draba.

In the Columbia Hills, east meets west in a climate transition zone with unique growing conditions.

Notable: Carry a windbreaker when hiking the road to the top of Stacker Butte. A west wind is very common at this time of year. Even with temperatures in the 60s, it can be nippy to downright cold near the top.

• Check yourself for ticks once done with the hike. While it is unlikely to pick up a tick, especially walking the road, it’s not impossible either.

• A state Discover Pass ($10 day or $30 a year) is required to park at the trailhead parking lot. June 3 and June 10 are fee-free days, but wait that long and wildflowers will be past their peak.

• There’s a trailhead and parking lot just up the Dalles Mountain Road from the old ranch site. From here, it is possible to access the 6-mile Crawford Oaks trail system to the south. The trails are open to hikers, mountain bike riders and horsemen; dogs are allowed, but must be on a leash.

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