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Tom McCall Preserve  Chris Carvalho/Lensjoy.com

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The Nature Conservancy manages this important site that anchors the Columbia Gorge scenic area's east end.  Truly a magnificent example of the region's scenic value, part of it was almost turned into a housing development. Thanks to the efforts of Barbara Robinson, a well-known conservationist, it is now protected.  Today it is one of the most popular spots for those traveling the old scenic highway route from Mosier to Rowena on the Oregon side of the gorge.  

The predominant flowers in the foreground are yellow balsamroot (Balsamorhiza deltoidea) and purple lupine (Lupinus latifolius) There's also a bicolored cluster lily and a few other very small low-growing flowers that wildflower hobbyists collectively call "belly plants" because they are best appreciated by lying on the ground.  In 2004 when I made this photograph, the peak blooms of balsamroot and lupine were nicely synchronized.  It was also a great help to have a rare calm day since the location is famous for windy conditions.  The Columbia River seldom shows its peaceful side by reflecting the landscape around it.  But on that morning the river in the distance shone like glass, lending an air of rarity to the scene.  

Some of the Gorge's geologic diversity is also evident in the scene.  In the middle ground are basalt cliffs, the result of catastrophic flows of molten rock that covered much of Oregon around the middle Miocene age that erupted between about 17 and 15 million years ago.  Vernal pools dot the plateau above the cliffs, which is notably devoid of balsamroot flowers due to grazing activity from cattle years ago.  An experiment has been conducted to reestablish the flowers, but it takes balsamroot seven to ten years to grow to maturity.  Other areas of the preserve are the home of the endangered Hood River Milkvetch.  Soils in this area are thin and gravelly, the result of being scoured by the Missoula floods.  During ice ages, advancing glaciers would form a dam creating an ancient lake in what is now Montana.  Periodically as the climate warmed, it melted and released cataclysmic amounts of water, mud, and rocks over much of Washington and Oregon.  According to estimates, the lake contained more water than Lakes Erie and Ontario combined.  

Tom McCall Preserve is named for Oregon's visionary governor.  A centrist Republican serving from 1967-1975, he was instrumental in protecting the state's natural areas by strengthening protection of Oregon's coastline.  He also established state oversight of local land-use planning to control runaway development and protect farmland, and created the nation's first mandatory bottle deposit law.  My, how our politicians – and the public that puts them in office – have changed since those days.  

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Info:  Chromira digital print of Provia 100F 4x5 chrome, Fuji Crystal Archive CD paper
 

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