Friday, August 20, 2010

Hiking Deal Canyon



My favorite part of a hot summer day comes at sunset. As the sun dips below the browned hillside west of La Grande, a cool shadow creeps along the foothills. You take off your sunglasses and look out with un-squinting eyes. It’s a great moment to go for a hike.



Deal Canyon leaves the west edge of La Grande and heads up into the adjacent hills. Earlier this month, several local folks joined me on an evening hike up Deal Canyon sponsored by HCPC. We climbed up out of the valley and enjoyed a walk among the pines and Douglas-fir trees. We shared good conversation and nice views of the Grande Ronde Valley and the Wallowa Mountains.


Deal Canyon is a notch in the earth with steep grassy slopes rising up to each side. In spring, these slopes are covered with new bright green growth, but by August they are baked as brown as bread crusts. In contrast, the road up the canyon is lined with conifers and native shrubs. We stopped to look at these native plants and talk about their roles in the local plant communities.


These native shrubs included ninebark, ocean-spray, Rocky Mountain maple, bitterbrush, mock-orange, mountain-ash, rose and serviceberry. Native trees included black cottonwood, quaking aspen, black hawthorn, Douglas-fir and ponderosa pine.


Almost any hike in the area includes the sight of mule deer, and we saw a handsome buck poking his nose through the underbrush on the hillside. We also saw the unusual snake known as the rubber boa. At first sight, this snake resembles a really, really, large earthworm but of course it’s actually a reptile. This was the first rubber boa that I had ever seen in the wild.


Dusk was arriving by the time we hiked back down the canyon. It had been a fine evening to enjoy the natural world close to town. We said our good-byes and headed for home.

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