Saturday, August 11, 2007

Snakes and the Snake: From Kennewick home to Missoula

Southeastern Washington State
Touchet River
Taken June 19th, 2007



When last I wrote, nearly a month ago, I left you in Kennewick, Washington, on my way home to Missoula. By now you’re probably wondering if I ever made it home. Well, indeed I did, and back again as well. Today’s column will tell about the drive along the Snake and Lochsa Rivers, moving across eastern Washington and the Idaho panhandle.

I started out by doing my homework. That is, I went online to geocaching.com and found a series of caches that stretched from right across the street from my motel all the way into central Idaho. What fun. As soon as I got up, I headed across the street and found the first cache with no problem whatsoever, hidden in the parking lot of the local Walgreen’s Pharmacy. Now that I know the trick about hiding things on light poles, I am fairly confident when faced with this kind of challenge.

After packing up the Saab, I headed out for cache number 2, still in Kennewick, and actually moving away from my home-bound direction. Had I arrived last night by my usual route, I would have had to backtrack to find this particular cache. Or rather, I should say look for this particular cache because in truth, I never found it.

Relying on my trusty Garmin eTrex Legend GPS receiver, I parked across the street from a large park with a creek flowing through the middle. The creek has cut a canyon that is quite deep, and I found myself going down a very steep slope, on loose rock, until I ended up at the bottom where there was a labyrinth of trails leading through the brush. The GPS receiver kept telling me I was getting closer, but I never got quite close enough until I climbed back up the slope, crossed the bridge, and descended on the far side of the creek.

At that point, I was able to get to the exact co-ordinates listed on geocaching.com, but all I found was a hole the size and shape of an ammo can. This I found by crawling into the underbrush. When I finally gave up and crawled back out, I found myself at the feet of a young couple who were jogging through the park. They didn’t ask, and I didn’t tell what I had been doing in the bushes.

Back in the car and out of town, I stopped at a historical marker near the confluence of the Snake and Columbia Rivers. Ainsworth was a town, once upon a time, but now it’s just a sign along the highway. The cache took a while, but eventually I found it, logged it, and moved on.

Turning off US 12, I headed east on Washington 124, stopping first at Hood Park where I found two more caches. The park itself was beautiful and had a lovely campground, swimming pool, hiking trails, and beachfront on the Snake River’s Lake Wallula. Next time I go through the Tri-Cities during camping season, I’ll stay there instead of in a motel.

I’ve said that I followed the Snake River, but that’s only true in a very general sense. Washington State Highway 124 actually follows the Touchet River across Walla Walla County until it ends in Waitsburg where it meets US 12. Touchet River made me think of my old friend Dave Touchette. If anyone has heard from or of Dave recently, how about letting me know.

Road to Historic Prescott Cemetery
Note the Road Hazard
Taken June 19th, 2007

Between Hood Park and Prescott, I found a cache on the old, abandoned railbed, and two more just outside of Prescott. The second of these finds was hidden in the old cemetery which was a very peaceful place to stroll, take pictures, and find a hidden bit of treasure. The main reason I’m involved in geocaching is the way the game introduces the players to new places and lets you see places you’re already familiar with in a new light. As an example, I’ve been coming to Del Norte County on a regular basis since 1973 when my parents moved here. It wasn’t until I started geocaching that I found the bison herd and the Indian cemetery that are both within 5 miles of my parents’ home.

East of Waitsburg, and now on US 12, I found three more caches along the Touchet River, including one where I’m sure I was tempting fate and snakes, and two more where I trudged through grass and weeds that were almost as tall as I am, and I’m 6’6”, for those of you who don’t know me personally. By now I had filled my socks, my hiking boots, my moccasins, and my New Balance sneakers with various sorts of burrs, cheat grass, and other weeds. I did ask myself about the wisdom of traipsing off through thick, high grass where I couldn’t see what I was stepping on, but when in the midst of a game, we do unreasonable things. Besides, what’s life without a little risk taking?

What should have been the easiest find of the day turned out to be my second miss. A veteran geocacher had hid an ammo can along his own driveway and spread the word that game players were not to worry about wandering up his drive. He even told us that our GPS units might have trouble because of the overhead power lines. But try as I might, I just couldn’t find where in his driveway he had hidden the thing. Boy did I feel stupid.

Dayton, Washington, is a pretty little farm town that straddles US 12. The county seat of Columbia County, Dayton had a population of 2655 in the 2000 Census. The town doesn’t look like it has grown (or, for that matter, shrunk) much since then. There was a geocache hidden right off Main Street, and I took it as a challenge to find it without alerting the locals to what I was doing. I succeeded too. Leaving the Saab parked in the shade, I enjoyed a huckleberry shake at a local antique/hardware/ice cream shop…just the sort of place to entice tourists to spend their money locally.

While in Dayton I took advantage of the local history to photograph the old Dayton railroad station and the Columbia County Court House. Both are fine examples of a bygone day’s architecture.

At the wide spot in the road known as Tucannon, I had my third experience today of not finding a cache. Turns out that someone had felled a tree across the cache and as people had reported seeing snakes in the area, I wasn’t terribly keen on crawling around under dead branches. I did manage to stain my jeans green from the weeds growing in the area, and also almost fell into a creek as I couldn’t see where I was walking. But I did get some lovely photos and that’s why we do it, isn’t it.

At the point where Washington 261 meets US 12, that is about midway between Starbuck and Dodge according to my map, I was the second person to find a newly hidden cache right alongside US 12. The cache site was named “Delaney” both for the grain elevator across the road and for the pioneer settler in the area named Berton Delaney. I’ve never before been second to find a cache, so that in itself was exciting.

Just past Dodge, I took a brief sidetrip up Washington 127 to find a cache that is part of the Washington Delorme Challenge. Don’t ask me, I don’t know, but I’m assuming that somehow the Delorme map people have found a way to capitalize on the geocaching game. This particular cache was the stated cache for Garfield County, and locating it under a rather large sagebrush allowed me a view of the surrounding farmland. Beautiful area with great patterns in the landscape. I’ve driven US 12 across southeastern Washington before, but the drive was always one where I thought constantly about how slow going the trip cross this rugged country is. This trip took even more time as I was stopping every few miles to seek out caches. Somehow the trip was much more fascinating because of the extra time I was taking getting to know the area.

A few miles further east and I stopped at the Pataha Pioneer Cemetery. This cache had been damaged, and of course, once I found my way to the top of the rise where the cache was hidden, I discovered that I did not have a pen in my pocket. Grabbing the cache, I walked back to the car, filled in the log, tried to repair the cache, then returned it to its hiding place. Got some pics of the old tombstones in this small, historic graveyard. It made me wonder what my own family cemetery back in West Virginia looks like. I’ll be finding out soon enough, if my plans don’t change.

Garfield County (Washington) Court House
Pomeroy Washington

Taken June 19th, 2007

Pomeroy, Washington is the county seat of Garfield County. Again I took pictures of the historic Court House, and stopped on the eastern edge of the town to take some pictures of the art work on display along the highway. These metal sculptures are what is termed a “virtual cache” in that no actual container has been hidden. The purpose is to get the game player to stop and see some item of interest, then answer some questions in an email to the person responsible for the cache. In this case, the cache was a series of very strange animals sculpted out of found objects. Great fun, and I’m glad that geocaching got me out of the Saab one more time.

Nearing the Asotin County line, I stopped at the rest area at Alpowa Summit. This rise is almost 2800 feet and offers a good view of the surrounding countryside. The big fear of looking for caches is that someone who is not a geocacher will see you and get the wrong idea about what you’re doing. These people are called, Harry Potter style, “Muggles.” At Alpowa Summit there was a whole family of muggles next to me. I found the cache just the same as the family was so engrossed in making sure their numerous offspring stayed off the highway and out of the restrooms (or in the restrooms if appropriate) that they paid absolutely no attention to me. I’ve found that at 6’6” and 200+ pounds, it’s almost impossible for me to be inconspicuous, so I just go ahead barging through life as if I know what I’m doing, and very few people pay me any mind. This was my seventeenth find of the day—a remarkable achievement in my book, but one that really slowed down my progress eastward.

At the aptly named “Bridge to Nowhere” I found my eighteenth and final cache of the day. Not much to report on this site, but the old bridge was a fascinating thing to find and explore. Just before reaching the Snake River near Clarkston, I tried for a cache called “Dogs of War.” I started on the wrong side of the road, exploring another abandonned bridge, but getting no nearer the cache. Back in the car, back up the road and down a drive on the north side of US12 into a parking area where I scared out some young toughs. As they drove off, I headed into the brush wondering if this would be the place I met a snake. So close to the Snake River, it would have been appropriate. Some of the people looking for this cache had reported ant hills, and I did find an ant hill right where my GPS receiver said the cache should be. Never found the cache though, but I note that everyone who has logged in since I did apparently had no trouble with this one. All I can say is that it had been a very long day since I left Kennewick. My neck was on fire as I’d had the top down on the Saab most of the way, and I was still at least five hours from home. Giving up on this cache, I climbed back in the Saab, drove through Clarkston, crossed into Idaho and Lewiston, and continued east on US 12.

Moon visible over the Lochsa River
You may want to enlarge this (click on the pic) to see the moon
June 19th, 2007

I love the drive between Missoula and Lewiston, and this trip was no exception. Filled the tank in Lewiston, stopped along the Lochsa to eat some of the food I had stashed in the car, and crossed the state line into Montana after dark. Around 11 p.m. Mountain Time, I pulled up to the Stoddard Street house, three days after I had left Smith River. That’s the longest I’ve ever stretched a trip out. It was good to be home with Gary, Faylene, Rocky, Minnie, Gypsy who had been staying with her siblings since April, and Princess the cat.

1 comment:

Carl said...

Thanks again for another fun trip!
Glad you found so many geocaches and I hope you find many more, maybe a few with me along again some time soon.