If you haven’t made a trip to Washington’s east side yet for your spring desert wildflower treat, it is not too late.
Covering more than 100,000 acres, a trip to the state L.T. Murray wildlife area last week outside of Yakima rewarded with beauty both grand and beautiful. There are hundreds of primo desert hikes in Washington and this is surely one of them.
The toughness of the native plants that survive the blasting winds and frying heat of these canyon lands is a miracle of adaptation. A suite of strategies, working together, is what makes the elegant ecology of these plant communities sing in the wind and flower in searing sun.
It starts with a microbiotic crust that seals the soil from weeds and creates a rough surface that slows the wind to a boundary of stillness, just over the soil. That same roughness helps catch and what moisture does come to these arid lands.
The plants themselves deploy an ingenious battery of survival tactics. Stomata open only in morning and evening hours, to conserve moisture during the baking heat of the day. Stems bristle with wind baffling hairs; leaves are numerous and small, without the soft luxuriant surfaces of say, a maple tree. Here, tiny and tough is the modus operandi.
At this time of year, the fleeting beauty of flowers and soft new growth on the sage colors the canyon walls like no other time. Woven with the sound of wind and the song of meadowlark, spring bloom in the desert is one of the primo pleasures of the natural year.
On my visit last week, the balsamroot was starting to crisp, but much was still in luxuriant bloom.