Wednesday, 23 November 2011

Wildflower Wednesday: 30 Degrees to Yakima

This is my final wildflower installment from our American roadtrip around Washington State and the Oregon Trail this summer. Firstly I need you to retrace your steps and imagine yourself on the relatively cool slopes of Mount Rainier, amongst the colourful Alpine meadows and the sweet mountain air...

Leaving the mountains and heading eastwards, the landscape soon changes most dramatically. The hills are more rolling in nature, brown in colour and sparsely vegetated. As we headed along the scenic route along the Tieton river valley, I looked up and realised we were travelling through the ancient beds of immense lava flows, hundreds of feet thick. The columnar structure of the rhyolite rock reminded me of basalt columns of the Giants Causeway in Northern Ireland. I learned later these ancient lava flows are also hundreds of miles across. Imagine how active the volcanoes were at that time!

We're now in the rain shadow of the mountain where the annual rainfall drops dramatically from the 126 inches where we were at Paradise to a mere 8 inches at Yakima, our final destination for the day at around 90 miles from Mount Rainier. Here you can see the relative lushness of the river valley and how quickly the vegetation changes away from its banks. The spires of the tall Verbascum to the left of the picture show we're now amongst Mediterranean style vegetation, adapted to the hot, arid climate.


Here's a similar view to the previous picture with a cyclist to give it a sense of scale. There's plenty more Verbascum lining the road, plus the silvery sagebrush (aka Artemesia tridentata) which I learned later is the key shrub of this vegetation type in the States. Unlike the Verbascum, its yellow flowers don't appear until late summer/early autumn.


Back over the road again and a view looking upstream this time. The small leaved, silvery vegetation is a key adaptation for this climate, as are the low growing, furry leaves of the Verbascum. Both allow the plants to conserve what little moisture they find in the ground. What this picture doesn't convey is the sound of the rattlesnake I could hear which prevented me from exploring any further.

Having descended the mountain you can just see in the distance, we were much warmer. We experienced a change in temperature of over 30 degrees Fahrenheit between Paradise (65 degrees) and Yakima (97). This warmth and the fertile volcanic soil makes the land around Yakima one of the prime agricultural areas of the States, producing cherries, peaches, grapes, hops and suchlike. If you buy an American apple at the supermarket, then it's very likely to have come from there.

Unfortunately I didn't make NAH stop the car in time to show you the long rows of apple trees trained on vertical axis or y frames (modern apple training systems designed to grow many more trees per acre) with irrigation pipes along the top, so here's some sweetcorn instead. I was fully expecting a crop dusting airplane to come along at any moment, North by North West style. Looking at the roadside in the photograph and having told you about the climate and native vegetation of the area, I wonder how sustainable this level of agriculture actually is.

Why not hop over to Gail's to see what everyone else has for this month's Wildflower Wednesday? And if anyone is visiting from across the pond, I wish you a Happy Thanksgiving for tomorrow :)

My other blogposts in this brief series:
At Mount St Helens - finding the wild form of one of my favourite garden plants
Streetside Delights? - a look at the ubiquitous Lathyrus latifolius
Mount Rainier's Delights - Alpine meadows

11 comments:

  1. Wow, that is a grand tour, and I almost feel the change in temperature as you are narrating it. I remember the leader during meditation when he tells us to imagine/visualize a broad wide meadow with green vegetation, feel the fresh air and cold breeze, etc, etc. Inhale-exhale. Thanks.

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  2. How exciting to hear a rattlesnake! Good call to stay where you were.

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  3. I'm so glad you got to see the dry side of our state! Tieton is one of my favorite spots on earth - we're headed there for the annual Chandelier festival of light next weekend! It sounds funny to say it, but I find the dry scrub, the aromatic sagebrush, and craggy hills a refreshing change from our always green, and usually wet west side home here in Seattle!

    We had an epic rain and windstorm last night, but thanks to your virtual/visual roadtrip through the gorgeous Yakima valley I feel dryer already! Happy US Thanksgiving.

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  4. So exciting post..I loved reading this post because I also love tours and traveling is my passion.Thanks for sharing.
    bagasse dryer

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  5. What I so liked about Seattle was its variety of landscape - wish I could go back.. one day perhaps

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  6. Andrea - welcome! I've been visualising whilst writing this post too. We had such a grand tour :)

    Barbarapc - I was really surprised to hear it. Thank goodness I knew what it was!

    Lorene - it's so different isn't it? I was so pleased to see the contrasts Washington State has to offer :)

    Mark - amazing landscape - I can understand why you'd like to go back.

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  7. How sustainable?

    I've just read Fred Pearce - When the rivers run dry.

    We have the same sort of water intensive agriculture in a mediterranean climate. The wheat survives on rain, but the vines are trained on a lyre-shaped frame and irrigated!

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  8. EE - I'm a big fan of Fred Pearce. His articles in New Scientist have always been a must read.

    As for the sustainability question, I simply don't know. How much runoff from the mountains that reaches this area could be considerable and we did pass an enormous resevoir further up the Tieton valley. But on the other hand, the agricultural area is very large indeed.

    In Mallorca where I've been conducting some environmental research, there's a similar level of intensive agriculture, again in a Meditteranean environment like yours. There the salt levels in the water table are steadily reaching towards the root zone and nitrate levels have increased considerably. It's most worrisome.

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  9. Love that top picture of the ancient lava mountain-side.

    Elisabeth

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  10. I'm glad you have the oppourtunity to see both sides of our state. There's quite a difference in climate isn't there?

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  11. realfoodlover - thanks. It's one of my favourites from the holiday too :)

    Kath - I'm amazed at the difference. Our Pennine rainshadow is puny by comparison!

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