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.