Black Canyon, Wenas Wildlife Area (Yakima County)
Located opposite of Hardy Canyon in the Wenas Wildlife Area is Black Canyon. We took a quick backpacking trip there mid- June. The trail was a former green dot road (theoretically closed to vehicles - but isn't always followed as we witnessed), so was wide and fairly level. Due to the late spring this year, there were still plenty of wildflowers along the trail - mostly Wild Blue Flax and plenty of Mule's Ear's, vetch, and Oregon Spring on the canyon hillside. Dark basalt rock on the canyon side probably gave Black Canyon its name. The creek below the trail was narrow and heavily grown in with elderberry, aspen, chokecherry, and hawthorn. At times the small creek would disappear below the surface.
About a mile from the trialhead, in a large groove of aspens was the old homestead. We camped in the grassy meadow besides the old building. The trail continued on above the homestead. About half a mile up, the trail forked at a green dot road, where vehicles are allowed. The slopes of the canyon wall gave way and opened up to ponderosa pines. We continued right and up the road through the open pines. Heartleaf Arnica and Lupine dominated the forest floor. Harsh Paintbrush, Prairie Star, and Douglas Brodaiea added a bright splashes of color. On the open lithsol was a dense mat of waning Shooting Stars - it would have been an impressive display one month earlier. Instead, Bitterroot and Upland Larkspur sprouted and bloomed from the dry ground.
The trail/green dot road reached Umtanum Ridge, which was covered in various small yellow flowers - most of which were patches of Oregon Sunshine. From the ridge we could see Kittitas Valley below and the many windmills on the hills. If it weren't for the clouds that day, we could have seen the Cascades, Mount Stewart, and Mount Rainer.
Most birds along the canyon were typical of the area. There were many Olive-sided Flycatchers, also Black-headed Grosbeaks, Bullocks Orioles, Lazuli Buntings, and Western Woodpewees were common among the aspens. From the canyon walls, I could hear Western Meadowlarks call from the sagebrush. A pair of American Kestrels were active near our campsite as was a single Lewis Woodpecker that was flycatching from the canyon hillside. In the last light of dusk, I spotted something small fly around the aspens near our tent. The fledgling Northern Saw Whet Owl began to call and it continued to call sporadically through out the night. A Common Poorwill called from farther down the canyon.
The other birds of interest we saw were a Great Horned Owl that we flushed twice from its roost while hiking on the trail. And we also flushed a juvenile Northern Goshawk, which was a pleasant surprise. It flew away from us and perched long enough for us to see its white supercilium and heavily streaked breast.
We also explored the area below the canyon, which was covered in an impressive display of wildflowers. Cusick's Sunflowers blanketed the hillsides in a sea of yellow. Showy Penstemon, Dusty Maidens, and two types of Hawksbeard grew interspersed through out the sagebrush. A large swath of lithsol showed the remains of Bitterroot, but the Oregon Sunshine were still blooming strongly.
Black Canyon was a great place for a short backpacking trip. It lacked the diversity of birds that Hardy Canyon held, but still had a lot of wildflowers and wildlife to enjoy.
Located: south of Ellensburg
Wenas Wildlife Area
Black Canyon trail