Lupine and balsamroot at Four Sisters. Photo by Doug Gorsline
Vernal pools, balsam root, and uninterrupted views made Four Sisters worth saving.

Last April Columbia Land Trust Conservation Lead Virginia Bowers bounded into the office, breathless. “Four Sisters is unbelievable right now,” she said. “The balsam root, it goes on for miles.”

Luckily she brought back pictures. Thousands of yellow suns burst from the hillside. There were patches of lupine as well as shots of the four basalt boulders that give the land its name—Four Sisters really is one of those places that can make a person giddy.

Bowers, a self-identified plant geek, helped conserve this 123-acre property last September. This spring she’s visited every month. “You have to go every month to see what’s blooming,” she says.

Bowers’ passion for plants is a reminder that what appears to be an empty hillside actually can support a thriving diversity of life, and what appears to be a puddle can actually support an entire ecosystem. Such is the case with Four Sisters’ rare vernal pools—shallow depressions where freshwater collects in the winter and evaporates in the summer heat. Officially called “Modoc basalt flow vernal pool habitat,” each supports its own complex plant community. Four Sisters has five of them.

The deepest pool (maybe a foot in depth) is ringed by dark green sedges and rushes, a strangely beautiful sight on the Columbia Plateau. Another pool in summer is swathed in pink and purple: camas and Nevius’ onion. Botanists have even found an uncommon plant called smooth goldfields growing in one of the pools.

Bowers does occasionally tire of tilting her eyes to the ground. And when she does, she looks up to see the landscapes that are her favorite in the Columbia River region—sweeping, unobstructed views of the Columbia Hills, punctuated on cloudless days by Mount Hood to the south. “This place is one that is close to my heart,” she says. –Jill Davis