It had been six years since my last visit to Waterworks Canyon, a gem of a place for early season wildflowers west of Yakima, Washington. This past Sunday I returned, this time with my wife, Natalie, and my son, Zach. Little had changed since April 2007, which is a good thing. This only significant difference is that a Washington Discover Pass is now required to park at the trailhead (Google map satellite view).
The flowers were spectacular right from the beginning of the trail, which leaves Washington Route 410 about a quarter mile west of the junction with US 12 in Tieton Canyon a few miles west of Naches and Yakima. Pass through the gate and before you’ve made many steps the hillside explodes with brilliant yellow balsamroot, rich blue lupines, and bright pink showy phlox. These will be your showiest companions along much of the trail as you climb 1,000 feet or more up the canyon on a well-worn boot track, crossing and recrossing a small stream that sometimes disappears underground.
Most of the hike is on rocky ground in full sun, but there are a few sheltered and shady spots that hold a bit more moisture. Here you’ll find ball-head waterleaf and star-flowered false Solomon’s seal.
We also found patches of deep blue Menzies’ larkspur, pale blue trumped lungwort, and the last few blossoms on sagebrush buttercups. Prairie stars were thick on places, scattered among the grasses in others. Thompson’s paintbrush was just starting to show its yellow bracts, and linear-leaf daisies were still in bud.
There were numerous clumps of Columbia puccoon. This one, beside the stream, was among the nicest of them. This is a plant that nearly always grows in clumps like this. I can’t recall ever seeing just a single stem of it anywhere.
A special treat was encountering a small western rattlesnake along the trail. This guy (I presume it was a guy, but I didn’t try to determine its sex) was just a couple of feet off the trail in one of the wooded sections. I surprised it as I walked by, invoking the distinctive buzzing of its rattle. Natlie and Zach stopped below the snake and we all watched it for a while. I put my longest lens (70-200mm plus a 2x teleconverter) on my camera before photographing from a safe distance. This is not a subject I wanted to photograph up close with my pocket camera or iPhone. After I finished shooting Natalie and Zach stepped quietly past the snake and continued on up the trail.
I don’t encounter snakes of any kind very often when I’m out hiking, although when in rattler country I always keep my eyes and ears open for them. I would have been less surprised to encounter one out in the open among the rocks than in the woods. But I’m not a herptologist and don’t really know a whole lot about rattlesnake habitat and behavior.