Thursday, December 08, 2005

Juniper Dunes

When my watch said 11:39
a.m. on Monday, my stomach
said ``Let's eat.''
I paused on a patch of sand
in the Juniper Dunes Wilder
ness, three hours from the
truck. A breeze cooled my
face and arms as I aimed
binoculars across mounds, ar
royos and dark juniper trees.
To the south, in Pasco,
spanned the silver Cable
Bridge. To the west, beyond
Hanford, loomed stark Rattle
snake Mountain. To the east,
south of Dayton, gleamed
snow-covered Table Rock.
Steel windmills waved on
Horse Heaven Hills and above
Vansycle Canyon.
To the north spread more
mounds, arroyos and juniper
trees and, nestled in a green
pasture, the Juniper Dunes
Ranch. My main landmark.
So, I knew where I was.
And my shirt pocket bulged
with my compass, in case of
I sought a place secluded
from the breeze. Several juni
pers stood to my right, half
hidden by a sandy ridge. A
cool, green carpet spread be
neath them.
I set up the palm-sized
Snow Peak stove and hung
the CamelBak waterbag in a
tree. I drained water into the
coffee pot and into a cup for
Sadie the Dalmatian.
I fixed the camera on the
monopod, steadied it with a
low juniper limb, clicked the
10-second timer and hurried
to fire up the stove.
I pushed the stove's red-
button igniter: Whoosh.
Water steamed in two min
utes. I poured it into my cup
with two packs of Swiss Miss.
Sadie and I ate a turkey sand
wich, an apple and carrots.
I set the camera's timer
again, hurried to the day
pack, leaned back, picked up
my cup and listened.
The breeze soughed
through the junipers. A
meadow lark warbled. A dis
tant raven whispered.
Sadie lay on her back with
her legs straight up.
I dozed.
Yikes! My eyeballs bulged.
Two-stroke engines screamed
like Bear Cat wood chippers.
I grabbed my binoculars
and raced up the sandy ridge.
Four dirt bikers shrieked
across a dune and into an
arroyo 80 yards away. They
wore bright riding suits, with
the leader in red. Helmets and
bright red, white and blue
bikes with high front fenders
glared in the sunlight.
Rear tires spewed sand.
I stomped back to the juni
pers to pack. When my watch
said 12:39 p.m., Sadie and I
stalked eastward.
We crossed the dirt-bike
tracks, four six-inch-wide and
three-inch-deep gouges
across the sand, native bunch
grass and twisted sage.
Biting back bile, I trudged
across valleys and ridges
toward a tall, distant dune.
I paused to photograph
purple phlox, yellow bells,
yellow sky rocket, gold star,
balsom root and juniper trees.
Some junipers broke
ground there 250 years ago,
about the time James Lind
wrote his ``Treatise on
Scurvy'' that claimed eating
oranges and lemons would
cure or prevent the affliction.
And about the time the in
dustrial revolution started
Ah, well.
Shuffling along, we found a
4-point deer antler, and I
photographed it. So, big mule
deer do live among the dunes.
My altimeter figured the tall
dune to be 140 feet high. I
spotted my landmark, the Ju
niper Dunes Ranch, to the
north. We angled toward it.
Later, when I paused below
a ridge, all hell broke loose:
growling and snarling and a
gnashing of teeth.
My hair jumped. I jumped.
Sadie jumped behind my leg.
A snarling black and white
border collie slid to a stiff-
legged stop inches away. It
whirled and dashed away.
Sadie bristled and snarled in
hot pursuit. A man and
woman topped the ridge, yell
ing ``Katie! Katie!.''
Katie stopped. Sadie
stopped. They circled.
They sniffed as I climbed
the ridge and talked with the
people. They planned to camp
overnight. I said nothing
about a sign by the gate that
said no overnight parking.
Perhaps they asked per
mission at the ranch.
Then, after another hour, I
reached the last wilderness
dune and counted 12 people,
two on a blanket digging a
hole; three teenagers rolling
down a 60-foot slope; four
kids leaping down the dune;
and a woman holding a child.
A busy wilderness for a
Monday. And we all left our
Yet, people with the dog
and people turning the wilder
ness into a giant sand box
didn't clinch my jaws tight.
But dirt bikers did. Prob
ably because they mangled
everything in their paths.
And because they cut
through the fence to do it.

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