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 tallVerbascum to the left of the picture show we're now amongst Mediterranean style vegetation, adapted to the hot, arid climate.
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 theVerbascum. 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.
For a quirky & eclectic look at gardening: http://vegplotting.blogspot.com More than a load of old vegetables!
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