Iron Horse Trail

Spring has come early this year. I wanted to head east for some desert wildflowers. My first choice was a return to Umtanum Ridge after quite a few years. Unfortunately there was a running race this weekend. A shorter drive with a long hike is an old favorite, the trail along the Yakima River near Cle Elum. I first hiked this trail in 1990 and have been back many times. Nearly 15 miles round trip to the old railroad tunnel. There are a surprising variety of wildflowers along the way. I headed over Snoqualmie Pass and exited at Cle Elum. The road through South Cle Elum turns left and continues under I-90. At a sharp right turn the parking area is on the left. I arrived at 8:40 am. A quick 1:35 minute drive from North Seattle. As usual, I was the first car to arrive.

It was a little cool but not cold. The blue sky stayed all day. No wildflowers in bloom near the start. Still a few weeks away. Lots of leaves are newly open. They are very colorful. I looked for trillium and violets but found only one trillium that was about to bloom. I checked on the spot with Oregon anemone and they were almost open. Just a little early. Soon I did start to see blooming skunk cabbage. Some were prime. Most were just a little past prime. I stopped at the confluence of the Yakima and the Teanaway Rivers. A train went by on the other side of the river. Trees along the river were resplendent with colorful new leaves. The usually muddy in spring Teanaway River was not much darker than the Yakima. Not enough snow melt. Not enough snow.

As I started walking I came to a patch of blooming Oregon anemone. Things were picking up. The cool morning was rapidly warming. There was more skunk cabbage in bloom but I could not find any trillium. The river was soon out of sight but seldom out of sound. I took a short detour in the first good meadow. This meadow will soon be ablaze with yellow balsamroot. For now just a few are blooming. Enough though to provide some great photo opportunities. I also found some yellow violets, ballhead waterleaf, and spring beauty. A number of excellent examples of each. I spend a lot of time crawling around to photograph some very small flowers.

I was now about 3 miles along and it took two hours. A lot of photos but not much mileage. I still had five miles to go to reach the tunnel. Time to pick up the pace. The powerline corridor was just ahead. I hiked under a few million volts of electricity. The valley widens on the other side of the river and green grassy meadows appear. These farms at Bristol Flats are the one opening in the canyon. I saw a fisherman wading in the river. I saw more people in and on the river than I saw on the trail. The water "slide" into the river was running this day. As usual, I stopped for more photos. A short way farther I stopped for a look at the old water wheel on the north side of the river. Years back it was intact. Little by little it has been collapsing. Only about half of it is still standing.

Now the grade reenters the canyon and the river disappears behind a wall of brush and trees. There are some flowers here but not this early. Time to pick up the pace. At the big meadow on the right the horses were nowhere to be seen. About half of my visits have horses close by. It was heating up fast as I knocked off the final miles. My pace reached only 17 minutes per mile. Not bad for walking on gravel. With a little more than a mile to go the tops of big power generating windmills came into sight. At long last I reached the tunnel. It was 12:13 pm and time for lunch. The last 4.5 miles took only 1:30. I saw one group of two bikers in 3.5 hours. Not bad for solitude.

On my first visit I used a rock to write the date in the soft cement walls inside the tunnel. The faint date of "4-14-90" was still visible almost exactly 25 years later. I have added the date for each succeeding visit. I guess I'm guilty of rock graffiti. It was pleasantly warm even in the shade. I had a nice long rest at the half way point. I did climb up to the left of the tunnel to see a hillside of blooming balsamroot. The best display I have seen so far this year. I finally packed up and headed back at 12:54 pm. It's all uphill going back. A whole 100' to gain over 7.5 miles.

During my break I zipped off my pants legs and switched to a short sleeve shirt. I was much more comfortable. For the most part, my pace was steadier on the way out. I did stop a few times to climb onto higher spots above the grade where I found patches of blooming balsamroot. At one spot I saw a guy fishing in the river. A boat was drifting by as well. More groups of bikers went by. I saw a total of five groups with ten riders for the entire day. I stopped at the waster slide. Now a shadow ran right down the middle of the falling water. It looked quite surreal. Back under the powerlines and by the meadows. This time I did not go off track for more photos.

The afternoon sun had me partly in sunshine and partly in shade. The shade helped with wildflower photos. The morning sun had blown out many of the highlights. That was no longer a problem The skunk cabbage especially benefited. I again passed a new outhouse. It still needs to have dirt filled in around it. The door as locked. It should be done and open soon. There used to be a very old wooden outhouse nearby. It was badly listing to port on my last visit. The new one will be a marked improvement. I again looked for blooming trillium and unlike in the morning I had better luck. A patch of three nearly perfect trillium were just off the trail.

I took a long break at the Turkey Gulch picnic area. One picnic table more than long enough to lay down on. I nearly fell asleep. The table was near the river and in the shade. I wish I could have spent a few more hours there. I stopped at the Teanaway River junction. Nice afternoon lighting on the trees and water. I walked a ways farther when I recalled I had missed the Oregon anemone. The morning photos were not good. After nearly 14 miles I was reluctant to turn around and go back. I did. They were in the shade and my photos were much improved. Now I looked for one more feature. A patch of horsetails. There they were. Small and very colorful. I always stop here.

With less than a mile to go I reached the last picnic area. A family were enjoying the afternoon. They were the only non bikers I saw on the trail all day. I finally reached my car at 4:30 pm. Usually my feet are hurting the last few miles. The gravel is easy walking but much harder than a dirt trail. When I suffered from plantar fasciitis they would hurt the last seven miles. This time my feet were a little tender but never really hurt. I'm making progress as I age.

The drive back was fine until I reached Bellevue. I knew that I-90 was down to only one lane due to construction. It was worse than I feared. The traffic report stated it was taking  45 minutes to get across to Seattle. All 4 or so miles of it. 405 southbound was backed up from Renton through Bellevue. Northbound 405 was backed up to 520. I went north. The ramp to the the 520 floating bridge was back up for miles. I kept going north. In fact I went all the way to I-5 in Lynnwood to get around the mess. My drive home was 16 miles longer than the drive to the trailhead.

Even with the traffic misadventure it was a great day. 15 miles is a long hike even when it is flat. The real wildflower show is one to two weeks away. I did not have volume but I did have a great variety of flowers. Some, like the skunk cabbage, will be well past prime in a few weeks. I have no regrets on my timing. I usually see a few hikers but this day it was just bikers and the one family near the start. I had a great deal of solitude. Walking a gravel grade across from an old highway will never be a popular hiking trail. It's mostly a way for bikers to travel a great distance without any cars. The bikers had fun but missed a lot of things that are only visible at slow speed on foot. This is one unpopular hiking trail that I will be returning to for years to come.

Near The Start
Greeted By Local
Stuart Range Peaks
Yakima River
Looking Downstream
Interesting Trees
Teanaway Junction
Train On Bridge
Spring On The Yakima
Bright New Leaves
Skunk Cabbage
Blooming Balsamroot
Close Up
Lone Balsamroot
Right At Peak
Spring Beauty
Yellow Violet
More Balsamroot
Big Bunch Of Balsamroot
Bristol Flats
Water Chute
Long Straightaway
Tunnel Is In Sight
The Tunnel
Balsamroot Over Tunnel
Trail & River
Inside Tunnel
Blooming Bush
Fishing & Boating
Silver Forest
More Balsamroot
Woodland Stars
Mt. Stuart
Old Waterwheel
New Outhouse
Zoomed Horsetails
Oregon Anemone
Trees Along Trail
Biker Near Finish
Click on thumbnails to get larger pictures.

Trips - 2015