Friday, May 25, 2007

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
deep.
``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
lenge.
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
sides.
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,
right?''
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
said.
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
Road.
Not a bad way to brush
with the great outdoors and
put fewer than 40 miles on the
truck. Not bad at all.

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