Saturday, September 28, 2013

Early September Days to Remember on the Way to, from and at Washington's Methow Valley and the Northern Cascades Highway

September 28, 2013

Before 8 a.m. on a Thursday in Early September, Darlene, Nora the Schnauzer and I started a 260-mile drive north from Walla Walla to Winthrop.
We planned to stay two-nights and drive home on Saturday.
We passed the Country Mercantile (after gearing up at the Chocolate Factory) north of Pasco. We continued through Moses Lake and Soap Lake, skirted the Sun Lakes and Coulee City (within sight).

We trucked through Bridgeport, Brewster, Pateros, and Twisp.
We cruised the final eight miles to Winthrop.
The drive took five hours, 43 minutes moving time and 6 hours, 46 minutes total time, including the long dalliance in Bridgeport while I photographed amazing tree-sized carvings.


After moving into the Winthrop Inn soon after 2 p.m., we drove back to Twisp to dine at the Twist River Pub, which allowed Nora to sit with us on the shaded deck (90-degree heat prevented leaving her in the truck). The shushing of the rippling Twisp River a few feet away soothed our travelers' stress. So did lunch and a Black Porter brew in a frosted glass.
Darlene had fish and chips. I chomped the Cowboy Salad.
On the way back to Winthrop, we twisted-and-turned uphill for 18 miles (round trip) to Sun Mountain Lodge. Its verdant campus-style layout exuded a red-carpet welcome to the 1-percent with horse stables, tennis courts and forested cross-country ski trails and rental facilities during the snow months.
We didn't stop.
Well, going down the hill, we paused to gander at the far valley and Patterson Lake.

Before turning in at the Winthrop Inn, in the heart of the Methow Valley, we strolled the town's main drag with its Western motif boardwalk and tourist-bait ships.

With 322 miles on the odometer, I bought gas from a 1950's style gas pump that sloshed onto the truck and my right hand and after filling the tank with 14.47 gallons.
Fair mileage, unless the pump stopped too soon.
Oh, well.
On Friday we ate the motel breakfast, scones and coffee. Then, as I walked Nora for her morning toilet, a hot-air balloon launched from the lot behind the motel

We straight-lined northward up the Methow Valley for 14 miles to Mazama. At the Mazama Store we ogled hats, shirts and stuff . Then we shared the best Maple-Walnut Cinnamon Role in the lower forty-eight.
Well stoked, we continued for another 17 miles on the North Cascade Highway to Washington Pass. We, even Nora the Schnauzer, dropped jaws at the stunning high-mountain scenery. Nora and I spent lazy time strolling around the looping overlook, climbing rocks and gawking at the rugged mountain.

Back at Mazama, we hankered for another of brush with the lip-smacking Maple-Walnut Cinnamon Roll delights, but they had sold out. And we settled for sandwiches and a somewhat less tasty Plain Jane roll.

We drove the Goat Creek Road south, parallel to the main highway, to a trail head a mile from the store. Darlene read in the shade while Nora and I walked the popular bird-watchers' trail to the suspension bridge over the Methow River.

Birds, if present, mostly avoided detection. I may have seen a brief flush of black-capped chickadees through a streamside thicket. And wobbly robins

clinging on wind-dancing fronds imbibed berries that verged upon fermenting.
Finally, two female common mergansers spotted me and sprinted on their toes across the water to burst into flight. I grimaced at leaving the big lens with Darlene as I snapped (somewhat vague) images with the smaller zoom.

I hate to be so unprepared. But it happens. A lot!
From there, we scooted all the way back to Twisp and visited the relatively new Twisp Ponds Discovery Ecological Trail.
Nora and I dawdled along the nature trail through a cool woods along a stream where an intense effort aims to improve salmon habitat. We visited all 10 stops supported by a colorful and informative trail guide.

As the afternoon dwindled away, we drove northeast (more or less) of Winthrop to Pearrygin Lake State Park and paid more attention to the expensive homes along the way than we did to the lake.
On the way to the motel, we stopped and strolled the boardwalk again to relax after a long, hectic day.
We downed scones and coffee early Saturday morning. As I accompanied Nora on her morning toilet, a colorful hot-air balloon launched from the lot between the motel and the river.

Before entering the highway, Darlene and I debated a 30-mile trip to Mazama and back to fetch more exquisite Maple-Walnut Cinnamon rolls.
We turned toward home instead.
Then we paused again to study the Bridgeport tree carvings, to visit the park at Chief Joseph Dam and to tour the Colville Tribal's Fort Okanogan Interpretive Center.


We enjoyed the visit.

Saturday, September 07, 2013

Nora and the Mink

September 6, 2013

Nora the Schnauzer and I crossed Mill Creek on a weir near Rook's Park.
Splashing water wet Nora's belly and dampened the hem on my jeans, but didn't slop over my hiking boots.
Having already gathered several nice images of mallard hens waving their colorful wings and the usual great blue herons launching, landing and flying, I aimed to be home for lunch.

As we climbed the rip-rap on the south side of the creek, a mink dashed across a weir 30 yards downstream. It clinched a lunch of raw crawdad in its teeth.
I snapped off a few shots before it disappeared into a dark, triangle-shaped space among rocks the color and bulk of rusty diesel tractor engines in a junkyard.
Pausing for a few minutes, figuring the mink had settled down to crunch the crustacean, I checked the time on my Android.
Perhaps I could wait 15 minutes for the mink to reappear.
I scooted down onto a gentle incline recently gnawed bare of weeds by a rented herd of goats and watched with the big lens resting on my left knee.
Nora leaned warmly against my right side.
I waited and watched, scanning all along the rip-rap because the mink could slip from another opening in the rocks.
Perhaps three minutes passed before Nora stood and worked her way down to stand on the weir. She seemed to sense something. Perhaps the scent of the mink lingered in the air, or along the bank near by.
Anyway, I've learned from experience to follow her gaze when she acts that way. She sees and smells infinitely better than I do.
Sure enough, the mink (or a second one?) lay on a rock a few feet above the triangle-shaped space.
It stretched out, yawned, rubbed its face on a rock, preened, licked its bottom and scratched its ear.
It reminded me the way Nora relaxes.
I snapped several images and followed the mink as it meandered back down onto the weir and trotted lazily toward me.
I snapped steadily.
I nearly stopped when the mink slid to a stop and Nora's ear appeared in the view finder.
But I didn't.
Nora will chase anything that runs, cats, squirrels, rabbits, deer, elk and all manner of birds.
If anything stops, such as the neighbor's massive cat named Shadow or an otter that once refused to budge, she instantly backs off.
And blushes.
As Nora and the mink steamed northward across the weir, I kept a finger on the camera's release button.
In about five rapid-fire seconds, Nora apparently drew even with the mink and passed it by a nose before the mink slipped away into the deep water.
When I checked the LCD, as Nora swaggered southward across the weir again, the images supported my impression.
I waited and watched for several minutes, but the mink didn't reappear.
Nora also watched.
She led the way when we headed home.

See photos and/or slideshow at

Thursday, September 05, 2013


Walking with Nora the Schnauzer to Hoffer Lakes, above Anthony Lake

August 29, 2013
(More Photos at

Despite the 7,200-foot elevation, I stepped from the cool air-conditioned pickup cab into a muggy late-August heat.
A stuffy breeze ruffled timid waves sprinkled with sun-dappled sparkle across the bronze-tinted water.
"An eagle," Darlene said, pointing at the windshield as I shouldered the Nikon with the big lens.
"Maybe it's an osprey," she added.
Nora the Schnauzer leaped from the back seat, sniffing before she hit the ground.
I sighted through the lens and rapidly collected half-a-dozen images of the big bird as it circled with a fish clutched in its claws.
"It's an osprey," I said. "But the one we saw earlier was definitely a bald eagle."
We saw it as we drove beneath the tall pines along the lake.
I checked the osprey images in the LCD and feared, alas, they would be too dark to salvage against the blown-out background of the high, hazy and cloudless sky.
I slung the heavy camera rig on my left shoulder, buckled a fanny pack with water around my waist, looped a second full-frame Nikon with a 24-85 lens over my right shoulder.
I carried the big-lens gear because elusive mountain sheep live in the area, and I could get lucky.
Darlene settled down with a mystery novel and the stuffy breeze easing through the cab's open windows.
A half-mile, moderately steep trail winds along a yard-wide stream up the mountain from Anthony Lake to Hoffer Lakes in a high valley hanging beneath massive stone peaks.
We skirted 200 yards of lake shore to the trail head and headed up hill.
Lora loved it.
She dashed ahead, crossed the stream many times, scampered across logs and boulders to pursue the scents of gray squirrels and other small critters.

I snapped photos of the stream, Nora and the softly shaded trail streaked by shafts of sunlight.

The uphill trail merges with a trail beside the two Hoffer Lakes. To the right, or north, the trail goes to the Anthony Lakes ski slopes, parking lot and ski resort.
To the left, south, the trail crosses a swampy area, skirts the smaller of the two lakes and butts into a massive rock wall.
We strolled briefly to the right and I took photos of the tree-spotted high stone-gray peaks and rocky ridges  above their dark reflections on the still water.

Then we crossed the swamp area and climbed around on the rocky base of the mountain.


On the way back down the hill, two mountain bike riders and a dog passed us.
Back along the trail around the lake, squadrons of bees, butterflies and at least two monarchs, fluttered among the thick patches of wild flowers.
I snapped some photos with the 24-85 lens before hurrying back to the truck for the Nikon 105-mm macro lens.
I managed to collect several passable images of the bees and butterflies, including a couple of a monarch.

Darlene read (dozed?) on the shady driver's side of the truck since the late afternoon had become too warm in the sun.

Then with images of Gunsight Mountain  above Anthony Lakes safely collected we drove back through North  Powder and Union.
We stopped once near the Ladd Marsh wildlife area for photos at a field of sun flowers.

We continued to the Subway shop at Island City for six-inch subs (turkey breast on whole wheat with lettuce, tomato, pickles and mayo;  BBQ chicken on Italian herb-cheese bread slathered with avocado and with lettuce, tomato, onion,  respectively).
Darlene loves that bread and slime-green avocado.
We drove home over Tollgate  mountain.
The sun set as I parked in front of the house.
I had no images of mountain goats, but it didn't matter. Despite the stuffy heat, it had been a perfect day.