Memaloose Hills a favorite hike

Janet Tschanz stops for a photograph at a vantage point on the Memaloose Hills.

The Memaloose Hills have become one of Janet’s and my favorite places to enjoy nature’s wonderful wildflower shows.

The hiking trails are user friendly, never too crowded and the variety of flowers almost endless. And to add another plumb to the pudding the forest service has mapped out a 6.5 miles loop hike that starts at Memaloose rest stop on the east bound lane of I-84; just three miles east of Mosier, Oregon.

All of this trail is on public land but be advised that there are no trail signs.

Finding room to park your car is a piece of cake. Finding the trail is another issue.

Walk to the west end of the parking area and watch for the maintenance road. Walk around the sign that says “No Admittance, Authorized Personnel Only” and follow the trail as it works its way from the rest stop up the hill. Shade soon turns to golden patches of arrow leaf balsamroot punctuated by blue lupine and paintbrush wildflowers.

You need to watch where you are stepping here for two good reasons. The first is to be sure that you don’t sprain an ankle by stepping on a football sized piece of basalt rock that litter the ground. They are reminders of the Missoula Floods that happened at the end of the last ice age; about 13,000 years ago.

The second reason is rattlesnakes. The rattlesnake population here is very healthy.

About .5 miles from the rest stop you will reach the Columbia River Gorge Scenic Hwy and Memaloose Overlook.

Take a few minutes and enjoy the view: Far to the north are Catherine Creek and Major Creek drainages. Below is Memaloose Island and to the west is Rowena Gap. Memaloose is a Chinook word meaning death.

By the way, parking at Memaloose Overlook is an option to start your hike if you just want to walk the fairly short distance to Chatfield Hill.

To go on with your hike cross the highway and just to your right the trail continues. Now you lose the view of the river but the wildflowers just get better. Watch for in-season wild cucumber, shooting stars, prairie stars, Blue-Eyed Mary, buttercups, cluster lilies and vetch.

The trail continues on to two hills that are on forest service land. Marsh Hill is the easiest to climb but Chatfield Hill has a better wildflower display.

From here the trail heads due east to where it crosses Marsh Cutoff Road.

Now I need to talk about the entire 6.5 mile loop trail.

Although there is no trail signage the west half of the loop, from the rest stop to Chatfield Hill, is fairly easy to follow.

Very few people have done the east loop and the lack of any trail signs makes finding the route challenging, to say the least.

Janet and I decided to follow the east loop from where it recrosses Hwy 30 about .5 miles east of Marsh Cutoff Road.

We found a place to park our car, clambered over the barb wire fence and followed a farm road to the old McClure Ranch home and outbuildings.

Our map said the trails route was just south of the old cemetery and then headed in a southwest direction back to the rest stop.

The map also said the route was flagged from just west of the cemetery all the way to I-84. All I have to say to that is “liar, liar, pants on fire.”

I guess it was flagged at one time but only a couple of weather worn flags remain near the cemetery and none that we could find beyond that point. After aimlessly poking around, we just gave up.

We decided the only way to find this segment of trail was to drive back to the rest stop and find the trail from there and follow it back up to the old ranch buildings.

We arrived at the rest stop and followed the cement sidewalk east on the lookout for any sign of a trail.

Janet spied a faint trail that headed in the right direction. Did I say there was not any signage? Well, there were a lot of signs along the sidewalk that warned the wary traveler of the dangers of rattlesnakes and poison oak. No wonder so few people hike this trail.

Janet and I put on our packs, determined to follow it back to the McClure buildings.

I don’t know how Janet does it; I think she could track a meadow lark two days after he flew from a fence post to a distant tree. Without her sharp eyes I would have given up finding the trail 500 yards from the sidewalk. That said, we loved the open meadows, the cluster lilies and buttercup wildflowers.

One more caution, there is a lot of poison oak so take care.

We could not have been more surprised than when our trail led to a gravel forest service road that accessed a rock quarry just 200 yards downhill from us.

Janet followed this road to the top of a rise and went cross country for a short way. There was our goal, the McClure buildings. We did it.

I would suggest the west half of the loop for anyone loving wildflowers and great views. The east half is only for people who like getting lost.

The hardest part of any adventure is just walking out the front door. Take lots of snacks and water, don’t forget your camera, a good map and insect repellent. And have fun!

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