Tuesday, September 23, 2014

Mid-day and Evening Reflections

Reflections at Anthony Lake (9-21-14) and  Bennington Lake

September 23, 2014

Late Saturday afternoon, something of a relief  as Saturday’s go -- the aftermath of an exploding hot-water tank in the basement tends to create nervous tensions -- even two days later,   I shook myself, donned my walking boots, hooked Nora the Schnauzer to her leash, shouldered a Nikon and set out for Mill Creek.

The cool evening no doubt accounted for the streams of walkers along the stream and fostered my decision to amble to Bennington Lake and walk along the shore.

I stopped at the last east-end slot for vehicles along the parking area above the lake.  The low sun  already cast the dam’s shadow across the trail heading south, around  the lake, which we followed.
The sun shimmered on the water and reflections from the south and west colored the mirror-like surface.

Then, on the dark south side, a great-horned owl swooped silently through the shadows and perched  as a silhouette on a cottonwood tree's bony limb.
I captured the image, expecting it to be too dark for sharing.
It wasn't.

Finally, with a view from the steep south-side bank,  we shared the saturated  orange glow of the sun dropping behind the Bennington Lake Dam.

The view lifted our spirits, although Nora seemed more stimulated by the scents left by other dogs, rabbits and rodents along the dusty trail.

Then, still uplifted on Sunday, Darlene, Nora and I, rose early, dined in the truck on Egg McMuffins, cinnamon rolls, coffee and orange juice, and set out for a familiar Sunday drive: over Tollgate, through Summerville, Union, and North Powder to Anthony Lakes.
Nora and I walked along the lake-shore trail ogling the keen Gunsight Mountain reflections on the smooth water, the dragonflies cruising the bank (too swift to shoot), and an American Dipper tiptoeing on a boulder (too shaded-back-lit  to shoot).

We drove over the mountain toward Granite. At the bottom of the hill, however, we turned right, to Hilgard on I-84, left to Mission and a late lunch in the truck (again) at Subway ( bright sun and heat curtailed leaving Nora in the car while we dined) before returning to Walla Walla.

More photos at www.tripper.smugmug.com

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

Sunday, August 24, 2014

Sunday Morning Moose at Mill Creek

Finally, Moose at Rooks Park

August 24, 2014

On this chilly Sunday morning, two moose walked from a thicket onto the south-side service road heading east (upstream) along Mill Creek, about half-a-mile west of Rooks Park.
“Moooose!” I said.

I didn’t notice if Nora the Schnauzer heard me.
My pulse thumped like a flat tire at 60 mph.
Over the past few weeks I’ve heard reports of a cougar and a young black bear being spotted in the Rooks Park area.
I suspect that the intense heat over the past few weeks may account for the presence of unusual wildlife along Mill Creek.
Early in the summer, I saw a moose silhouette with a calf in the greenery above Kooskooskie (about 17 miles up) on Mill Creek.
So, I probably shouldn’t be surprised to see moose at Rooks Park.
But I was.
Surprised and thrilled!
Periodically for decades, people have seen moose in the Walla Walla area. I've often rushed to the spot, only to be too late.
No wonder I my nerves tingled.
My legs quick stepped, and I readied the camera.
The moose strolled leisurely, perhaps 50-60 yards away. They ignored the couple between me and them.
I paused, pressed off a rift of clicks and hurried on.
Without haste, the largest members in the deer family ambled ahead for a few yards before picking their way carefully across the rip-rap and into Mill Creek.

A man with a dog on a leash watched as the behemoths crossed the creek. He watched from a safe distance until they moved north in the thicket.

I closed to within 30-40 yards and pressed off repeated bursts as the moose crossed the creek and climbed over more rip-rap and onto the paved recreation trail near a bench.

The moose ambled out of sight into the thicket along the paved path, but they reappeared in seconds. I guessed the thicket was too dense for them or that they didn’t have room to jump the fence in there.
Neither guess seemed likely, but I had nothing better.

Nevertheless, the moose seemed a bit confused.

Then the small one, trailed by old one-horn, went west young moose at a swift trot.
It spotted the approaching women with the stroller and skidded to a stop, nearly getting its bumper tangled by Moma Moose.


The two muddled about, apparently a tad confused, before diving for a second time into the thicket.
They did not reappear.

And the women with the stroller continued their walk.

So did Nora the Schnauzer and I.
I explained to Nora about the big moose that she had missed seeing, but she didn’t show any interest.
“Moose” is not a word in her vocabulary. Not like “Cat” or “Treat.”

See www.tripper.smugmug.com for more Sunday moose pics.

Friday, August 15, 2014

Wallowa Lake and Mount Howard

August 14, 2014

Mount Howard, via a Scenic 13.5-minute Tram Ride, at Wallowa Lake 

The aroma of warm Egg-Muffins, cinnamon rolls and steaming coffee swirled around the Frontier’s cab as we motored up Milton Hill, on the way to Wallowa Lake.
Each of us chewed contentedly, Darlene, Nora the Schnauzer and me.
I take that back.
Two of us chewed.
Nora gulped the pieces of egg handed to her from both sides without them touching a tooth. When each tidbit disappeared, she lay a paw on my arm to indicate readiness for another.
Darlene had the cinnamon roll opened by Winn Road. She forked a round, dripping brown bite toward my face. and I elbowed Nora out of the way.
The thin 7:30 a.m. cloud cover we left in the valley grew thicker and darker as we turned onto Highway 204 and cruised up Weston Mountain toward Tollgate and down toward Elgin.
By the time we headed toward Minam and followed the Wallowa River on Highway 82, we accepted that we could be in for a stormy day.
At least we could encounter wind and rain.
“This cloudy sky will be better for pictures,” I said as we approached Wallowa.  “Better than scorching August sunshine.”
Darlene, who likes scorching, sighed and looked out the window.
We drove through Wallowa and Lostine without stopping. On the outskirts of Enterprise, I detoured to the nature area on Fish Hatchery Road. A few months ago I took photos of several swans on the pond.
Nora and I walked about 30 yards to the noticeably shallower water. A few mallards floated and preened. A wren and a goldfinch flitted in the shrubs near the water.
Pesky stickers covered one of my pant legs when I stepped from the scant path toward the pond, and I quickly herded Nora back to the truck.
Those stickers can be brutal to remove from her legs and ears. I scraped them from my jeans with my Swiss Army Knife in a few minutes.
We did not pause in Enterprise or Joseph and parked at the north end of Wallowa Lake two minutes before 10 a.m.
Nora roamed the shoreline while I took the obligatory pictures of the lake, the world-renowned glacial moraine along the east side with, left to right, Mount Howard, Mount Bonneville and Chief Joseph Mountain to the south.

The clouds did add drama, or darkness, to the monochromatic scene. I pondered taking black-and-white photos, but I didn’t. Later, I pondered turning them into monochrome images, but I didn’t.

Anyway, craning our necks up at the glacial moraine looking for deer, we drove to the south end of the lake and parked near the boat launching area.
To measure my daily walks with Nora, I fastened my GPS to a belt loop, put a camera on each shoulder (one with a wide-angle lens, one with a short (250-mm zoom), and hooked Nora’s leash to my belt.
Darlene opened her book while Nora and I set out to tour the shore.
I looked for the spotted sandpipers I had seen on my last visit, but nary a one showed itself.

On the way back, heavy rain hit and we slipped beneath the eaves of a convenient toilet. A woman mowing grass parked her machine and joined us. Soon six of us, and Nora, crowded beneath the shelter. 
The rain wore itself out in 10 minutes, so I put dog-poop bags over my cameras and quick-stepped with Nora to the truck in a mild drizzle.
We had walked 0.99 miles. It seemed much shorter.
With the windshield wipers on low, we went up to the turnaround area at trailheads into the Eagle Cap Wilderness. 
On the way back, I noticed people heading for the Wallowa Lake Tramway and hinted that we should ride it to the top.
I knew Darlene would not be interested. 
She rode the tram once years ago and declines doing it again. 
Anyway, Darlene said I should go and, since pets are not allowed, she and Nora would stroll around the shops.
We decided to dine first and see if the weather turned worse. 
We lunched at the Glacier Grill. I had a yen for the Flat Tire Sandwich, but the Oregon Salad description hooked me. It was very good, with walnuts and craisens and stuff, but I’ll get the Flat Tire again next time.
Darlene had the Reuben. She gave me a chunk to stop my drooling. It filled the void.
Finally, at 12:20 p.m. with no storm in sight, I donned a pullover windbreaker, hooked the two cameras on my shoulders, stuffed plastic bags into a pocket and trudged to the ticket booth where a senior’s ticket cost $25 for the day.
Views of the lake and the mountains highlighted the 13.5 minute tram ride and sharpened my expectations.

And the view of the famous moraine lay clear and comprehensible.

I planned to walk the 2.5-mile loop in a couple of hours, depending on how many photo stops I made. So, leaving the tram, I turned left toward the Valley Overlook, just over half-a-mile away.
Rain seemed unlikely, but the pullover windbreaker dealt effectively with a stiff wind that forced me to tighten the chin strap on my wide-brimmed hat.
I took photos looking mostly north across the lake, across a faintly distinguishable Joseph and Enterprise and toward the Blue Mountains.

One Northern pocket gopher peered at me from the rocks then posed on one.

I backtracked one-eighth of a mile and turned east for ¾-mile to views across the Imnaha and Snake river canyons, all the way to the Seven Devils in Idaho.

And a marmot stood on the trail looked askance as I approached.

I recalled that years ago Sadie the Dalmatian and I hiked a 35-mile loop around the Seven Devils, which ranks as one of my best hikes ever.

Continuing the 3/4-mile section, we angled south toward Highlands Overlook and Summit Overlook with views deep into the Eagle Cap, where I have made more backpacking trips than I can recall.

From there, I turned right (west?) for a 1/3-of-a-mile jaunt to Purple Royal. I paused on the way to photograph a group outlined against the sky on the pinnacle.
I discovered that the group represented Pendleton’s Sister City in Japan. They took in the rugged views into the Eagle Cap Wilderness and watched the pocket gophers and marmots.

One man gave a gopher water with the cap from his water bottle.

Finally, from there, I hurried to the tram, took photos on the way down and found Darlene waiting patiently (after securing excellent chocolates for the ride home) while Nora snored away on the driver’s seat.
Darlene's watch said 2:59 p.m. 
In Joseph, I stopped for coffee. Then we took the back roads around Enterprise to look for deer and, perhaps, a coyote.
Lots of deer. No coyote.
After leaving the valley and climbing the hill from Minam, we drove toward almost total darkness draping over the mountains west and north of Elgin.
We soon had raindrops plopping on the windshield, and a deluge hit us near Spout Springs.
It plastered us the rest of the way home, with an occasional roll of thunder and flash of lightning.
So, all in all, we had a fine day.

To see photos of Seven Devils and the Eagle Cap go to www.tripper.smugmug.com and type Seven Devils and Eagle Cap into the search function.