Friday, May 25, 2007

Sadie Joins the Firm

From 9/07/94
Sadie, a chic Dalmatian,
moved into my house two
weeks ago.
Sadie doesn't whine, groan
and slobber on my shoes,
which the basset who lived at
my house for 12 years did.
And she doesn't argue about
what we watch on television,
which the basset did.
She has long legs. She runs
like a zephyr and leaps like a
gazelle, which the basset
Sadie barely trots, however,
while I jog. She smiles and
holds her head inches from
my knobby knees. Her
shoulder brushes my leg. This
fearlessness comes from her
unique carriage-dog heritage,
but I'll explain that later.
More importantly, unlike
the basset who hated fishing
_ he'd howl to go home be
fore I could wet a line _
Sadie fishes long and intently.
Well, we've fished once,
and she loved it. Sadie rode in
the back seat without one
whine or slobber all the way
to the isolated boat launch
area on the Snake River
above Little Goose Dam.
As I rigged the fly-rod with
a fast-sinking line and a black
woolly bugger, she snuffled
among the weeds around the
car. Then she followed me to
the water's edge and sat
patiently two feet away while
I cast for bass. She tilted her
head and perked up her ears
when I spoke.
When I laid a 50-foot cast
onto the water and bragged,
her shoulder muscles rippled
with excitement. Then, when
I hooked a steelhead smolt
and it jumped and splashed,
she danced on her toes.
After I fumbled with the
10-inch fish to release it, she
turned a quizzical gaze
toward me. Then she flung
herself into water up to her
chest and searched for the
fish. She pawed the water and
overturned submerged rocks
to peer underneath.
And when I caught and re
leased a second 10-inch smolt
30 minutes later, she gasped
and redoubled her efforts.
She tipped one shiny rock and
bit at it.
Wow! What more could I
Actually, when I first met
Sadie at my daughter Andrea
Gascon's house, I didn't know
much about Dalmatians. Oh,
sure, they'd been in movies,
and they rode fire trucks. But
I'd never actually spoken to or
touched a Dalmatian.
And when Sadie first spot
ted me, her lithe, muscular
body froze. Her brown eyes
bored into me. She raised her
hackles and woofed.
Almost immediately,
though, she relented. She
brushed against my leg and
licked my hand.
In addition, already a year
old, she had most of her
shots. She'd been spayed. She
had papers, if we wanted
And she would cost noth
Spouse Darlene and I could
take her on a trial basis. If we
didn't get along, we could re
turn her. What a deal. Imposs
ible to refuse.
So we took her home.
For a trial?
We knew better. When
you're to the point of taking a
dog home for a trial, well,
you're hooked.
Nevertheless, we came to
this moment of transition with
severe reservations. We'd
lived with the basset for more
than 12 years, so we under
stood what it means to have a
dog move bag and baggage
into your life. You adjust to
feeding, doctoring, washing,
walking, training, /{ad infi
Furthermore, we'd had no
dogs around the house for
nearly three months. It felt
WONDERFUL. Hardly any
slobbers on the floor. Fewer
ticks. Fewer moans and
groans. Less arguing about
what we watch on television.
Yet, Sadie needed a new
home. She seemed so pleas
ant, so bright and happy.
She'd welcome me home for
lunch. She'd bounce around
and lick my hand. She
wouldn't drool on my shoe.
So, as I said, she moved in
and immediately wanted to
kill Oscar, the longtime cat of
the house. We nearly faltered.
But we didn't, and Oscar took
fewer than three days to get
fed up and charge a horrified,
yipping Sadie, who crashed
into a tree getting away.
With the Sadie-Oscar crises
resolved, I read about
Dalmatians in the 17th edition
of ``The Complete Dog Book,''
by the American Kennel Club,
from the public library. I'm
impressed. Sadie has the po
tential to be anything she
wants to be.
According to the AKC, the
Dalmatian has, over the
centuries, ``been a dog of war,
a sentinel on the borders of
Dalmatia and Croatia ... a
draught (draft or pulling) dog
and a shepherd.'' It has been
``a bird dog, a trail hound, a
retriever, and a pack dog for
boar and stag hunting.'' It is
well known for ``heroic per
formances'' in firefighting
situations. A ``retentive mem
ory'' distinguishes Dalmatians
as circus and stage per
And the AKC says the
Dalmatian ranks ``as the orig
inal, one and only, coaching
(or carriage) dog.'' This heri
tage may go ``back to an en
graving of a spotted dog fol
lowing an Egyptian chariot.''
Other centuries-old evidence
apparently reveals ``the
Dalmatian with ears entirely
cropped away and padlocked
brass collar plying his natural
trade as follower and guard
ian of the horse-drawn ve
That's why Sadie trots close
when I run. It's in her genes,
unless she's simply moving
me out of her path. Either
way, Sadie thrives on ``road
work.'' With ``speed and en
durance, she has the heart to
run gaily until the journey's
end'' no matter the distance.
The Dalmatian is quiet, an
``ideal guard dog, distinguish
ing nicely between barking
for fun or with a purpose,''
according to the AKC. It is
courteous with ``approved
visitors'' but has a highly de
veloped ``protective instinct''
and the ``courage to defend.''
It is ``extremely hardy'' and
``suited to any climate.''
Dalmatians are also neat and
clean and require a minimum
of care.
Heck, Sadie may be the
perfect dog. And with my ex
pert teaching _ I've also
checked out and read 86
pages of ``Training Your Dog''
by John Rogerson _ her out
door skills will improve with
leaps and bounds.
She'll soon dive into thorny
thickets after pheasants.
She'll pin them down until I
get the ol' blunderbuss ready.
And she'll graciously fetch
any pheasant, duck or chukar
that I happen to knock down.
Then she'll learn to balance
the canoe while I cast for
trout; to carry the tent and the
food when we go backpack
ing; to stand guard at night
and scare away porcupines
and skunks; to go skijoring at
the drop of a mitten, that is, to
pull me on cross-country skis
for miles over mountain trails;
and to read and to discuss
Ruth Rendell mystery novels.
And when we acquire our
new golden, two-horse char
iot, we'll both be chic driving
to work: me in an alabaster
toga and Sadie with cropped
ears and gleaming, padlocked
brass collar. She'll trot fear
lessly between the dappled
stallions and haughtily ignore
their slashing hooves _ as
her ancestors apparently did.
While I work, the elegant
and ferocious Sadie will stand
guard while my chariot
awaits. I'll probably never get
another parking ticket.

Juniper Dunes, North Entrance

Sand shifted beneath my
boots. Sweat dribbled down
my forehead into one eye and
twisted my face into a grim
I wiped the eye with a
finger behind my glasses. I
huffed down a bucket of air
and puffed it out, huff-puff,
huff-puff, etc.
Climbing an 800-foot-tall
sand dune in the Juniper
Dunes Wilderness on a bright,
90-plus afternoon compares
with an afternoon walk in the
park as plucking out whiskers
one at a time with clam-shell
tweezers compares with get
ting a barbershop shave.
One demands attention.
The other doesn't. That's my
guess, anyway.
The particular 800-foot
dune mentioned above,
spread thick with shiny ruby-
red sand dock halfway up the
slope, slanted steeper than
the normal 35 degrees or so.
That's when piled-up grains
of sand answer the call of
I've never heard it, but with
dry sand and a big slide, a
bellowing sound occurs, often
called ``singing sand.''
I paused, leaned back and
peered upwards through a
tight squint. The top 20 feet of
naked sand seemed to lean
over me, defying gravity.
The leaning ridge reminded
me of a snow ledge ready to
become an avalanche.
I'm no Chicken Little
exactly, but my attention
piqued, and I scooted out of
its potential path. Who needs
a sand slide, singing or not.
Despite the heat, and the
attention demanded by the
terrain, a trip to the Juniper
Dunes Wilderness area IS
worth the effort, especially at
the north entrance.
You reach that gate through
a section of pasture on the
Juniper Dunes Ranch. It's
accessable only during
March, April and May.
So, as May threatened to
slip away, I left home at 11:03
a.m. one day last week. I
stopped twice along
Blackman Ridge Road to snap
horned lark photos.
Sadie the Dalmatian stayed
home, so cattle in the parking
area corrals barely glanced
my way. By 1:03 p.m. I signed
in at the wilderness gate.
It's possible to leave the
gate, climb a short distance
(30-40 yards?) to a path off to
the left (south) and avoid
some of the really steep early
My strategy, however, since
few trails exist, involves walk
ing more or less in a straight
line, dunes and all.
At the gate I attached my
GPS unit to my upper left arm
with a velcro strap. It plots a
line on a map as I walk, so I
can track my route (with di
rection, moving time, stop
ping time and distance).
A compass would suffice,
but the GPS gives more infor
mation, so I carry it. If I don't
forget it.
Actually, on a clear day, a
hiker may climb a tall dune
and see the Juniper Dunes
With the GPS in place, I
climbed the first dune and
angled to the right
The largest number of
250-300-year-old juniper trees
cluster in that direction. I
stopped often to photograph
flowers, interesting patterns
in the sand (created by wind-
blown grasses), animal tracks
(including those left by mice
and Morman crickets) and
scenic views.
Once a lizard skittered be
neath a sage bush. I wanted it
to be a horned toad, but it
wasn't. It bobbed up and
down on the sand among a
maze of sage bush branches
and leaves.
I switched the camera to
manual focus and snapped
several photos. For no appar
ent reason, other than my
presence, the lizard leaped
from the sand and clung to a
branch. I snapped a final
photo and left.
I've seen deer, porcupines
and coyotes among the dunes
(along with deer hunters and
illegal motor bikers) there,
but the lizard and Mormon
crickets were the main
critters I saw last week.
As usual, time rushed by.
On the north or west side of
the dunes, hidden from the
light breeze, the heat
pounded me. On the ridges,
however, the breeze felt cool
against my damp nylon shirt.
I swigged from the
100-ounce CamelBack water
bag as I walked. It contained
ice cubes, so the water tasted,
well, like that fabled elixir.
After 2 hours, 38 minutes, I
dropped the daypack and
cameras beneath a aromatic
juniper. Sweat soaked the
back of the bag and my back.
The breeze felt cool as I sat on
the ground in the shade.
I sipped ice water and
munched two PowerBars.
The GPS said I'd walked
1.74 miles, moving for 1 hour,
45 minutes and stopping for
53 minutes. I'd made a
squiggly path in the sand.
Before I started again, I
took off my boots, pulled up
my socks and retied my laces,
a bit tighter than before, to
give my feet better support on
the shifting sand.
I slipped into the daypack
and camera bag and headed
east. After a few hundred
yards, I turned north.
My energy flagged a bit,
and I chose routes around
dunes when possible. I
paused for a few photos of
scenes and bugs on flowers.
At the gate I checked the
GPS. I'd covered 3.97 miles,
walking for 2 hours, 44 min
utes and stopping for 58:37
I'd turned the GPS off when
I sat beneath the juniper tree.
I drove slowly past the Juni
per Dunes Ranch to keep the
dust down and show appreci
ation for the owners' toler
ance of visitors.
And I was in no hurry. I
could drive the 75 miles or so
home in less than two hours,
so I would probably be in time
to wrangle a bowl of soup
before bedtime.

Within sight of Walla Walla

A stay-at-home outdoors
Walla Walla weekend proves
that you don't have to drive
half a day to find scenic
beauty and wildlife.
A drive of less than 40 miles
over two days does the trick.
And you get to sleep in your
own bed.
So, I slept in on the first day
off before I rode my bike
along Mill Creek and around
Bennington Lake. I swooped
over the unpaved trails and
roller-coaster hills, sharp
turns and exciting ruts, or
ditches, a foot wide and a foot
``Exciting,'' if you hit one,
that is, you could crush a rim
and catapult over the handle
bars to land on your punkin'. I
hit a top speed of 24 mph and
covered 14.6 miles in one-
hour, 39 minutes.
On the way home along
Mill Creek, I saw two families
of Canada geese, one with
two adults and three goslings
and one with two adults and
at least a dozen goslings.
And I saw dozens of stay-at-
home folks enjoying shaded,
colorful Pioneer Park.
So I stowed the bike and,
without showering or chang
ing clothes, took my wife
Darlene, Sadie the Dalmatian
and the camera for a ride.
We drove 1.5 miles to see
the geese. We walked along
the stream for 100 yards and
watched adult geese and a
stream of little ones swim up
stream in single file. Almost.
When they came to a weir,
the adults hopped to the top.
The goslings, with mere
stubs for wings, hesitated
then swam back and forth
unwilling to face the chal
I watched until my camera
arm ached.
Sadie grumbled. She
waddled to the truck and
back. She stood grumbling
behind me. She made a sec
ond trip to the truck and back.
All the time, the goslings
swam back and forth before
the weir, and the adults
walked along the top, keeping
pace with them. They made
three trips from one side of
the stream to the other, three
times coming within 10 feet of
me before turning back.
Once an adult slipped down
the weir to join the goslings.
The adult swam slowly up to
the weir again and, as to dem
onstrate how its done,
climbed to the top. No little
one followed.
After an hour, the squad of
goslings _ I counted 15 of
them _ swam again to my
side of the stream. Nearly at
my feet, three of them left the
water and stumbled across
the stones to a low, dry sec
tion of the weir.
As hovering parents
watched, they scrambled onto
the weir. Alas, the other 12
turned back.
And I gave up. Surely, they
would all eventually find a
way up the weir. Surely?
We drove another mile-plus
to the Mill Creek Project
Office, and a rooster pheasant
paraded past us on the grass.
On the way home, we
stopped at Pioneer Park, with
it colorful dogwood and laurel
blossoms, and watched famil
ies picnic and kids play on the
covered wagon. We watched a
peacock in the aviary.
So, that was the first day of
an Outdoors in Walla Walla
Weekend. And I drove fewer
than four miles.
Early (7:30 a.m.) on the sec
ond day, we drove into the
Blue Mountain foothills on
Government Mountain Road.
It circles around to connect
with Kendall Skyline Road,
according to my map.
From there we could return
to Walla Walla on Tiger Can
yon and Mill Creek roads.
So I figured.
Well, Government Moun
tain Road climbs steadily.
Within minutes, two
scraggly does clattered into
the road, up the bank and
stood in the field above us.
We counted nine deer within
five minutes.
In another few minutes, we
could see across the valley.
Haze obscured details to
some degree, but we could
see from the airport to Milton-
Freewater, and to the wind
turbines on the distant hill
Despite the frequent ``No
Trespassing'' signs, we
stopped several times to take
in the view and to let Sadie
sniff around the balsamroot.
Eventually, about 20 miles
from home, we came to a
100-yard snowdrift with two-
foot-deep ruts. I stopped.
``We shouldn't have any
trouble,'' I said, keeping to
myself that I'd taken the
shovel out of the truck two
days earlier.
``Maybe,'' Darlene said.
``You ifdonf have a shovel,
She's been here before, I
thought, and grunted.
I slipped the 4-wheel drive
lever into low-low and we
putted through drift and past
a pond alive with frog croaks.
Then after another deep-
rutted drift, a deadfall
blocked the road.
We'd driven 22 miles. I
made half-a-dozen moves for
ward and back to turn on the
two-track road. after passing
the first drift again, I stopped.
``Let's walk back to the
pond and look for frogs,'' I
We spent half an hour at
the pond with hundreds of
apparently invisible frogs
harmonizing for us.
Finally, I saw two frogs, one
with a little one on its back,
suspended in the clear water.
Then, with the valley below,
we drove directly into the
wide panorama on Saddle
Mountain Road to Pikes Peak
Not a bad way to brush
with the great outdoors and
put fewer than 40 miles on the
truck. Not bad at all.

Sunday, March 25, 2007

Kirkwood Ranch, Hells Canyon

(Written 10/21/1998)
Kirkwood Bar often whispers my name, especially this time of year. It's an easy place to reach on foot, with a six-mile trek along the Snake River Trail from Pittsburg Landing. From Walla Walla, however, you must drive 209 miles, including 17 miles of steep-winding-unpaved road over Pittsburg Saddle, to reach the trailhead. You take Highway 12 through Lewiston to Highway 95 and turn south to White Bird, Idaho. Turn right just past Hoots Restaurant for that final 17 miles. Rumor claims that Idaho keeps this unpaved road open all year, but carry chains if you expect snow below an altitude of 4,000 feet. Sections of the road slant at a 16-degree angle, and that's darn steep. Perhaps that's why from mid-October until spring relatively few people drive to Pittsburg Landing. Anyway, during this period you won't see many others on the trail or on the river. Sure, you'll see an occasional deer, elk and chukar hunter. But the traffic's nothing like during the heat of the summer season when the river and the trails will be alive with nature lovers. Mine was the only vehicle at the trailhead last week, for example. I met two other hikers two days later, as I returned to my car. During the hike, I saw one raft and three jet boats on the river. I met the caretakers at Historic Kirkwood Ranch, of course, since the USDA Forest Service keeps people at the site year around. Wally and Verna Baker of Pollock Pines, Calif., have the October duty this year. And they may do it again next year. More than late fall and winter solitude draws me to the canyon, though. With snow and freezing temperatures imminent in the high Wallowas and the Wenaha-Tucannon Wilderness, I expect relatively balmy weather in the canyon. Wintertime lows seldom drop below the 40s along the river, with its altitude in the 1,300 foot range. And, if anything, fall and winter intensifies the rugged beauty of the basalt-ribbed canyon walls, where you may see deer, elk, bears, cougars, bobcats, lynxes, coyotes and bighorn sheep. Not that I've seen all of those, although I have seen deer, elk, coyotes and bighorn sheep. Bighorn sheep? Yes. Last week I gloated here about photographing mountain goats above Cummings Creek, in the Tucannon River drainage. That's not true. They were bighorn sheep ewes. Several people pointed that out, including Al Stillman and Ron Jackson. You don't sneak an incorrect animal identification by those guys. I should know better. Anyway, besides the interesting animals, Hells Canyon plants wear a variety of hues in the fall to brighten the landscape. I mean, you still see bright yellow balsamroot, blazing star and klamath weed. And the sumac makes beet-red patches that contrast with the yellow-orange of poison ivy leaves and the pale yellow of the showy milkweed stalks. And if all this solitude and natural beauty isn't enough to motivate a hike up the trail to Kirkwood Bar, I think about that clean, dry Phoenix Composting Toilet. It's a marvel of technology, and it sits there on the bar for the public to use. You may say most people don't drive 209 miles through a downpour, including 17 miles over a muddy mountain pass, and lug a 50-pound backpack for six miles along a soggy, rocky trail just to relax in a Phoenix Composting Toilet, no matter how advanced. But some do. Well, at least I did it last week. In fact, I thought of the Phoenix as I passed Hoots and chugged toward the pass. Not that I had to wait. Many primitive toilets dot the Pittsburg Landing area, at the lower and upper boat landings, in the campground and at the trailhead. And that's where I paused. But I opened the door of the trailhead facility, about a mile upstream from the campground, and nearly gagged. This is no Phoenix Composting Toilet. And it needed cleaning. Really. And those two spiders lurking in that upper left-corner web looked very much like black widows. I gritted my teeth and decided to wait. I donned my rain coat and rain pants, put Sadie the Dalmatian's pack on her, and we headed up the trail. Within the first half hour, my chin and my dog dripped rainwater. We reached Kirkwood Bar in a leisurely three hours. By 4:30 p.m. I'd pitched the tent, spread out the Therm-A-Rest mattress and sleeping bags and fetched water from a hose near the Kirkwood Ranch Museum, where a sign warned me to treat the water. My water bag holds 2.5 gallons, and I suspended it with a string from a hackberry tree branch near a picnic table. I pumped three quart bottles full with the PUR water purifier, and set up the stove ready to cook dinner. First, though, I carried the red clothes bag with wool-Polypropylene longjohns, socks, pants and shirt 97 yards to the Phoenix Composting Toilet. With the door open, it's a clean, well-lighted place. It sits in what was, decades ago, a hayfield at a flourishing sheep ranch. It's a combination of rough-hewn wood siding and plastic-like walls. It's a high-tech marvel as one-holers go, which the caretakers at Historic Kirkwood Ranch sweep and mop for about 300 visitors per day during the peak season. A light-colored interior and aluminum fixtures garnish the one-holer's ambience. It's a small toilet, though, with barely enough room for one person to change clothes when the dog also insists on getting in out of the rain. But I managed. My wet clothes must've weighed 20 pounds. In the dry clothes, I immediately felt warmer. I did regret having to slip sodden hiking boots over the dry socks, especially after I'd spent an hour the night before putting two coats of Nikwax waterproofing on them. The boots, not the socks. I wondered one more time if paying $7.50 for 4-ounces of such gunk wasn't as dumb as buying boots touted as waterproof in the first place. And what about that rain jacket and pants touted as being waterproof while wicking away moisture? They'd also soaked through and through and probably weighed 10 pounds by themselves. Ah, well. Such is life on the trail, I guess. Nevertheless, I felt downright snug with dry clothes under my soaked boots and soaked rain gear. I paused and listened to rain patter against the roof. I read the chart on the wall that asked visitors not to toss plastic, metal or matches into the toilet. And it said, ``Within the composting tank beneath the floor, many organisms are decomposing wastes to form a humus-like soil, keeping this area unpolluted.'' Wow. I listened more carefully. Was that a humming sound, along with the rain? I imagined billions and billions of happy organisms humming away, creating new soil beneath the floor. I found the prospect so fascinating that I sat down to rest and to listen. I'd planned to do a little fly-fishing before dark, but I felt no rush to leave a warm, well-lighted place. Perhaps, I concluded mournfully, Kirkwood Bar didn't whisper my name so much as hum it.

Thursday, March 01, 2007

A Jog at Bennington

A Great Blue Heron stood
knee deep in Bennington
Lake near the boat ramp. Tall
and lanky, its shadow
darkened the still water.
When Sadie the Dalmatian
and I moved, the great bird
gracefully rose and sailed low
over a narrow pool.
I paused to watch the bird
pass a sheaf of ice and land
on the far shore.
After a moment's reflection
about the stark landscape, the
bird's grace and the silence, I
set off at a slow jog.
My boots crunched on
crystallized snow. Sadie led
us past the dam and into a
cottonwood thicket. Snow lay
on the trail there and revealed
a multitude of tracks: people,
dogs, deer, birds and critters.
I saw pheasant and quail
prints. Juncos and sparrows
left the tiny tracks. Flocks of
juncos often flit from wild
rose bushes and weeds
around the lake. They show
white feathers on each side of
their tails when they fly.
Magpies or American
flickers, or both, left some
prints. And robins, plentiful
despite the snow, left
medium-sized tracks.
Rabbit tracks were com
mon, and squirrels apparently
stood on back feet to survey
the neighborhood.
A skunk, beaver, racoon or
possum probably left prints
that resembled tiny knoby-
knuckled hands pressed into
the snow.
Beavers live beneath the
lake's east shore where
they've floated a store of
cottonwood saplings and left
stumps on the high bank.
Field mice with flashing
feet have plowed inch-deep
furrows in the snow to cross
the trail.
Halfway around the lake,
we turned to the east and
jogged toward wheat fields.
At an iced-over water guzzler,
we turned northwest again.
I glanced at a bird house on
a tall pole below the trail.
I once saw a kestrel harrass
a northern harrier that
perched on the bird house.
I stopped to watch. The kes
trel dived at the harrier,
Swoooosh!, and climbed for
10 to 15 yards. It fluttered,
turned and dived again.
When the kestrel zipped
within an inch of the harrier's
head, the harrier curtsied and
turned to watch the kestrel
The kestrel climbed again,
paused, turned and dived
again. I counted four, five, six
dives, and the word ``parab
ola'' came to mind.
I'm not sure why. Sadie
stood a few feet away and
watched. ``Parabola'' prob
ably did not occur to her.
When we moved, the har
rier rose and glided above the
slope. The kestrel followed
briefly before disappearing
into a line of evergreens at the
bottom of the slope.
The word ``parabola''
stayed with me, and at home I
looked it up. The definition
was Greek to me: ``A plane
curve formed by the intersec
tion of a right circular cone
and a plane parallel to an
element of the cone or by the
locus of points equidistant
from a fixed line and a fixed
point not on the line.''
But an illustration made the
word clear, sort of like a `U,'
with the sides spread slightly
wider at the top.
So, I glanced at the bird
house, and it was broken. I
walked though the ice-crusted
grass to the pole.
The bird house had been
blasted with a shotgun. Pieces
of it lay on the ground. Shot
gun pellets had penetrated the
I clenched my jaw and
jogged on. Minutes later I
passed another bird-house
pole. The bird house lay on
the ground, blasted by a shot
gun. Nearby lay a shotgun
shell. I inserted a finger and
picked it up. Perhaps it had
A few minutes later, I
passed a farmer's yellow sign
warning about crop spray. It
had been blasted and lay on
the ground.
I told my self not to be
surprised. I often see shot
signs in more isolated places.
I hadn't seen them before at
Bennington Lake.
It's an area frequented by
many people, from horse
riders to bird hunters.
Yet, I often feel as if I have
the place to myself, especially
on cold winter days. It's a bit
jarring to realize that I share
the place with vandals with
I don't blame all bird hunt
ers. I have seen dozens of bird
hunters at Bennington Lake,
and I've only seen two blasted
bird houses and one blasted
And, strangely enough, I
may have seen who did it.
Not long ago, two young
men ahead of me fired three
shots near one bird house
pole. I didn't see them until I
cleared a line of trees. Then I
turned west before passing
them (and the bird house). I
wanted to stay out of their
Sure, maybe they didn't
shoot the bird houses or the
Someone did, however, and
it's disheartening to know
that at least one vandal with a
shotgun may visit Bennington
It makes me feel more un
easy watching herons and
studying tracks in the snow
than I once did.

Friday, February 02, 2007

That day at the mouth of the Deschutes

I tried counting the number
of anglers at the mouth of the
Deschutes River. Too many.
Lay them end-to-end, which
would not be easy, and they
would stretch the quarter-
mile to Moody Rapids
Or farther, since some ap
peared quite tall.
Three taller ones fished
from a bridge across the
Deschutes. They cast between
the highway bridge and a rail
road trestle.
One man said he had
caught two steelhead, but had
released one, a wild fish.
He said when someone
hooked a fish from the bridge,
another angler hurried down
the bank to land it.
``If nobody else is here, you
have to do it yourself,'' he
said, which sounded right.
On the upstream side of the
bridge a dozen or so anglers
lined the the east shore be
neath the bridge.
Up toward Moody Rapids,
anglers angled along both
sides of the river, on an island
in the river, in the middle of
the river and in float tubes on
the water.
So many anglers. Yet, they
augured a good omen: Fish
must be biting.
They also augured a bad
one: I'm not so partial to fish
ing shoulder-to-shoulder.
Nevertheless, I drove to the
state park on the east shore.
Half a dozen vehicles huddled
like dusty beetles at the
trailhead parking area for the
mountain bike/horse trail that
follows the river upstream for
17 miles.
I continued through the
park to the river-side trail
leading upstream and found
beetles galore.
So, I drove west across the
river and turned left onto Old
Moody Road, past the Heri
tage Landing boat launch to a
parking area. I nosed in
among seven other beetles
and switched off the motor.
I rigged up the steelhead
rod, tied on a green-butted
skunk fly pattern, donned
waders and headed upstream.
Bright sun glistened on the
water. The air felt cool at 8:09
a.m. When I hefted the cam
era, sun spots danced in the
view finder. I snapped any
I passed angler after angler
below Moody Rapids, includ
ing two in float tubes with
swift current swirling around
Apparently anglers used
the tubes for balance rather
than for floating. So, if they
stepped into a hole or fell, the
tube would hold them up.
And I noticed that every
angler tossed lures with long
spinning rods or casting rods.
I passed two guys with plate-
sized, plastic side-planers on
their lines, about 10-15 feet up
from their lures (bait is not
It looked awkward to cast.
A later Google search for
side-planers uncovered this:
``A wish has finally come true
for river bank-bound anglers.
Now it's possible to fish Hot
Shot plugs just as effectively
from shore as it is from a drift
boat or a jet sled . . . without
the boat! ''
I stopped twice, with ang
lers 80-yards or so on either
side, waded into the current
up to my knees and cast so
that the green-butted skunk
drifted into relatively calm
When a boat roared past,
the waves nearly swamped
I spent an hour fishing two
spots above the rapids. Then I
saw David Williams of The
Dalles with a fish on.
A big one, obviously.
I watched for seven or eight
minutes, so he probably had
the fish on for 10 to 15 min
utes, long enough to strain his
When he finally landed the
fish, I figured it to be a more
than 10 pounds, maybe even a
three-salt fish (one that re
mained in the ocean for three
years before returning).
``That's a good fish,'' a
happy Williams said. ``I'll
have a fish dinner tonight.''
Williams, who works for a
railroad-repair company, was
fishing for the last time before
leaving to work for eight
weeks in Iowa.
He picked up the fish and
started upstream. I felt a bit
sheepish, but I asked if he'd
finished fishing.
He had, so I waded in waist-
deep and started casting. I
shot long casts with a sink-tip
line across the current, and
floated the fly into nice riffles.
I cast time after time. A
man across the river fished
with a bright-orange side-
planer. He hooked a fish and
landed it. He hooked a second
fish and landed it.
I pondered my fly-fishing
tactics. And I imagined a
bright, solid steelhead, like
Williams' fish, sizzling on my
wife Darlene's George Fore
man Five-Star Grill.
Then, with flagging atten
tion, I snagged a back cast in
the weeds behind me and
snapped off the fly.
I waded out and found the
fly hanging from a weed. In
stead of tying it back on, I
hustled, working up a good
sweat, back to the truck for
the spinning rod and lures.
I hurried to avoid losing my
spot, and I didn't,
I cast halfway across the
river with a soft-plastic min
now (and two split-shot), a
hammered brass spinner, a
Blue Fox Vibrax with an or
ange body, and so on and on.
I covered more water than a
cloudy day, but all I caught
was a sore throwing arm.
After awhile, I had to flip the
lure out backhanded.
Finally, I meandered along
the river back to the truck.
Most of the anglers had de
parted, so I fished several
holes and snapped photos
without sunspots.
Then, without a fish for din
ner and with the sun sinking
behind me, I drove home.
The truck's clock said 4:03
p.m. Heck, I wasn't going to
make it home for dinner any

Thursday, January 25, 2007

Kirkwood Ranch, Hells Canyon

Kirkwood Ranch, Parts 1-2
(Part 1)
My windshield wipers
whacked all the way from
Walla Walla to White Bird,
And they left a blurred
streak right in front of my
eyes. Drat. Should be
Perhaps later.
The 17-mile road from
Highway 95 at White Bird
over the saddle to Pittsburg
Landing oozed mud. When I
parked at the Upper Land
ing's Snake River Recreation
Trail trailhead, mud plastered
the sides and back of the
truck. It splotched my hands,
pants and shirt as I opened
the tailgate for Sadie the
She nosed about in the soft
rain. I slipped into a rain
jacket and stretched the rain
cover over the backpack.
When I bent to snap Sadie's
pack on her, I had to let out
the two straps under her
``Say,'' I said and poked her
with a finger. ``Sadie's put on
a few pounds.''
She drooped her tail.
``Well, no big deal,'' I said
and rubbed her ears.
She wagged her tail and
shook herself beneath the
pack. It held her food for
three days, a fold-up bowl, a
coat, four fleece boots for sore
paws, salve for scratches and
rashes, bandage wrap, Q-Tips
and a PackTowl to dry her
with before she entered the
I lifted my pack from the
tailgate. ``Hummpf,'' I grunted
and snapped the waistbelt. I
locked the truck, picked up
the bamboo walking stick
with the rubber tip, and we
set off walking in the rain.
Snake River Recreation
Trail (No. 102), follows the
river for about 30 miles to
Butler Bar, a couple of miles
past Granite Creek and a few
miles below Hells Canyon
Sadie and I once hiked the
28 miles to Granite Creek.
And back. We had fun, de
spite heat, ticks and heavy
This time, for our first
backpack of the spring, we
would walk six miles to
Kirkwood Ranch, camp for
two nights, explore, fly fish
for bass and hike back.
We started at 12:24 p.m.
that Sunday. Sadie strutted
under her load, but I wobbled
a bit beneath my 45-pounds
up the first steep, rocky and
narrow half-mile of trail.
When the trail leveled
somewhat, however, the load
rode more easily. Then the
drizzle stopped, and I put my
rain jacket in the pack.
Heavy cloud cover cooled
the air, and we reached the
camping area near Kirkwood
Ranch at 3:17 p.m. I pitched
the single-walled Eureka!
Zeus Exo tent (for exo
skeleton, because the poles
are on the outside).
I put on a sweater and
walked 400 yards to the mu
seum and met the site's care
taker, Linda Mink.
Coincidentally, one of her
seven son's is Correctional
Sergeant Tanner Mink, who
began work at the Washing
ton State Penitentiary in 1997.
He received Supervisor of the
Year honors in March of this
I filled my pocket-sized
water bag from a hose at the
museum and hung it from a
limb on a hackberry tree.
I mixed Sadie's dinner in
her bowl. She ate it in about
27 seconds. I boiled water for
hot chocolate and dehydrated
potatoes, opened a flat can of
Hormel ham with my Swiss
Army Knife, chopped it,
cooked it in olive oil and
mixed it into the mashed po
Clouds swelled, but no rain
fel. The air remained cool and
calm. I rigged the fly rod with
a black leach nymph and
pocketed my three-day Idaho
fishing permit that cost
Sadie followed me to the
river, below the line of hack
berry trees. We jumped from
rock to rock along a bar, and I
cast to the top of a riffle at a
deep hole backed up against a
cliff. I hooked a bass on the
first cast.
In an hour I hooked and
released about 20 fish, all in
the half-pound to three-
quarter-pound range. They hit
hard. Some jumped from the
water. I held a couple of them
by the lower lip and snapped
photos. They scooted away
when I let them go.
Next we walked upstream,
past the ranch, and fished our
way back to camp. I caught
more fish, including two at
the boat landing.
At dark I spread Sadie's
coat on the tent floor, and she
flopped. She got cold and
woke me later. I unzipped the
tent door. Stars sparkled in a
cloudless May sky at mid
night. The thermometer said
40 degrees. I covered Sadie
with part of my sleeping bag.
I expected Monday would
be bright and sunny.
(Part 2)
Chukars on the canyon wall
yakked it up, so Sadie the
Dalmatian and I skulked from
the tent into a 39-degree
morning before sunrise.
I tied my shoes at the picnic
table and set up the
WhisperLite stove. I toasted
two bagels in the fry pan with
olive oil and spread grape
jelly onto each golden bite
that I chased with steaming
hot chocolate.
I stuffed all the gear but the
water bag into the tent and
left the door open so critters
could enter without chewing a
hole. Three deer grazed on
the hillside 100 yards away,
and cougars, skunks, porcu
pines, and coyotes live in the
I've never seen a marmot,
squirrel or gopher in the one
time hayfield, but they must
be there. So I left the door
open, and we went to explore.
We walked three-quarters
of a mile up Kirkwood Creek,
past the pit houses dug in ash
deposited by the Mount
Mazama eruption about 7,000
years ago.
Now it's a weedy knoll, and
I wondered what it was like
when the ash fell, apparently
much heavier than when
Mount St. Helens blew.
Hard to imagine.
We found the Carter Man
sion to be a mess. Dick
Carter, a moonshiner during
Prohibition, built the vertical
log home above the stream
for his bride in the 1920s. It
had the first tongue-and-
groove floor in the canyon.
Carter escaped federal rev
enue agents for a consider
able time by hiding his still in
a cellar dug in the ash. He
was eventually sent to prison,
however, and his house was
used as a school for a time.
Undergrowth now hides the
house, with its empty window
frames and its floors covered
with ceiling plaster.
Linda Mink, a caretaker at
Kirkwood Ranch, said the
Forest Service lacks money
the mansion's upkeep.
Mink, however, is organiz
ing a ``Friends of Kirkwood
Ranch'' group to raise money
for the site.
T-shirts sales and other
fund-raising efforts could be
aimed specifically for
Kirkwood projects, she said.
By the time Sadie and I
reached camp again at 8:48
a.m., the thermometer on the
toilet in the hayfield said 62
degrees. I carried the
CamelBak water bag to a
wooden flume, designed a
century ago to irrigate the
hayfields and gardens. I
hooked the bag to a horse
shoe nailed to the flume and
pumped water with the Pur
Then we set off on a
2.3-mile hike upriver to
Suicide Point in bright sun
shine. Along the way I
sweated and took pictures of
flowers and scenery. We
climbed to the point, 400 feet
above the river, and rested.
When we got back a bit after
noon, the thermometer on the
toilet registered 79 degrees.
I worried that UV rays
would damage the nylon tent
and considered taking it down
and putting it up again after
sunset. Instead I quit worry
ing and ate two packages of
granola with dehydrated
strawberries in powdered
While Sadie licked the fry
pan/cereal bowl, I opened the
camera bag. Hum. No lens on
one of the tiny cameras. I
searched the bag. I searched
my pockets.
Phooey. I'd dropped it on
the hike from Suicide Point.
Of course it was on top of the
point. Another two-plus hour
hike. In the heat of the day.
Poor Sadie. She lay under
the picnic table with her
tongue hanging out.
Heck, what would a lens
cap cost? Two bucks? Maybe.
But I couldn't forget it.
``Come on, Sadie. Let's go,''
I said. She stretched and plod
ded after me.
At the museum, Linda Mink
said Sadie could stay with
her. But she would never do
that, I said, and we went.
Forty-seven minutes later,
as we started climbing up to
Suicide Point, the lens lay
right in the middle of the trail.
It took forever to get back
to Kirkwood Creek. Hot and
tired Sadie waded among yel
low buttercups and into the
irrigation flume. I leaned on
my walking stick and waited.
``Take your time,'' I said.
The thermometer on the
toilet reported 84 degrees. My
watch said 2:08 p.m.
I fed Sadie early and sat at
the wood table in the shade
for awhile before I limped to
the river with the fly rod.
Sadie stood beside me in
ankle-deep water as I worked
out a cast. I perked up a bit
when I hooked the first bass.
But after I released the sev
enth or eight one, I said,
``Let's go back.''
Sadie went into the tent,
and I didn't even dry her first.
I toted the mattress and the
clothes-bag pillow to the pic
nic table and lay on my back.
I opened my mystery novel
but dozed before turning a
Nearly two hours later and
still logy, I pondered frying a
bass for dinner. But I didn't
want to carry food out the
next day, so I ate the tuna fish
with hashbrowns and a bagel.
The next morning I dis
patched the last bagels. Rain
pattered as I packed and as
we hiked out, but we stopped
twice to fish. I caught nothing
either time.
The road over the saddle
had dried, and I paused twice
to photograph evening prim
roses. I stopped in Granger
and sprayed mud off the truck
and felt better for it.
The 17-mile road from Highway 395
to Pittsburg Landing Road is narrow,
steep and unpaved. Once a popular
Native American village site,
Pittsburg Landing is now popular for
river access and camping.
Kirkwood Historical Ranch is the
former home of Idaho's Governor
Len Jordan, the site of Grace
Jordan's book ``Home below Hells
Canyon,'' the Carter Mansion, and
archaeological evidence of human
habitation dating back 7100 years.
Accessible by boat or trail, it is
staffed by volunteers throughout the
year. The site features a the
Kirkwood Historical Museum.

Thursday, January 04, 2007

Snowy Elkhorn Scenic Drive

The truck tires rolled
silently through snow six-or-
seven inches deep. The truck
grill passed the 7,392-foot
sign and tipped downhill.
Tree boughs along the nar
row Elkhorn Scenic Drive
road bent with the weight of
the wet snow. The truck's
quick-working wipers swept
away the residue of fluffy
flakes melting on the wind
I guided the truck on tracks
in the snow, moving slow
enough to glance often into
the shadowy forest on the left
or less often over the pano
rama on the right.
The dash clock said 11:42
a.m., but the snow created
dim dusk-like effects.
``I'm surprised that we don't
see critters standing in the
woods,'' I said.
No sooner did ``about'' pass
my lips when a break in the
timber revealed a meadow
with elk, a bull and several
cows, collecting flakes.
``Elk,'' I said, sliding the
truck to a stop as my wife
Darlene gripped the security
handle on the dash. I lifted the
camera from her lap with one
hand and rolled down my
window with the other.
I turned on the camera and
twisted off the ignition. Elk
stood like statues in the snow
as I focused. I snapped photos
as elk gathered their wits and
strolled regally away.
Darlene, Sadie the
Dalmatian and I had left
Walla Walla beneath clouds
spitting rain. Rain fell in
sheets on Weston Mountain.
The spur-of-the-moment
drive had no specific desti
nation when we left home at
8:03 a.m. The truck move like
a turtle.
On the mountain, I slipped
the camera into a plastic bag
and took photos of golden,
red and rain-soaked trees.
We passed quickly through
construction that has taken
place on Highway 204 for sev
eral months and nears com
pletion. Notably it's replaced
the curves near the E. J.
Haney Overlook.
As we crossed the summit,
at 5,158 feet near Spout
Springs, rain drops morphed
into snowflakes.
At an Andies Prairie pause
to refresh, we found that a
joker had left the south-end
toilet locked. Laughing up
roariously, we scurried to the
north-end one-holer.
Whew! It was open.
On toward Elgin. Sunshine
broke through the clouds at
Middle Ridge. Western larch
trees, wearing golden needles,
sparkled on the slopes and
along the highway.
We took the road to
Summerville in the sunshine.
Misty scarfs draped the
shoulders of Mount Emily .
We took Pierce Road, to
bypass Island City, and
looked for grazing antelope at
Ladd Marsh. We passed the
historic, long-ramshackled
Union Hotel that sculptor
Dave Manuel is renovating.
Reluctantly I passed the
open coffee bar at the hotel
Clouds spit raindrops inter
mittently as we drove through
Union toward Powder River.
Colorful willow, cottonwood
and locust trees beneath
basalt-cliffs lined a canyon
road that led into a wide val
At Powder River, we con
tinued toward Anthony Lakes,
through another colorful val
ley and climbed a narrow
road into fogs.
Snowfall began five miles
from the top and increased as
we climbed.
Sadie and I strolled in the
3-inch-deep snow at Anthony
Lake Campground.
I hooked an apple for me, a
Coke for Darlene and a nibble
for Sadie from the cooler, and
we passed the ski area.
Ten minutes after we saw
the elk, I mumbled. ``I'm sur
prised we haven't seen any
As ``hunters'' passed my
lips, a man dressed in camou
flage with his coat open and a
rifle slung on his shoulder,
stumbled from the shrubs into
the road. I braked. We slid.
Darlene ducked away.
The man smiled and waved
as we passed.
At the snowline, our odom
eter said we'd driven over 10
miles of snow.
We met the road from
Ukiah at North Fork John
Day Campground, about eight
miles west of Granite.
We paused to refresh, and
took FR 51 along the Grande
Ronde River and reached In
terstate 84 nine miles west of
La Grande.
At 3:09 p.m. we stopped for
lunch in La Grande where
Chinese honeyed chicken
replaced the expected yogurt.
Near Imbler again and
Darlene spotted a rainbow.
We went for the gold. We
missed. Again.
This time we met heavy
rain at Summerville.
And we entered heavy fog
(or clouds) near the summit
on Highway 204. Visibility
dropped to the distance of a
left-handed bowling-ball toss.
I slowed to 35 mph.
``I'm surprised a deer hasn't
jumped off the bank in front
of us,'' I said.
No sooner had ``us,'' passed
my lips than a car in the other
lane skidded nose-down as a
wild-eyed deer bounded
across the road AND right
toward me!
I swerved two tires off the
road. The deer missed. Or
vice-versa. And I missed the
metal slats at the roadside.
And we didn't tip over.
Mt heart rate bounded.
Darlene glanced at me with
saucer-like eyes and tight-
pressed lips. Sadie yawned.
``I'm surprised that ...''
``Oh, shut up,'' Darlene

Bowman Trail, Eagle Cap Wilderness

I tramped steep and dusty
trails for six hours before
dropping my backpack for the
final time of the day.
How dusty?
Well you may ask: So dusty
that within a dozen steps, dirt
coated my cheeks and the sun
screen on my lips.
So dusty that the mouth
piece of the 100-ounce Camel
Back water bag tasted like
So dusty that within the
first half mile, a quarter-inch
coat of dirt covered. ...
Well, really, really dusty.
How steep?
What trail isn't steep in the
Eagle Cap? And the trails to
Brownie Basin, Chimney,
Hobo and Wood lakes rank as
``more difficult'' among Eagle
Cap experts.
In the five-miles to Chim
ney Lake you ascend from
5,200 feet to 7,604 feet.
You waddle around six
switchbacks, including a half-
mile hump up the canyon's
head-wall. And it is steep.
I left the truck in the park
ing area at 10:08 a.m. and met
a man and woman on the fifth
switchback, near the three or
four easy stream crossings at
the head-wall.
They'd camped at Chimney,
along with two other parties,
and they'd seen a group with
horses camped in the basin.
Near the basin, with dust
clouding in my face, I met two
women and two dogs, also
from Chimney.
They'd left one party there,
and also noted the horse
group at Brownie.
I reached the basin at 12:59
p.m., after, if you'll pardon
the redundancy, three hours
of a dusty uphill plod.
I stayed on the main trail
above the basin, a scintillating
meadow framed by granite
peaks and ridges in a half-
circle to the south and west.
I pondered dropping into
the basin, finding a campsite
and shedding the pack. I
trudged upward, however,
snapping photos with the
small Kodak.
As I passed Laverty Lake,
below Chimney, I spoke to a
man and woman with a dog
beside the water.
A few minutes later, Sonya,
Christopher and Merlin
caught me as I took photos of
distant Eagle Cap Mountain
to the south.
I snapped their photo, and
Christopher snapped mine
with Sonya and Merlin.
We continued, and they
soon left me in their dust. To
coin a phrase.
Chimney Lake typifies the
beauty of the Eagle Cap's
high, clear lakes below sheer
granite walls.
I dropped the pack for the
first time and walked along
the lake with the camera. I
snapped the lake, some flow
ers and a tarn with writhing
deadwood that suggested a
Nessie-like head.
Then, at 2:57 p.m., I began
the 1.2-mile trek back to
Brownie. Halfway back, I
drank the last of my water,
cold to the last drop with the
ice cubes from home.
I walked slow, soaked up
the scenery and the dust and
stopped at 4:03 p.m. at
Brownie Basin.
I picked a slanted spot that
ought to catch early sunlight
the next day. I pitched the
tent on soft ground 100 yards
from the stream and 50 yards
from an ash-filled firepit.
I filled the CamelBak from
the cool stream with the
Sweetwater pump and
guzzled freely.
I spread the kitchen on a
rock, boiled water in the
JetBoil stove for coffee/hot
chocolate. I sipped and
chopped Hormel ham while
more water boiled for the
Idahoan mashed potatoes.
I ate and cleaned the plate.
That's when I missed Sadie
the Dalmatian the most. She
licks a plate spotlessly clean,
but steep, dusty trails make
her stay home these days.
As dusk arrived at Brownie
and I lay in the tent, heavy
footsteps and voices ap
proached then retreated.
Or so it seemed.
I crawled from the tent to
see a bevy of llamas a mere
chip-shot away.
A man approached and
apologized for stopping so
close, but they had to set up
camp before dark.
No problem.
He had five and his partner
had five, and they had two
friends. He invited me to visit
the next day for tequila.
I would leave in the morn
ing, so I'd pass unless he
offered a Tequila Sunrise.
Probably not, he said.
Back in the tent I stuffed
my pants and shirt under the
edge of my Therm-A-Rest
mattress to ease its slant.
I read an Agatha Christie
mystery until nearly 11 p.m.
to discover who dunit?
And Sir George Stubbs
killed his wife. Surprise!
At 6:41 a.m. I emerged from
the tent. With 36-degree tem
perature, moisture covered
the grass and my single-
walled tent, inside and out.
No one stirred in llama
land. I lay gear on the rock,
ate granola with hydrated
milk, made coffee/hot choc
olate and awaited the sun.
At 7:33 a.m. it peeked over
the peaks and touched my
tent that the basin's slope
tipped just right.
Brownie did a heckuva job
(really). I dried the tent inside
and out with a pack towel.
Then neighbor Tom Orwick
dropped by. He's from
Corvallis, and we talked about
llamas and life for a long time.
I hefted the pack at 10:01
a.m. It felt lighter than the
original 38 pounds.
As I headed down the hill,
past the llamas, I met two,
Sky King and Arlo (Guthrie),
and said so long to Tom.
Pausing seldom, once to
photograph a round-eared
pika in a garden of granite
boulders, I stepped gently to
avoid jamming my toes and
reached the truck at noon.
On the drive home, I
stopped for coffee and at a car
wash to spray a heavy coat of
dust off my boots.
It made me think: You can
rest from steep trails and
spray dust from you boots,
but you never forget visits to
the Eagle Cap.