Hello! I am your guide, Justin Chappelle! I am a CLM intern with the Wenatchee Field Office in Washington. Today, we are going on a rugged journey through the western portion of the Saddle Mountains in search of rare plants, cool animals, and interesting rock formations!!
Welcome! I am glad you could make it on this awesome tour! We will start with the dune community of the Saddle Mountains. The western portion of the mountains along the Columbia River is known for its windy conditions. A lot of the eroded sediment from various scabland features in the valley collect in this region. The sediment is blown here and deposited along the talus slopes!! Some of these dune features host an assortment of rare plants and animals. Many scientists travel to the Saddle Mountains to study and monitor the various plants and animals of this region. Golden eagle (Aquila chrysaetos) nests are commonly monitored, various bioblitzs are performed to develop species lists, and lichens are studied to help understand the surrounding ecosystems in this region. Hopefully, we will get to see some interesting flora and fauna!! Oh…. I forgot to mention, we might encounter a few ATV people! So be on the lookout and wear bright colors!
The sand here is very soft and weathered! Due to the amount of traveling each of the sediment particles undergo, they form into a smaller, spherical shape. Many wind patterns and tracks could be found within the sandy, open areas.
As we travel up the dunes, we tend to see many native plants starting to colonize the dunes. Plants in the Polygonaceae family (Knotweed Family) could be found along the ephemeral stream areas. Other plants in the Polemoniaceae (Phlox Family), Asteraceae (Composite Family), Hydrophyallceae (Waterleaf Family), Brassicaceae (Mustard Family), and Rosaceae (Rose Family) family could be found along the talus slopes next to the dunes.
Rumex crispus and Phlox speciosa
((Wow!!! Good eye! I forgot to mention that there are many interesting and rare Lomatium species that could be found in the area. Many plants in the Apiaceae Family could be found growing in mid spring! This is Lomatium columbianum, also known as Columbia Desert Parsley. They grow in the Northern section of the mountains, this is a new sighting for this area!! Cool!! Let us take a GPS point and write some notes down before we move on.))
During the afternoon, the dunes warm up and we get to see a lot of unusual wildlife. Insects in the Scarabaeidae family and various lizards bask in the sun. The insects love the flowering plants around here. Lupinus, Delphinium, Erysimum, Astragalus, Crepis, and Phlox species, along with Purshia tridentata (bitterbrush), seem to be a favorite for many beetle species right now!
Wow!! This is amazing! I have no clue what this insect is, but it likes to roll like a ball down the dunes. Probably it does this to escape predators.
This beetle is found all over the bitterbrush! Looks like a hairy Japanese beetle! Unfortunately, I am not an entomologist, but I think this is a hairy flower beetle of some kind.
As we move through the transition zone between the dunes and talus, we get to see a variety of bird species! It is common to see Rock wrens (Salpinctes obsoletus) and Canyon Wrens (Catherpes mexicanus) in this area. Golden Eagles love to make nests on the steep cliffs, above the talus slopes, along the Columbia River. They prefer an open area where they can easily access the nest. Right now, the Golden Eagles are preparing their nests. If a Bald Eagle (Haliaeetus leucocephalus) or Osprey (Pandion haliaetus) flies into the area, the Golden Eagles would actually attack those birds. Golden Eagles usually do not like to share their territory or possible nesting sites with other birds of prey. Even a red tailed hawk (Buteo jamaicensis) is looked down upon by the eagles. The American Crows (Corvus brachyrhynchos) use this time to pester the eagles, because that is one of their favorite past times.
Different species of birds love to build nests in these basaltic outcrops!
Oh?? Oh hey! Good eye! You have found White Throated Swifts (Aeronautes saxatalis)! These birds migrate over long distances and love to build nests in basalt cliffs. There are many nests that could be seen in the holes of the basalt. They are very vocal and don’t mind building nests near large birds of prey or Rock doves (Columba livia)…but they do dislike Merlin (Falco columbarius), which is a common bird of prey that loves to go after the swift species!
As we climb up the side of the mountain, we get to see more beautiful flowers, grasses and different sagebrush and rabbitbrush species. These plants are growing on old talus slopes! Many wildflowers are growing right now thanks to the warm temperatures and rain we had recently in the area.
On the top of the mountains, we could see much of the Columbia River, some newly planted orchards, and power lines that were built by the power company!
Part of the Columbia River Basin.
Yay!!! This is a cool opportunity!! The U.S. Airforce uses these mountains and coulees for their training. They like to fly around and adapt to different wind patterns. Almost every other day, we would see them training out in the surrounding area. I don’t know how the wildlife responds to these jets, but they still build their nests here…alright hopefully the jets leave soon. I don’t want to get tinnitus. >_>
The top of the Saddle Mountains were carved by the massive Missoula floods that occurred in the area ~13,000-15,000 years ago. If you are lucky, you could find petrified wood from ginkgo trees deposited here! Various silica rock made from diatoms a long time ago could be found commonly between basaltic deposits.
Silica deposits that contain silica minerals and petrified wood!
There are various trails on the tops of these mountains for rock hounders and people who ride ATVs in the area. Despite the road traffic, the flowers are thriving! There are so many phlox and balsamroot (Balsamorhiza species), you could actually smell them!!
ATV trails weaving up the side of the mountain.
I want to thank you again for your participation in the Saddle Mountains Tours. I hope you learned a little about the area. See you on our next travel adventure!
And now….Your Moment of Zen
A cool looking Diptera on a Balsamorhiza sagittata.