Duffy Creek Management Area
To take advantage of the late season (specifically the wildflower season) and the recent bought of good weather, we decided to go on a day hike in Eastern Washington. Duffy Creek seemed like an interesting spot as it was close to Douglas Creek, a place we had spent a few night at before, but earlier in the season.
We started at the gate entrance to the Duffy Creek Management Area and hiked the loop in a clockwise direction. Even before entering the gate, we could see the wildflowers throughout the lithsol and sagebrush. Larkspur, phlox, daisies, and balsamroot sprinkled the ground with color. On the horizon, we could see Moses Stool to the south and the Cascade Mountains to the north. Duffy creek was down the southern slope out of sight. To the west below the ridge was a patch work quilt of farmland. Horned Larks, Brewer's and Vesper Sparrows were numerous among the sagebrush and their songs could always be heard. Mountain Bluebirds hovered above the ground and dropped down on their prey. We followed the jeep trail through a couple of more gates and the sagebrush gave way to a vast sea of grass. A single Grasshopper Sparrow sang from a short sagebrush before dropping into the waves of grass.
Farther along the trail, fields of lupine and groundsel brightened up the sagebrush. Past the corral and the knee high grass, the jeep trail started to descend the ridge through more lithsol. Stonecrop was getting ready to bloom and penstemon grew from rock crevices. On the south facing slope, bitterroot was in bloom. It was a treat to see the beautiful pink flowers. The jeep trail hugged the hillside as it snaked down to the creek. The hillsides were thick with blooming desert-parsley. A riparian forest of aspens, currant, elderberry, and hawthorn grew dense around the creek below. From the trees below I could hear a singing Yellow-breasted Chat and a Black-headed Grosbeak. At the creek, bird life was abundant and diverse compared to the sagebrush and grasslands above. All the typical riparian Eastern Washington birds were in full hormonal spring mode - belting out their songs from the tree tops and hillside. A Eastern Kingbird sallied from a snag. Duffy creek was small and slow flowing. It disappeared underground at some points. The old jeep trail followed the trickling creek. A racer slithered off the path and later I accidentally disturbed a rattlesnake, when I went to look at some wild irises. The jeep trail through the creek eventually trailed off into the dense underbrush of the creek and we had to hike on the steep hillside to circumnavigate the thickets around the creek. This part of the trail was the hardest - it was slow hiking along the slope without a trail, over loose rocks, and through patches of wild roses and hawthorns. Climbing over the two barbed wire fences didn't make the trek any easier. It was pretty obvious this trail wasn't used often or enough. This part of the trail was less than a mile long, but it was slow going. We finally made it out to the other end and found the old jeep trail.
A Great Horned Owl was perched in an aspen tree and a Cooper's Hawk called and flew over the creek. Another Eastern Kingbird sallied over the creek and dipped down in the water for a quick bath. The jeep trail continued along the riparian area before climbing out to the sagebrush again. Cows had heavily grazed the area and created deep ruts in the trail. Still there were a lot of wildflowers - hairy cats-ears and old man's beards grew next to the road. The jeep trail eventually dropped us back onto the main road (Rock Island Grade Road) about 1.5 miles away from where we parked. We walked back on the road, stopping to move a basking gopher snake and to watch a Sage Thrasher singing and display from the top of the brush. Many Mountain Bluebirds were seen near the nest boxes on the fence posts.
Overall the loop trail was a enjoyable hike with the highlight being the diversity of wildflowers. It would have been better if the trail on the creek was actually existent. I could see how going during the wrong time of year (e.g. no wildflowers, too hot, too windy, etc) could have made the hike less enjoyable. As for the birds, although I always enjoy seeing them (especially the Grasshopper Sparrow), the diversity wasn't that different from Umtanum Creek, which has a more hikable and backpackable trail. Still the loop trail makes a great day hike during the wildflower season, especially since it passes through many microhabitats, just need to remember to bring the machete next time.
Loop trail information