Looking for Horse Thieves

It’s easy to imagine a gang of horse thieves hiding out at Horsethief Butte—the high basalt walls form a natural fortress and there are a number of narrow entrances into the interior of the butte that would make it easy to defend from a posse of lawmen.

Horsethief Butte
Horsethief Butte in the warm morning sun.

I visited this Washington state park in early spring this year during another road trip and was interested in seeing it at a different time of year. In the spring, the wildflowers were spectacular. In winter, it was quieter and all that remained of the spring and summer bloom were this year’s seeds and berries.

Horsethief Butte
The far side of Horsethief Butte – in winter, the rock and grass become the main attraction.

Winter is a good time to visit since you’re likely to have the place to yourself. A well maintained trail takes you from the parking area out around the front of the butte. Signs of extensive trail braiding are evident as visitors have created several different routes into the centre of the butte and up to a variety of view points—try to keep the most heavily trodden paths and resist the temptation to create a shortcut. It was actually challenging to create photographs that had minimal signs of human impact.

Yellow Lichen
Bright yellow lichen creates a splash of colour in the browns and blacks of winter landscape.

Both early morning and late afternoon are excellent times to photograph Horsethief Butte as the light is perfect. In the morning, the front side of the rock facing the Columbia River is well lit and by late afternoon the road facing side of the butte is warmed by the setting sun.

Winter Berries
Winter berries amongst the tumbled basalt at Horsethief Butte.

I didn’t run into any horse thieves during my visit, but I could easily imagine them hunkered over a small fire in the central opening in middle of the rock walls. It sure would have been fun to ask them to pose for a few photographs!


  1. Your article brought back many fond memories of exploring the Columbia River valley. I love the rough, lichen-covered rock that your photos capture so well. Usually do a spring trip to view the hillsides covered with golden balsam root and sky-blue lupines. Love listening to the swifts as they skim around the tops of the cliffs. We have not been at Horsethief SP as we stay at Maryhill SP a few miles further upstream. It is wonderful to have a regions with such diverse landscapes so close to home. Too bad the scenery is being severely impacted by the 100’s of huge wind turbines lining both sides of the valley.
    Hans from “Boerger West Coast Nature”

  2. Thanks Hans – it is a beautiful spot on the Columbia River. At this time of year there’s not a lot of plant life aside from last year’s seed heads and berries. I’m hoping to return in the spring when things are popping a bit more!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *