Friday, December 15, 2006

Juniper Dunes

Cows by the dozen, in a
pasture less than 20 yards
away, raised their heads when
Sadie the Dalmatian scooted
down the ramp from the
truck.
Some bawled their concern.
They had calves and were
antsy, especially about dogs.
Or so I figured.
And they probably didn't
like my looks much, either.
Well, Sadie ignored the
bovine hubbub and circled the
truck with her nose to the
ground.
I snapped the fannypack
around my waist. It held two
water bottles, two peanut-
butter-and-honey Tiger's Milk
bars, Sadie's cup (with a lid),
my wallet and so on.
I stuffed the insulated bag
with the ham-and-cheese
sandwich and the baggie with
celery and carrots into the day
pack, along with rain gear,
wool gloves, coffee pot, Snow
Peak stove, a quart of water, a
vest, a Puffball sweater and
first-aid stuff.
I shouldered the pack,
looped the camera bag's strap
over my shoulder, picked up
the bamboo walking stick and
locked the pickup.
I approached the sign at the
gate. It said hikers may cross
the private land of the Juniper
Dunes Ranch to reach the
entrance to the Juniper Dunes
Wilderness during the months
of March, April and May.
Sadie followed as I waded
through tumbleweeds that
clogged the path. Anxious
cows crowded the gate.
They backed up an inch or
two when I pulled the
springbolt to open the gate.
Sadie leaned against my leg.
We passed through, and I
closed the gate.
Sadie wouldn't bother the
cows. She's too mature (old?)
for that, finally.
I wasn't so sure they
wouldn't stomp on her, how
ever, and anyone who seemed
to be her friend.
I appreciate that folks at the
Juniper Dunes Ranch allow
access to the wilderness.
So, I drove slow past their
house and barn to keep dust
at a minimum.
And I didn't want any
trouble with their cows. Or
anything else. So, I held Sadie
close to my leg to make her as
inconspicuous as possible.
Cows munched grass and
watched, suspicious but calm,
as we weaved among them,
close enough to touch or to be
head butted should the im
pulse arise.
We walked the fence line to
our left for about 75 yards and
passed two more gates. We
climbed a sandy hill to the
sign-in kiosk. Four people had
signed-in two days earlier,
three to hike for a few hours
and one to run.
I signed us in for six or
seven hours of solitude.
I unhooked the GPS from
the camera bag and set a
waypoint. I left the unit on to
track our route and draped it
over my left shoulder, on a
string and open to satellites.
As we climbed the first
dune, the ``Mooos'' faded
away. A faint drone of a dis
tant jet hung briefly in the air.
Then silence. Total.
A light, chilly breeze ruffled
my shirt. It chilled my face
and hands. I glanced back at
the pasture, the truck and the
ranch.
I looked across the 7,140
acre wilderness, about eight
miles long and three miles
wide, and saw Rattlesnake
Mountain west of Hanford.
Congress set the wilderness
aside in 1984. It's bordered on
all sides by a combination of
private land and Bureau of
Land Management land, and
it's surrounded by a fence.
The BLM's Spokane office
administers the wilderness.
In the distance lay 30-
40-foot-tall, 150-year-old juni
per trees and more 130-foot-
high, 1,000-foot-wide dunes.
We moseyed along in a
southerly direction, pausing
often for pictures. I shot the
usual scenes, including one
aluminum energy-drink can
(that I pocketed).
I knew some tracks in the
sand: deer, rabbit, pheasant
(or hawk), mouse and beetle.
It's an up-and-down trek,
no matter what route you
take. Peaks (up to 1,150 feet)
and valleys (down to about
750 feet). Climbing straight
up 50-foot sandy ridges left
me puffing a bit.
Once a bunch of mule deer
bounded from a big sage
thicket.
After awhile I checked our
track on the GPS unit. We'd
walked in a somewhat
straight line to the southwest.
Then, at 3.11 miles and
11:59 a.m., we stopped for
lunch near cone-shaped,
40-foot-tall juniper. I punched
a waypoint into the GPS.
I filled Sadie's water cup,
put on coffee, unwrapped the
sandwich, gave Sadie her
share and sat on the ground
to eat, sip and daydream.
About 200 yards away, a
clutch of mule deer watched
our every move.
After lunch we headed east
for a mile, up-and-down-up-
and-down. We saw a few
more deer. And, despite the
wilderness fence, several of
the dunes had ORV tracks.
Maybe they were old. Ve
hicles tear away the thin
sandy soil, and the tracks re
main for decades.
After a mile, I punched in
another waypoint, and we
headed north again.
We walked slow. I took pic
tures of dunes, ants seething
on an ant hill, coyote scat
consisting of juniper berries,
a pheasant egg (perhaps?) in
a sage bush and so on.
When we reached the gate
again, I checked the GPS. We
had walked 7.07 miles.
The GPS track for my in
tended triangle, however,
looked more like a dipper.
Our moving speed averaged
1.7 mph, and our overall aver
age was 1.3 mph.
My maximum speed was
5.8 mph, probably when I
tripped and danced several
steps to stay upright.
Our moving time was four
hours and eight minutes. Our
stopping time was one hour
and 24 minutes, for a total of
five hours and 32 minutes.
By the time we recrossed
the pasture, the cows had
moved away from the gate.
Not that a bedraggled Sadie
noticed. She tottered to the
truck, climbed in and stood by
her bowl.
It was past dinner time, and
she knew it.

No comments: