Journal Entry 07.06.14
Instead of attending a parade or other noisy gathering on the 4th, I celebrated the holiday in the place I love the best… the mountains. I went hiking with a friend to an old favorite hike of mine, Sawtooth Ridge off the Skyline Road in the Northwest Blue Mountains of Eastern Washington. This ancient range of mountains was built out of cake layers of basalt, poured out upon an ancient ocean floor, which moved slowly eastward through the centuries and then was raised up along with the nearby Rocky Mountains. There are deep canyons and gentle rolling ridges. Heavily forested creek canyons and gullies plunge downward towards the drainages of the three main rivers, the Touchet, the Tucannon and the Wenaha. The first two empty into the Snake; the latter empties into the Grand Ronde, which in its turn, also empties into the Snake. The highest elevation is nearby Oregon Butte (6000+); the lowest in the tiny town of Troy, where the Wenaha River meets the Grand Ronde.
These lands were once the summer range of the Umatilla and various bands of the Nez Perce and other minor tribes. In a few selected areas, tribes people still collect their ancient wild foods. The lands remain partially under the jurisdiction of the Forest Service, including a small wilderness area (the Wenaha-Tucannon) and edged by privately owned sections. The wheat fields and other growing areas curve upward to the very boundary of the Forest, with an abrupt transition from grassland to heavy forested slopes. The Blues collect a lot of snow in the winter and provide the surrounding area with summer water, although there are no permanent snowfields in these mountains. There are, however, dozens of springs, some emerging near the tops of the ridges that are the humble origins of many of the local streams and provide water for wildlife and people, alike.
In my “first” life within this one, I was an avid hiker and backpacker, even a scrambler (non-technical climbing) at one time. Now I just go out to enjoy the woods and see some of the wildflowers and to enjoy the views the area offers. Skyline Ridge is very high as its name suggests, being near 5,000 feet for miles. With a sturdy vehicle (think Jeep) you can drive for miles in a vast loop, but some of those roads are too much for my modest Toyota station wagon, so I stick to the best of the roads and leave the others to the 4x4ers.
On Sawtooth Ridge, or any of the nearby ridges, there are many open areas, mostly dry lithosol meadows (rocky) that are filled with tiny wildflowers at the beginning of the “summer” and dry into golden brown tracts later on as the summer heat intensifies. On our trip on the 4th, we were able to see many of the earlier species blooming, with plenty of other plants still preparing for bloom later. There was still snow lingering in the dense subalpine / Engelmann Spruce forests on the ridge and we had to carefully negotiate a few seep areas near springs.
Also, on the trip, I encountered more humans than usual, probably due to the holiday, as well as an entire herd of wapiti (elk). Usually, I have the place to myself, but it is certainly vast enough to share with others, and hardly as crowded as some of the trails in the nearby Wallowas and the distant Cascades.
Below are a few of the photos I took on the trip. Enjoy.