Saturday, April 13, 2013

Geocaching at Wallula Gap

Third Trip to Wallula Gap Overlook, 2005, 2008 and 4-11-2013

April 13, 20013

I vastly enjoyed Thursday's pursuit of a geocache atop the west side of Wallula Gap with Bret Rankin and Nora the Schnauzer.
Great companions, a good walk and we had a perfect day for it.
Yes, a grey haze clouded the horizons to the south and west, and a chilly breeze rippled across the Columbia River.
Warm sunshine sifted from azure swatches, however, and spring flowers fluttered in the breeze: phlox, balsamroot, filigree, asters, shooting stars and larkspur.
And inspiring scenery abounded.
The cache, according to an entry at (registration is free), "…is located at (the) west side of Wallula Gap, at an incredible 850-ft drop off into the Columbia River below. Even at this height the largest Ice-Age floods still rose another 80 ft above the cache site."
The site lists the overlook at a 1,100 foot altitude (registered as 1,122 feet on my GPS).
Noted author and geologist Bruce Bjornstad placed the cache in 2004. I first visited it in August of 2005 with Sadie the Dalmatian. We approached from below, near the railroad, and scaled the canyon walls.
Not a smart move, but en route we found two wrecked cars that apparently were pushed from the plateau. The cars remain visible from the top.

Anyway, Bjornstad appropriately titled his cache "Wallula Gap Overlook."
To find it, we left Walla Walla at 11:15 a.m. on Thursday (April 12), after Bret put in a shift at the Union-Bulletin.
I drove across the Cable Bridge at Pasco to Finley. Alas, absorbed with amazing tales about earlier trips, I missed a turnoff and drove happily to Interstate 82.
Red-faced, I backtracked. We found the correct route and eventually parked at a dead end on Ayers Road.

I had two cameras, a fanny pack with energy bars, Nora's water saucer and treats along with a daypack containing the 100-ounce water bag (sold as a "hydration system"), a sweater and a rain parka.
Bret, who traveled light, volunteered to carry the fanny pack with one camera bag attached.
Being the old hand, I suggested we climb the 600 feet, more or less, straight to the top of the plateau and ample a few miles while gaining another 250 feet to the overlook.
So, taking turns holding up the bottom strand of a barbed-wire fence, Bret and I bellied under it to reach a sandy two-track. Nora followed without ducking.

A lumbering black cow approached, but it passed nonchalantly a few feet away. We, including Nora, ignored it. During the trek, we passed several bunches of cows, often just a few yards away. We ignored them. And vice-versa.
We reached the top in half-an-hour or so. Sweating and sucking breaths, we stuffed jackets into my pack, gave Nora a drink and headed across the plateau.
As usual, views of the flood-scathed landscape left me more than a bit awed.
I piddled along the edge of steep cliffs to take pictures. Nora trotted back and forth between Bret and  me, sometimes pausing to peek over a cliff's edge.
Mostly, we meandered along the gentle incline. Well, gentle with the exception of the up-and-down slippery-rock slopes of ravines.
In addition to the panoramic views, we ogled rough-hewen and towering rock formations, as well as smoother light-colored boulders (called ice-rafted erratics) deposited on the plateau by chunks of ice carried by the massive floods.
Finally, at the overlook we found a tumble of the erratic boulders, with a line of them lying across the point where we found the cache in a plastic container.
Some change a few million years make?
My GPS said we had walked 3.89 miles in 2 hours, 16 minutes moving time. We had lollygagged for more than another hour, averaging 1.7 mph.
We had a high speed of 5 mph when I slipped a few feet down a rocky ravine.
Then we spent almost an hour lounging at the cache site.

Bret checked the treasure and signed the journal. We chipped in a shiny quarter and headed back on cow trails. One of them led down between cliffs and along a hillside.
Near the bottom we came upon a new-born calf curled and still. No mother cow lurked in view, so Bret and I stepped close to the still body.
The calf jerked its head. We all three gasped and levitated a foot, at least. Nora scurried on down the trail. Bret and I followed. The calf looked strong, and the mother would probably return.
We slithered under the fence again at a few minutes before 7 p.m.
One geocacher wrote on an internet post that it’s an 81/4-mile round trip with an 1800-foot elevation gain.
That made sense to me as Bret and I moaned and groaned while sipping ice cold barley based picker uppers before heading home.
Then Nora slept all the way, of course.
It clearly had been a perfect way to spend a Thursday afternoon.

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