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A trek into Spring in the mountains of eastern Washington

Forests stretch in every direction as far as you can see in eastern Washington state, with the Colville Mountains rising in the distance.
Brian Mann
/
NPR
Forests stretch in every direction as far as you can see in eastern Washington state, with the Colville Mountains rising in the distance.

Spring comes slowly to the mountains and river valleys of eastern Washington, but after a chilly morning the sun broke through as I started up the trail through towering Ponderosa pines.

These trees are big, their red trunks straight as Roman columns, some charred by past wildfires. Right away I found myself in good company as a pair of ravens cartwheeled overhead, their hoarse voices filling the forest.

I was hiking in the Little Pend Oreille National Wildlife Refuge, an expanse of nearly 43,000 acres near the upper Columbia River just south of the Canadian border.

Ponderosa pine trees shade the climb through the Little Pend Oreille National Wildlife Refuge.
Brian Mann / NPR
/
NPR
Ponderosa pine trees shade the climb through the Little Pend Oreille National Wildlife Refuge.

As I climbed, the trail warmed to smells of pine needles and last summer's sweet dust. I passed wildflowers, yellow and bright, then trudged through last bits of snow, the lingering trace of winter.

This is dry country in most seasons but down below the snowfield, I found a rushing mountain stream, the snowmelt flowing fast through golden sand.

Last summer's wildflowers glow on a spring afternoon in the Little Pend Oreille National Wildlife Refuge, where the forest smells of pine and dust.
Brian Mann / NPR
/
NPR
Last summer's wildflowers glow on a spring afternoon in the Little Pend Oreille National Wildlife Refuge, where the forest smells of pine and dust.

A flock of birds whirred and dashed through willows growing near the water.

Up higher, I found big erratics, boulders scattered here by the last ice age.

They sit among the pines in neat compositions, like a Japanese garden on a colossal scale.

It was steeper near the summit. Breathing hard, I scrambled to where the forest opens to views of snowy mountains and forest in every direction.

On the crown of rock, another flock of birds found me. They ribboned through the low branches of the trees, singing and scolding, as I stretched out in the spring grass for a nap in the sun.

Copyright 2023 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

There's still snow on the higher summits of eastern Washington, with the streams full of fast-running snowmelt.
Brian Mann / NPR
/
NPR
There's still snow on the higher summits of eastern Washington, with the streams full of fast-running snowmelt.

Brian Mann