Tuesday, May 10, 2016

Trip Report: Mima Mounds

The southern reaches of the Salish Sea are bordered by an ecosystem not typically associated with the Pacific Northwest. Here in a land fabled for its dense and dripping rainforests may be found vast prairies, though in the modern day they are not as plentiful as they once were. Mima Mounds is one of the few prairies open to the public in the region, as well as perhaps the most unique. For miles the terrain is made up of rank upon rank of rounded mounds, the origin of which is often guessed at but has never been definitively proven. Was it ancient gophers, glaciers, or bigfoot that built these mounds? Perhaps they are the barrows of ancient kings, their grand halls long fallen to ruin and decay. Whatever the cause it makes for interesting speculation as you wander through this strange landscape.

It has long been a goal of mine to visit the mounds at the peak of the Camas bloom which paints the
landscape a brilliant blue for the briefest of periods in the spring. However, in the past I have always managed to arrive slightly before or after the peak of the bloom. Mima Mounds is always interested, and throughout the seasons different flowers may be spied, but I was never able to sate my thirst for the experience of standing in the middle of a rippling sea of blue. Finally this year I made it, though upon initial arrival I was dismayed to find the prairie nearest the trailhead devoid of all but a few scattered flowers.

Plunging onwards the Camas soon became more plentiful, until at last the cerulean fields stretched almost to the horizon. I suspect the reason for the difference in flower density was due to the controlled burns carried out on part of the prairie. These fires replicated the practice used by Indians to cultivate the prairie and encourage edible plants to grow. The camas is one of these plants that thrives in the wake of fire.

Thankfully, on the day of my visit, the nearby gun range and model airplane club were mostly silent, save for a lone plane that occasionally flew up to drop miniature parachutes. A few houses spoil the Wilderness feel of Mima mounds, but if one sits in a quiet hollow a hush descends and no sign of the modern world can be seen.

While exploring Mima Mounds, my mind strayed to fanciful imaginings of how this landscape might be in alternate realities. If all the land from the swamps of the Black River to the crest of the Capitol Hills had been made a National park a century ago, how marvelous it would have been. Ancient oaks and firs would have dotted the sprawling prairies, and flanking this paradise would have been the towering virgin forest upon the hills. Imagine backpacking out onto this National Park to camp beneath the spreading limbs of an ancient oak tree; an island in the ocean of blue camas flowers with wolves howling mournfully from the distant hills.

The photographer in me couldn’t help but think of how to improve upon the visual beauty of the landscape, and such was the power of my imagination that I was able to capture this brief glimpse into another reality: