Some vistas capture you at first sight.
Years ago I returned home to visit my parents after having spent time working abroad. They now lived in Yankton (I grew up in St. Helens proper), and my father mentioned that he had passed an interesting hill that might be worth a look. I had noticed the same hill and decided to check it out.
Not knowing the “real way” there, my dad just dropped me off on the side of the road. I climbed up and tracked the forest’s edge to reach the top. As I breached the corner, a meadow stretched out at least 30 acres before me. This is special.
In our area, untouched natural meadows are as rare as cloudless skies. We have forests, livestock fields, and clearcuts. Where can you gaze upon a wild camas meadow covering a hilltop, with wetland streams running through it? Yet here it was!
I don’t tend to photograph plants, but the wildflowers on this April day were so magnificent that I couldn’t help myself.
Herpetology as always was my main focus, so I started looking for snakes. And I was not let down. Within twenty minutes I came across a pair of Western Yellow-bellied Racers. These are beautiful serpents, yellow on the belly with a bluish tint to the sides, and rarely seen in Columbia County as St. Helens sits on the northern edge of their Oregon range. I thought that I could not have been happier…but then I found a Northern Rubber Boa hiding right next to them!!!
Though not quite as rare in the county as racers, the Northern Rubber Boa is an infrequently observed snake and every one is a special sighting.
After some more time walking the meadow, I noticed the streams dropped off a small cliff into the forest below. I climbed down to see what was underneath. It was almost as beautiful as the wildflowers. The stream’s trickle meandered through mossy basalt then disintegrated into a shower of droplets.
This moist forest supported by runoff from the meadow’s wetlands contained more wildflowers and snakes as well as several salamander species.
My discovery of Liberty Hill was a chance encounter – a suggestion from my father, a glimpse from the road. But it opened me up to the most ecologically unique plot of land in Columbia County.
Later I would discover that the survival of Liberty Hill is in doubt. A mining firm has taken a contract for the hill and plans to demolish over half of it to crush and sell the rock. If the meadow is destroyed, nothing like it will be left in Columbia County. Please check out the “Friends of Liberty Hill” for gorgeous pictures far better than mine and more information on what we can do to prevent the demolition.