Wednesday, September 21, 2005

Cummins Creek, a walk with Sadie and Nero Wolfe

When Sadie the Dalmatian followed her nose off the trail and into the tall wild rye grass, my peripheral vision caught the movement.
Boy, am I glad.
Really, really glad. I'd been scanning the high slopes across Cummins Creek for Rocky Mountain sheep, but when Sadie made a nervous jump back from a clump of tall grass I lowered the binoculars and watched. She pushed her nose ahead slowly, then a white tail snapped straight up, with a curl at the top. A wide, hair tail.
Oh, @%$&!
``Sadie! Here! Come!''
To my intense gratitude, she did. She heard the panic in my voice. No doubt.
But, she came slowly watching me wave frantically, then looking back nervousely over her shoulder.
But she came.
And the skunk, which had raised its tail into a defensive firing position, held onto the spew. Whew!
For about seven seconds I considered taking a picture of the skunk and actually took half a step toward it. When I did, Sadie did, too. And I smelled that distinct, pithy odor, but faintly. So, knowing when retreat is the best part of valor, I gave it up and hurried on down the trail, putting away the camera and the binouclars as I walked.
That was actually the most intense moment of the three day hikes I took last weekend. Well, if you count Friday and Monday as part of the weekend. Anyway, I've been thinking about my impulses to go take a hike.
Nero Wolfe, who weighs a seventh-of-a-ton, has given me a clue. Not that Wolfe does much walking. He does, however, often need time to think.
He put it this way, ``I need a little time to arrange the inside of my head, and my dinner will be ready shortly.''
That's pretty much my philosophy: I need a little time to wander, and my dinner will be ready shortly.
Wolfe, of course, is a world-renowned genius. When he takes a ``little time'' he closes his eyes, leans back in his custom-made chair, clasps his hands over his girth and works his lips in and out.
I, on the other hand, am not handicapped by genius. And who really wants to sit and just THINK.
No, I do my best intra-head arrangements while meandering along some remote trail with my bamboo walking stick in my hand.
And the remoter the better. So, last Friday, the day of the skunk, Sadie and I walked about 3 miles up Cummins Creek, off the Tucannon River Road.
It's an easy walk along an old road with high walls on each side. I've seen deer, elk and Rocky Mountain seep grazing on the slopes there in the past, along with hawks, turkeys, porcuines and a number of other birds. And skunks, of course.
Sadie flushed a turkey from a thicked of dead ferns on a hillside last week. It flew about 20 yards over my head.
That day, even before the skunk episode, I felt a bit like the Al Capp character, Joe Btfsplk. Remember, he walked around with a rain cloud always over his head, and Capp pronounced his name as if it were a Bronx cheer (made by sticking the tongue between the lips and blowing to make a sound.)
Anyway, sun shined on the canyon walls, but three times it rained on me. I'd put on my rain jacket, and the rain would stop. I'd take off the jacket, and it would rain. At least I had the rain jacket.
Then on Sunday my wife Darlene, Sadie and I spent hours driving around the farm fields south and west of Othello looking fruitlessly for sandhill cranes. Finally, we drove into the Columbia National Wildlife Refuge and eventually came upon the Crab Creek Trailhead and interpretive trail through a marsh along the stream.
We spent an hour or so drifting along the path above the stream. Bright golden currant blossoms bloomed, and red-winged blackbirds warbled. Once, a mink slipped along the bank on the other side of the creek.
It was a pleasant way to break the tension of a craneless trip, and the interpretive displays made interesting reading.
Then, on Monday, I again drove through Dayton, out Patit Creek Road, over Hartsock Grade and up the Tucannon River Road. I had the fishing gear, the fanny pack and the day pack.
Yet, I passed the lakes that have recently been stocked with fish and drove all the way up to Panjab Campground to take a hike. I checked out the stream crossing to Rattlesnake Trail (No. 3129), which climbs the ridge above the campground into the Tucannon Wilderness.
Crossing logs bridged the rushing water, but snow high on the hillside hinted that I walk somewhere else.
So, we drove five miles up Forest Road 4712 to the Tucannon River Trail at Sheep Creek. Pine needles covered the trail through a dark wood, and our footsteps hardly broke the silence. After an hour or so, we reached a patch of deep snow. Then another.
Once we saw large bird tracks in the snow. A crow, I thought, or maybe a turkey. Then two pileated woodpeckers flew from the trail and into a tree. I readied the camera, but the big red-headed birds went kak-kak-kak-kak and disappeared into the woods.
Eventually, we waded snow up to my kneecaps and Sadie's bellybutton. I checked the GPS unit, which indicated we'd walked 3.44 miles. That's a straight-line measurement, so I estimated we'd walked four miles, counting twists and turns.
We'd walked for nearly two hours, and snow soaked my gaiters. The inside of my head seemed well arranged. Sadie must've felt the same. When I asked, ``You want to go back?'' she churned up snow as she galloped back down the trail and around the first bend.
We reached the truck in 94 minutes. I put on water for hot chocolate, gave Sadie her dinner and opened the lunch Darlene had packed for me.
``My dinner will be ready shortly,'' I said. But Sadie didn't even look up.

Monday, September 19, 2005

Polaris Pass, Eagle Cap

The trail over Polaris Pass receives irregular maintenance, if any, but I don't mind.
It crosses the pass and switches back and forth down a high canyon wall of scree.
Or talus.
Boots often slide there, tipping your attention toward possible skin-scrapping tumbles, or worse, and clogging your breath abruptly in your throat. Jaws tense and teeth grind.
Near the end of the scree, the trail fades away except for a rock pile at a switchback.
But it feels good to finish the touchy talus. It's a sense of accomplishment that you wouldn't feel on better footing. Besides, well-maintained trails draw crowds.
On one trip, I met another hiker near Anaroid Lake on a Sunday and a group of horsemen near Frazier Lake on a Monday afternoon. So, it's all right to leave some trails in a rough and uncrowded condition.
Anyway, I enjoyed that trip across the scree.
Then, alas, I reached a narrow, bushy section of trail.
``Bushy'' meant oceans of alpine fleeceflowers that submerged the path. I've read that elk graze on the flowering tops of these plants, with their thick stems and lance-point-shaped leaves, and that Nez Perce people roasted or boiled the roots and ground the seeds into flower. Supposedly the plants also serve as a ``soil binder'' at high, tilted elevations.
Well, after a rain, they certainly soak a walker's clothes. Now, I don't mind wet nylon pants, which dry quickly. These fleeceflower seas, however, sopped my pants. They seethed down my legs, across my ankles and into my boots.
Drat. My Vasque Sundowner MX2s never leaked and seldom caused blisters. Yet, as I squished along, more and more water seeped into the boots, and I expected chafed spots at every step.
I was lucky, though, and didn't pause until my watch showed 12:13 p.m. Then I munched a bagel and poured 2.3 pints of water from each boot. I stuffed a small chamois-like polyester PackTowl into each one while I changed socks, finished lunch and slipped into rain pants.
Then, with belated insight, I tugged the pant cuffs to the outside of the gaiters. Then another light clicked: I could have left the nylon pants out of the gaiters, too, a

Polaris Pass, Eagle Cap

The trail over Polaris Pass receives irregular maintenance, if any, but I don't mind.
It crosses the pass and switches back and forth down a high canyon wall of scree.
Or talus.
Boots often slide there, tipping your attention toward possible skin-scrapping tumbles, or worse, and clogging your breath abruptly in your throat. Jaws tense and teeth grind.
Near the end of the scree, the trail fades away except for a rock pile at a switchback.
But it feels good to finish the touchy talus. It's a sense of accomplishment that you wouldn't feel on better footing. Besides, well-maintained trails draw crowds.
On one trip, I met another hiker near Anaroid Lake on a Sunday and a group of horsemen near Frazier Lake on a Monday afternoon. So, it's all right to leave some trails in a rough and uncrowded condition.
Anyway, I enjoyed that trip across the scree.
Then, alas, I reached a narrow, bushy section of trail.
``Bushy'' meant oceans of alpine fleeceflowers that submerged the path. I've read that elk graze on the flowering tops of these plants, with their thick stems and lance-point-shaped leaves, and that Nez Perce people roasted or boiled the roots and ground the seeds into flower. Supposedly the plants also serve as a ``soil binder'' at high, tilted elevations.
Well, after a rain, they certainly soak a walker's clothes. Now, I don't mind wet nylon pants, which dry quickly. These fleeceflower seas, however, sopped my pants. They seethed down my legs, across my ankles and into my boots.
Drat. My Vasque Sundowner MX2s never leaked and seldom caused blisters. Yet, as I squished along, more and more water seeped into the boots, and I expected chafed spots at every step.
I was lucky, though, and didn't pause until my watch showed 12:13 p.m. Then I munched a bagel and poured 2.3 pints of water from each boot. I stuffed a small chamois-like polyester PackTowl into each one while I changed socks, finished lunch and slipped into rain pants.
Then, with belated insight, I tugged the pant cuffs to the outside of the gaiters. Then another light clicked: I could have left the nylon pants out of the gaiters, too, a
The trail over Polaris Pass receives irregular maintenance, if any, but I don't mind.
It crosses the pass and switches back and forth down a high canyon wall of scree.
Or talus.
Boots often slide there, tipping your attention toward possible skin-scrapping tumbles, or worse, and clogging your breath abruptly in your throat. Jaws tense and teeth grind.
Near the end of the scree, the trail fades away except for a rock pile at a switchback.
But it feels good to finish the touchy talus. It's a sense of accomplishment that you wouldn't feel on better footing. Besides, well-maintained trails draw crowds.
On a one trip, I met another hiker near Anaroid Lake on a Sunday and a group of horsemen near Frazier Lake on a Monday afternoon. So, it's all right to leave some trails in a rough and uncrowded condition.
Anyway, I enjoyed that trip across the scree.
Then, alas, I reached a narrow, bushy section of trail.
``Bushy'' meant oceans of alpine fleeceflowers that submerged the path. I've read that elk graze on the flowering tops of these plants, with their thick stems and lance-point-shaped leaves, and that Nez Perce people roasted or boiled the roots and ground the seeds into flower. Supposedly the plants also serve as a ``soil binder'' at high, tilted elevations.
Well, after a rain, they certainly soak a walker's clothes. Now, I don't mind wet nylon pants, which dry quickly. These fleeceflower seas, however, sopped my pants. They seethed down my legs, across my ankles and into my boots.
Drat. My Vasque Sundowner MX2s never leaked and seldom caused blisters. Yet, as I squished along, more and more water seeped into the boots, and I expected chafed spots at every step.
I was lucky, though, and didn't pause until my watch showed 12:13 p.m. Then I munched a bagel and poured 2.3 pints of water from each boot. I stuffed a small chamois-like polyester PackTowl into each one while I changed socks, finished lunch and slipped into rain pants.
Then, with belated insight, I tugged the pant cuffs to the outside of the gaiters. Then another light clicked: I could have left the nylon pants out of the gaiters, too, and the water would have drained to the outside of the boots, rather than inside them.
A lesson learned late beats a lesson not learned. Maybe.
The rest of the descent to the West Fork Wallowa River Trail passed quickly. I photographed two large bucks and many waterfalls. I reached the trail junction at 1:37 p.m. Too early to camp along the river, so I headed toward Frazier Lake.
While cloud curtains rolled down to obscure granite peaks, I'd set up camp by 3:42 p.m. The rain-soaked tent and damp sleeping bag, from the night before, dried in minutes. I rubbed seam-sealer along the tent's top seam that had dripped the night before (it would prove watertight in that night's deluge). I cooked ham and hash browns, with a bagel and hot chocolate for desert. Then, after exploring for an hour, I hit the sack.
Rain fell heavily during the night. But the sky cleared by morning and, after a two-bagel breakfast, I left the tent to dry somewhat and climbed the two miles to Glacier Lake.
The scenery along the way stopped me often. Then, with clouds capping the granite walls and periodic shafts of sunlight breaking through, I spent 20 minutes taking pictures around the lake.
I hated to leave. But, back at Frazier, my tent had dried. I packed up and started the 3.7 mile trek to Six Mile Meadow.
A mile below Frazier Lake, I passed an outfitters' camp for guests, with two white-walled tents and a large nylon tent.
Then I passed two hikers and one group on horses. The group on horses headed for the outfitters' camp, I supposed, where they would stay several days and day hike to Glacier Pass and into Lakes Basin.
At 1:49 p.m., I reached Six Mile Meadow and counted 16 people parked under a tree, with backpacks and debris spread about them. Then four more young guys showed up and plopped their packs within arm's length of mine. A large one ordered two smaller ones to ``stay here and guard the packs.'' He and another large one put on shorts and went to swim in the river. I sat for 30 minutes, but it was too crowded. I lifted my pack and trundled off toward Wallowa Lake. It would mean a 13.8-mile day, making a 33-mile trip overall, but at 2 mph I would reach the car by 5 or 5:30 p.m.
And I preferred to walk the trail alone than spend the afternoon an night in a crowd.

Thursday, September 15, 2005

Fall in the Eagle Cap Mountains

Late fall may be the best of times to hike into the
Eagle Cap Wilderness, not that there are any worst
of times. The worst of times are when I can't go.
Anyway, a two-day trip to Frances Lake last week
had everything going for it. Sunny. Cool. Calm. No
mosquitoes. Goose-pimple scenery.
I parked in the shade, filled out a permit, snapped
Sadie the Dalmatian into her pack and grunted into
my backpack.
Although I wore wool-polypropylene longjohns
beneath nylon pants and shirt, I felt the chill of the
fall air on my hands and face and considered putting
on a sweater but decided hiking would warm me.
It did, although the pack felt fairly light at 40 to 45
pounds. For a one-night trip, it would suffice.
It's funny, but I could visualize each item I'd
crammed into the pack but didn't have a clue where
I'd crammed some of them. Such as the compass?
The pack held, for example, six bagels, one
package of Buddig Ham, two packages of dehy
drated Idahoan Garlic Mashed Potatoes, one pack
age of dehydrated Richmoor Hashbrowns O'Brien,
one package of dehydrated Mountain House
Granola with Strawberries, three Clif bars, a tube of
Folger's instant coffee, six packages of Swiss Miss
hot chocolate, a tube of honey mustard and a tube of
strawberry jam.
It held two pairs of socks, one pair of longjohns, a
polyester-filled nylon vest, a thinsulate sweater, a
polyester-filled nylon sweater, a polyester-filled ny
lon jacket, a rain coat and rain pants, a pair of
fleece-lined nylon pants, a balaclava, a pair of wool
gloves and a pair of Gor-Tex overmittens.
And it held the primary stuff: two-person Eureka!
four-season tent with a space blanket ground cloth,
two winter sleeping bags (one for the dog), Therm-
A-Rest mattress, Pur water filter, WhisperLight
stove and repair kit, cook pot/frying pan/potholder,
two bottles of water, first-aid kit (including moleskin
for blisters), water bag, toilet paper/trowel,
headlamp, mystery novel, insulated coffee cup,
camera, goodies bag (plastic knife, fork, spoon, pot
scrubber, toothbrush, aspirin, batteries, film, etc.),
50-foot nylon cord, one towel, two dish cloths, two
red bandanas and a small flashlight.
Since Frances Lake supposedly held fish, I car
ried the four-piece fly rod, a film canister with 10
flies and a reel with floating fly line and a 9-foot,
2-pound test leader.
I figured the 9-mile hike, one way, would take
between five and six hours. The trail climbs from
5,280 feet to the pass at 8,610 feet in 7 miles. It drops
to the lake at 7,705 feet in 2 miles. Long switchbacks
angle at about a 9-degree grade.
I started at 10:59 a.m. and soon sweated enough to
dampen my clothes. Just short of a mile, the trail
crossed a dry streambed. When I reached the
second dry streambed at 5 miles, I had one half-
quart of water left.
I enjoyed the climb. The pack felt comfortable. My
feet remained anonymous. I gawked at the Lostine
River Canyon scenery. I spotted the Bowman Trail
one lake. And mammoth, gray Marble Point loomed
grandly above me on the upper switchbacks.
No wildflowers bloomed, but a strong, pleasant
odor blossomed at several places along the way _ a
tobacco-like (snowbrush) or sweet-clover-like smell.
But I didn't see either. I sniffed pine and fir boughs
and many dry weeds. Only the yarrow seemed
smelly enough, but the odor remained a mystery.
I reached the pass at 3:07 p.m. and looked down
into one of the grandest lake basins in the Eagle
Cap. I looked for a long time.
Ringed on three sides by brown, red and granite
ridges _ some sharp edged and some rounded _
the spear-point shaped lake glistened in a long
north-and-south valley. A glistening stream me
andered into the north end of the lake. Lake Creek
drained from the south end and formed several
ponds. (Lake Creek, I knew, rushed into the Lostine
river near the Guard Station.)
Whitebark pine trees and subalpine fir trees
covered the lake shores and dotted the ledges and
slopes. Rocky debris, including car-sized boulders,
also lay on the ledges the slopes.
A cavity below Twin Peaks on the eastern ridge
(Hurricane Ridge) suggested that a meteorite
blasted into the ridge and splashed debris down the
mountainside. Or maybe it was a volcanic eruption?
I reached a camp spot about a Tiger Woods golf
shot with a driver from the lake at 3:52 p.m. By 4:30
I'd pitched camp, fed Sadie, rigged the fly rod and
put the water bag, the water pump and a bottle into
the tent bag and headed to the lake.
I pumped water while Sadie lapped from the lake.
Then I guzzled a long draft. I tied the bottle to one
end of the tent bag, draped it over my shoulder and
began fishing my way around the eastside shore. I
fished halfway around the lake and back without
seeing a single fish rise.
The temperature plunged when the sun slipped
behind the west rim. I filled the 2.5-gallon water bag
and hung it from my right shoulder with a cord.
So burdened, I trudged to camp. I cooked dinner:
two fried-ham-on-bagel sandwiches with mustard
and mashed potatoes. I sat on a rock and ate and
sipped coffee/hot chocolate as little stars twinkled.
In bed I read briefly before sawing logs. I awoke
for good in a faintly lighted dawn at 6:21 a.m. My
watch listed the tent's chill at 29 degrees, but my
water bottles beside the sleeping bag hadn't frozen.
I donned the vest, sweater and coat. The wool
gloves and the balaclava felt good. Sadie stepped
from the tent, stretched and shivered. I dug her coat
from her pack and wrapped her in it.
Ice covered Sadie's water bowl, but it broke up
easily. The thermometer left on the rocks said 23
degrees, and ice swelled the water bag. I carefully
broke it free to avoid damage to the fabric.
While frequently glancing at the scenery and
listening to the calm and silent morning, I organized
the gear while frying two bagels in olive oil. I made
coffee/hot chocolate and ate the bagels with jam.
Then, by 8:05 a.m., I had packed everything but
the fly rod. Sunshine flooded the valley and sparkled
on the lake. I removed coats and sweaters, including
Sadie's, and set off to fish around the west shore. I
spent two hours at it and concluded that the stories
about fish in Frances Lake may be exaggerated.
Finally, I wrestled the pack onto my back and
headed up the hill. It took an hour to reach the pass,
with the final few hundred yards passing slowly
because of the step-slowing view.
A bit sore-footed, I reached the car at 2:47 p.m.
and looked forward to being home for dinner.

Wednesday, September 14, 2005

Hiking to Maxwell Lake

``Ten miles in four hours
was only a lazy stroll, but not
in the dark across mountains
with (Nero) Wolfe for a pace
maker.''
Archie Goodwin,
``Black Mountain'' by Rex
Stout (1954)

Four miles in three hours
was not a lazy stroll for Karen
Mullen and me. And we didn't
have a sedentary, seventh-of-a-ton Nero
Wolfe to blame.
Or, darkness.
But we did
have a mountain. And it was
steep. Really, really steep, like a cliff face.
I met Karen, who lives in St.
Louis, last week at Shady
Campground, on the Lostine
River, as she headed up the
trail to Maxwell Lake.
We ended up walking the
arduous trail together and
sharing war stories along the
way.
I probably over did yakking.
But, I had time, and a captive audience: Maxwell Lake Trail is an
arduous trail, which leaves
the trial head at 5,440 feet el
evation, climbs to a pass at
7,760 feet and drops down to
the lake at 7,729 feet.
And over the first three miles, an improved portion of the trail with long and gentle switchbacks, we paused often beneath dark clouds to photograph the grand, stark scenery, with shots across the Lostine River drainage and shots south to Eagle Cap Mountain shining in the sunlight.
But that last straight-up
mile is a killer. I sweated
profusely. Huffed and puffed.
Fought dizziness, and won
dered if I was having fun yet.
I suspect Karen had similar
battles. When I asked
about her training for the hike,
she gave me a mock-vacant
stare and said, ``Training?''
Once, when I looked at the
trail ahead _ it was so steep I
had to lean way back just to
see it _ my heart sank. An
other half mile.
Quitting entered my mind,
briefly.
So, we plugged along. As
excuses to breath, we paused
often to watch Oregon juncos,
American flickers and golden
mantel squirrels flit about as
if we didn't exist.
Karen, by the way, works
as the Curator of Education at
the Laumeier Sculptur Park,
an open-air museum in St.
Louis.
The hike to Maxwell Lake
was the last day of her va
cation, before she headed
back to Portland to catch a
flight home.
She'd spent the previous
night in her sleeping bag be
neath a tarp at Shady
Campground.
Last week, she flew from
St. Louis to Portland, rented a
car and drove to Corvallis to
visit friends. Then she drove
to Spokane to visit more
friends. Then she drove to
Enterprise through Clarkston
and Anatone, and up the
Lostine River Road.
She told me those things on
the easy switchbacks, when
we could both draw almost
normal breaths.
Once, near the end of the switchback, I detected an
apparent notch in the moun
tain and foolishly predicted that the lake
basin lay just a few minutes
away.
``Do you have a watch,'' I
asked. Karen shot her wrist
from the cuff of her sweater.
``It's a quarter to 12,'' she
said.
Hum. I'd left my truck at
10:10 a.m.
``Well, that looks like the
top,'' I said. ``And it's about
right, two miles an hour with
just a day pack.''
But it wasn't. And I'd goofed, which wasn't bad enough. I made a similar suggestion many minutes later.
``Liar, liar pants on fire,''
Karen said with a weary voice.
And sure enough, that prediction also proved wrong when we saw the trail continuing
straight up the mountainside
for several hundred yards to
the side of a huge granite
rock.
``Looks like we have to
climb and around that cliff,'' I
mumbled and felt my face burn.
And we did. Fresh snow lay
along the trail as we reached
a pass and spotted the lake
below.
``What's the time,'' I asked,
with as jaunty a tone as I
could muster.
``A quarter to one,'' she
said.
``That last section must've
been a mile straight up,'' I
said. ``I felt dizzy a couple of
times.''
I breathed deep and looked
toward the lake a quarter-mile
away.
Tall, stark granite peaks
and ridges curved around the
south and west sides of the
lake and sloped down to the
jade-green water's edge.
Dark, threatening clouds tum
bled above the peaks.
Granite boulders and
gnarled alpine fir trees stood
on the north shore, along with
several fire pits built of gran
ite rocks.
Karen rested on a rock and
munched trail mix.
I circled the north shore for
photos of the lake with tall
peaks and sheer slopes re
flected in the water.
Then I removed my day
pack, dropped the camera
bag, slipped into my yellow
nylon anorak, and bit into an
apple.
Both of us expected to hike
the four miles to Maxwell
Lake in a couple of hours. It
took nearly three.
We left the lake at about
1:30 p.m. and reached the
trailhead at 2:52 p.m.. Less
than an hour an a half.
I felt good, and Karen ap
parently also felt pretty good
despite a back injury two
years ago.
It was her first The hike had
been her first one since she
hurt her back, and since he'd
spent a week backpacking in
the Isle Royale National Park
a few years ago.
Anyway, we said good by at
the trailhead. She planned to
drive to La Grande, and per
haps a few miles west on
Interstate 84 to camp at
Hilgard State Park. Then she
would continue to Portland
and fly back to St. Louis.
I put my gear away,
unwrapped my sandwich and
set off down the Lostine River.

Tuesday, September 13, 2005

Maxwell Lake, Sept. 13, 2005

I hiked to Maxwell Lake, in the Eagle Cap Wilderness, on Monday with a woman from St. Louis, Karen Mullen. I met her at the trailhead, and we climbed the four miles together. We talked and walked, until the final mile or so, when we walked and sweated and wondered if we were having fun yet, and if so why?
We completed the final switchback, and the trail became arrow straight, and it shot straight up. I had to lean back to follow it with my glazed-over gaze.
Yet, we made it and found fresh snow on the pass. We spent half an hour at the lake and headed back. The trip up took nearly four hours. We scooted down in an hour and a half. We shook hands, and Karen headed toward Portland for her flight home to St. Louis.
I'll post a more complete story about the hike when it's completed, later this week.

Sunday, September 11, 2005

A Monday Drive

A couple of miles out of Dayton, we parked above the steel silhouettes spread across a field. ``That's pretty neat,'' my wife Darlene said about the 80 figures that represent Lewis and Clark's Patit Creek campsite on May 2, 1806. ``Nag, nag, nag,'' Sadie the Dalmatian said. I stepped from the truck, opened the back and put down the ramp. Sadie grinned, whipped her tail back and forth and scooted down. She snorted, nose to the ground, to clear her olfactory passages. She vacuumed along the fence row and filed away scents of past visitors to the site. Dogs, apparently, can store about 200 scents in their libraries for future reference. Sadie obviously analyzes hers at night or nap time, when her feet trot along imaginary trails and woofs rumble in her chest. Darlene read the informational plaques, one a bronze plate attached to a basalt marker, while I fetched the Nikon camera from the truck, attached the 18-70-milimeter zoom lens, and started snapping photos. ``This is impressive,'' Darlene said. ``But it doesn't say who the sculptor is.'' I didn't know, either, wonmdering if the craftsman would be called a sculptor. Three other vehicles arrived, and more people stood by the fence to study the scene. Sadie sniffed a couple of them. I heard one man say which figure was Meriwether Lewis. I recognized Seaman, Lewis' Newfoundland dog, and assumed that Lewis stood next to him. And I knew there were 37 human figures, 27 horse figures, along with representations of other gear necessary for a typical Lewis & Clark camp. After I hearded Sadie back into the truck and we fastened our seatbelts, I hinted, ``Since we're here, we should drive up the Tucannon River. The road's open now after the School Fire. I heard it burned over 50,000 acres.'' ``Might as well,'' Darlene said. The dashboard clock said 9:48 a.m. We continued on Patit Creek Road, which is paved to Maloney Mountain Road. We turned left and passed graders working on Hartsock Grade. At the bottom, we turned right onto the Tucannon River Road. We soon passed blackened hillsides down to the road. Then large sections of charred pine-tree skeletons, marked the drive from near the Last Resort and Cummins Creek Bridge to a couple of miles past Camp Wooten. I stopped to take photos along the way. At Cow Camp Bridge we began to lose site of the burn. At Panjab Bridge, I suggested, ``It looks pretty good here. But let's go on up to Sheep Creek, just to be sure the fire didn't burn reach that drainage.'' ``Might as well,'' Darlene said. The dashboard clock said 11:39 a.m. We turned left onto Forest Road 4712, and Sadie said, ``Nag, nag, nag,'' with her head stuck through the window to shell. She wanted out. Again. And she nagged until we stopped at the road's end near the Sheep Creek bridge. When I pulled out the ramp, she skated down with touching it and pranced off to snuffle down the aroma of a pile of black coyote scat. I shivered at the prospect of her researching that scent during a nap. ``Do you want to hike up to the falls?'' I asked Darlene. ``No,'' she said. ``Oh,'' I said. ``Well, I hate to come all the way up here and not check to see if the fire reached the falls.'' ``You go ahead,'' she said. ``I'll be fine here.'' ``Well, maybe I'll walke a little way up the trail, just to see how Sadie does.'' So, we did. And an excited Sadie bounded ahead of me. She leaped onto logs and down the other side. She crossed on ditch on a log without hesitation. When the trail edged into the stream or a marsh, she traipsed through without pause. Finally, maybe 50 yards fromt he falls, we encountered a waist-high log. She made one jump, missed and fell back. I offered to help, but she moved into the stream to find an alternate route. Well, there isn't one. I watched her for awhile from atop the log. I encouraged her to try again. I would grab her collar and boost her up. But she refused (it's a pride thing, I think). She searched on the uphill side of the trail, and found no route there either. Then she headed back down the trail. I knew she would get lost and decided to rush up to the falls, just to see it. Sheep Creek Falls looked great. Much of the debris hampering the view had disappeared since my last visit. Water cascaded down to 10-to-15-foot cliff. Water seeped from higher cliffs around the main falls. ``It's a cool place,'' I said out loud as I snapped a few photos before chasing back after Sadie. Well, she waited at the log barrier. She wrigglerd all over when she saw me, and we literally dashed back to the trailhead. ``You weren't gone long,'' Darlene said. ``I know. The falls look great,'' I said. ``I'm glad they're OK.'' As we headed back down the Tucannon River, I intimated, ``Since we're here, we should go on up to the Rose Springs and Clearwater Tower area. Just to see what damage the fire did.'' ``Sure,'' Darlene said. The dashboard clock said 12:47 p.m. And we did, after getting coffee, candy bars and a jerky stick for Sadie at The Last Resort. And, as on the Tucannon River Road, we felt depressed. Huge tracts of forests stood as black skeletons. Once I stopped for a picture and stepped beyond the edge of the road, and sank into ash near the top so my boots. Near Clearwater Tower, we left most of the burn behind us. ``I'd like to go on a little further,'' I said. ``Since we're hear.'' The clock said 2:12 p.m. ``OK,'' Darlene said. We drove all the way to the Mount Misery Trailhead, about five miles off of Forest Road 40. I took photos of Diamond Peak and looking east toward Troy and the Seven Devils, in Idaho. ``I suppose we should feed Sadie,'' Darlene said. And I did. The clock said 3:31 p.m. ``Perhaps we should head back,'' I mused. ``Sure,'' Darlene said. I stopped at photographed a scenic view toward the upper Tucannon River near Hunter Springs. I stopped and photogrtaphed a pile of melted metal, including several vehicles, that had been accumulated near Rose Springs. ``We should stop in Pomeroy for dinner,'' Darlene said, and we headed for Donna's Cafe. It was definitely time to eat.--

outtripper

A recent 150-mile loop-drive took me, my wife Darlene and Sadie the Dalmatian from Walla Walla though Dayton and the area burned by the 50,000 acre wildfire called the School Fire. The drive depressed me because of the devastation. Yet, I also felt elated that the fire missed the Sheep Creek drainage, including Sheep Creek Falls. And it didn't reach the Wenaha-Tucannon Wilderness.
Our loop continued from the Tucannon River Road up to Linville Ridge and Forest Road 40. We drove south all the way to Mount Misery. Again, the devastated forests stretched for miles. The cabins at Stentz Springs escaped damage, however, and so did the Clearwater Lookout and the Clearwater Ranger Station buildings.
A few miles past there, we looked across the upper Tucannon River drainage, which also remained unscathed by the fire. At the Diamond Peak trailhead, the view stretched many mile eastward to the Seven Devils in Idaho, beyond Hells Canyon.
We dined in Pomeroy at Donna's Cafe, and the waitress told about working 16-hour days feeding fire fighters. She specifically noted that the Indian firefighters, a celebrated group, conducted themselves with politeness.
We completed the loop on Highway 12. The drive took all day.