Quilomene Wildlife Area
Located northeast of Kittitas, the Quilomene Wildlife Area spans the ridge top above the Wildhorse Wind Farm up to towards the Colockum Wildlife Area and down to the Columbia River. It’s one of the three units (along with Whiskey Dick Wildlife Area) that comprise the large but dispersed L.T. Murray Wildlife Areas. The WA Fish and Wildlife web site provides maps defining each area, but unfortunately many other sources on the web use all three names (but most confusing is when they use Quilomene and Whiskey Dick) interchangeably so trip planning was a bit difficult.
So we took a bit of a chance by heading out to the Quilomene Wildlife Area - my main concerns being the wind (there’s a wind farm right next to it for a reason) and how bad the roads would be (there are many trip reports to the area on the 4x4 forums). We packed our full size spare and bought a can of fix-a-flat to prepare for the worse.
There are two ways to enter Quilomene via Parke Creek Road, which runs up the west side in a narrow valley, or Beacon Road, which runs through Wildhorse Wind Farm. On a lark, we tried the Parke Creek Road first. It started off well enough the first mile, but dwindled quickly becoming rocky and rutted. We turned around where a large mud puddle span the entire road. We already got stuck in a mud puddle earlier in the year - so I felt we already meant our yearly quota. Access through the wind farm was surprisingly easy. Unless you plan on stopping on the wind farm, you don’t need a permit to drive through. There is an automatic gate with posted access code to get in (ranchers graze their cattle on the wind farm). And a gate that needs to be kept closed at the top of the wind farm. I’ve read that the gate to the wind farm is closed 2 hours before dawn and 2 hours after dusk and changes depending on time of year. But getting up to Quilomene through the wind farm was a breeze <rimshot!> - the gravel road was well grated and wide (almost 4 lanes wide in some places). Even the locals who live up on Parke Creek use the wind farm road to get to their houses. Of course once you get up to Quilomene, the roads go back to being rocky and deeply rutted. Away from the first set of campsites upon leaving the wind farm, but just a little farther on Beacon Road we were able to get a nice campsite tucked behind a knoll in the trees.
Despite the bitter cold and windy night up on the ridge, it turned out to be a very pleasant day the next morning as we hiked around the wildlife area. We started on Army Road - a road that follows the ridge line and eventually goes down to the river. We hiked away from the wind farm through open sagebrush and rocky terrain. The hillsides were awash in lush green grass sprinkled with buckwheat and hawksbeard. The diminutive hedgehog cactus sprouted everywhere in the rockery. Despite reports of them bloom down below on the Whiskey Dick Ridge trail, they were not bloom at the higher elevation. In fact, they looked far from blooming at all. Still they were fun to find among the basalt and sage.
Also along the ridgeline were many pairs of Horned Lark - either singing or giving chase through the brush. Western Meadowlarks called and sang throughout the day, while a couple of Red-tailed Hawks soared overhead. From the antelope and sagebrush, Vesper and Brewer’s Sparrows sang. Along the rocky stretches of road we found Short-horned Lizards. They definitely are my favorite reptile in Washington. They seemed to flourish in the area; we found 13 of these cute little critters during the day.
Stepping off Army Road, we cut down the steep hillside down to Quilomene creek. The hillside was covered in blooming hawksbeard. In the stream that fed into Quilomene creek we found monkey flower, sticky geranium, and large-headed collomia. Large patches of northern mule’s ear still bloomed among the grass. At the creek, we followed the closed road that paralleled the water. Although the road still appears on maps, it was closed a while ago and was starting to fade under the tall grass. There was more birdlife near the water - a few singing Lazuli Bunting, one Yellow-breasted Chat, an active Black-billed Magpie nest, and several Bullock’s Orioles. The creek banks were choked with monkey flower and cattails. And provided life for a hodgepodge of flying insects, including dragonflies, damselflies, blue butterflies, and wasps.
The closed road met up a green dot road (meaning open to vehicular traffic), which dead ended at a seep. We hiked the green dot road back up the hillside where it originally split off Army Road. It was a nice loop hike through the sage-steppe and blooming desert wildflower on a surprisingly weather perfect day. We couldn’t have timed it better either, because the day after we left, the area was hit with pretty severe winds. Apparently some concerts at the Sasquatch music festival (which we could hear from Beacon Road) in the Gorge were canceled due to high winds.
The Quilomene Wildlife Area is a great place to see sagebrush birds, wildflowers, and rolling valleys/ridges. It’s a nice alternative for people (like me) who don’t have a high clearance 4WD vehicles but want the same environment found in the Whiskey Dick Wildlife Area. Watching weather reports and bringing good tires is key to a successful trip to the area.