Tuesday, September 23, 2014

An Angry Deer Highlights a Walk Around The Big Sink

September 22, 2014

Despite the blue mid-morning sky, strong winds soughed through the tall Ponderosa pines and Douglas firs, assuming those names described most of the massive evergreens bordering the Motet-Sinks Trail on the Umatilla National Forest, a few miles south of Jubilee Lake, creating a repetitive roar reminding me of a high gray March surf on the Pacific Coast at Newport, Oregon.

Despite the absence or the coast’s chilling fog and hovering sky, the trail bordering Big Sink -- a geologic oddity rumored to have  unnatural powers as well as inexplicable causes -- winds north and northwest through a dark, and occasionally foreboding shadowy darkness.

On an 85-degree day Nora the Schnauzer had no qualms about the dark. She and I would enjoy the relative coolness of the shade.
And I carried plenty of water and snacks.

Nora trotted eagerly ahead as we headed north from the truck. She paused often, checking to keep me in tow.
I peered carefully into the dark, sun-spotted woods on the right and down, eventually,  the sharp slope into the sink, shaped like a large horseshoe, a mile or so long pointing to the northeast and a slightly shorter distance wide on national forest maps of the area. 

Often, from the edge of an abrupt drop-off, I stood  taller than a carpet of  70-foot high trees. Stories claim that hikers at the bottom of the sink often became disoriented and found that their compasses failed to function.
My Garmin GPS  bravely recorded our distance and direction below the thickly timbered roof along the trail.

The south-end Motet-Sinks trail-head  begins a quarter mile from a limited parking space at a gate, off  FR 63. The trail courses north and northeast for 4.5 miles, a total distance of 4.75 miles (according to my GPS) to the more obscured north-end trail-head, where a short gated road leads to Motet Creek (often dry  in September) to the trail at N46 03. 689; W118 19. 489).

Overall the trail climbs from about 3,250 feet to 4,016 feet. Nora and I hiked the complete 9.5-mile route on September 15, 2014 in six hours (4 hrs, 42 minutes moving time and 1 hr, 19 minutes stopping time (for photos and gawking).

At about  2.5-plus miles, and 4,568 feet we followed the trail into a more gentle incline, with shaded and sun-spotted woods.

A large, whitetail doe thumped away, giving me a glimpse of her flag-waving tail. An indignant, back-lit gray squirrel ranted with garrulous chattering and menacing body language as I snapped photos.

 I took many photos along the tree-lined trail, often of giant dead-fall sections cleared from the trail over many years.  
I used a Safari Rogue flash-enhancer for photos in the darkness.
I won’t claim it worked brilliantly, but it avoided underexposures.

I snapped images that struck me as, perhaps, examples of found impressionistic Modern Art. A weathered gray root, for example, that resembled a Picasso (Blue Period?) deer head with eye lashes lay on the ground.

A small dead pine tree, in the sunshine and perhaps bent permanently by wind or snow, with limbs forming an outline shaped like, unless I'm exaggerating, a miniature Schnauzer, caught my attention.
It looked like Nora.

Although some photos turned out OK,  I missed the elk that we met (a huge cow and a calf) when Nora rounded a twist in the trail and they dashed off with a crash and a thumping of hooves through the forest floor's carpet of dead-fall.
I also missed the whitetail deer that stood on hind legs beside the trail, apparently stretching for moss in a tree, and like the elk, it thumped away deeper into the shadowy forest.
Unlike the Elk, or any other deer that I had ever seen, this one acted more like the voluble, angry squirrel. Once safely away, down a 40-yard slope, the deer confronted us and screeched in a bleating voice that stopped me in my tracks.
I stared open-mouthed.
Nora did the same.
As I reported to Darlene later that evening, it was the first time a deer had responded in my presence so much like an angry driver I had cut off after racing for a shaded space in the Safeway parking lot.
Luckily, for exposure, the deer stood in a sunspot.

Well, the deer bleated, but eschewed shaking a hoof at me.
At least.

On the way back, at the top of the sinks horseshoe, an elk bugled through a range of notes and octaves sending nerves tingling down my spine.

Then, near the lower trail-head, two more elk crashed through the woods, a large antlered bull paused briefly, looked my way, and charged off before I raised the camera.
It would have been too dark anyway, and red-eye would have marred the image with the flash.
That was the case when I flashed deer eating moss from a downed tree beside the road as we drove away from the sinks trail. I treated the white eyes in Elements 12.

See more photos at www.tripper.smugmug.com

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