Ancestral Home

It’s impossible for me to revisit the Columbia River without reliving the past. Although I only lived there for a year, from 4 to 5 years old, some of my oldest memories come from that period; most of what precedes that time is only a blur. Goldendale was also my maternal grandfather’s home; he lived on a ranch, broke horses, and drove cattle to market across the Columbia River. I attended my first rodeo there and can still remember seeing Brahma bull riders and Indians dressed in their best finery.

Although I wasn’t aware of it as a child, the area was an important one to the Indians and still is as the Yakima Indian Reservation has to be one of the largest in Washington State. Of course, it wasn’t until this trip that I learned how important salmon fishing was to the natives, that there was a wide-spread economy based on the trading of dried salmon.

Ironically, though, the Old-West memories on this trip were triggered by the sight of a Buffalo herd alongside the road even more so than seeing the Indian fish camps earlier.


I couldn’t resist stopping and getting a shot, even though I’m pretty sure that Buffalo were never native to this area, though they certainly seem better suited to the area than cattle. Weather in the eastern part of the Columbia Gorge is brutal, particularly in the winter when high winds and bitter cold often join together to make life difficult for those willing to live there.

After seeing the buffalo I decided it must be time to put on R. Carlos Nakai’s Canyon Trilogy. “Dawn's Mirage: Ancestral Home” seemed like an appropriate accompaniment to my journey.

I’m pretty sure that if Buffalo were indigenous here they would have shown up in the petroglyphs along with the goat, deer, and elk.


Of course, that line of thinking would seem to indicate that salmon should also appear in the petroglyphs and they don’t, at least not in the ones I’ve had the privilege to view. Wonder why? It’s certainly an important part of Coastal Indian art.

Did I mention that I stopped again to see the petroglyphs at Horsethief Butte? Very hard to resist that temptation when you’re thinking about Columbia River Indians. I find these enigmatic figures irresistible and I seem to learn something new every time I study them. I’ve always thought the figures with “horns” were a demonic figure, but when a reporter suggested that there were owl figures, it just took one look at the feet to realize that he was probably right.


However, this figure which has somewhat similar ears still looks demonic to me.


What do you think? In reality it seems to be all speculation because there’s little consensus on how old the petroglyphs are, much less what the symbols represent.

Coincidentally, a little further up the river I stopped to see a “historic train” and discovered these local artists painting a mural using symbols taken from the petroglyph.


I thought that since they used the symbol in the upper right hand corner that they might know what it meant, but they didn’t, and since they were local artists who obviously respected the symbols I assume its meaning must be generally unknown

What I did learn from talking to the artists is that I have managed to miss the most famous petroglyph at the site, the one in the upper left hand corner. It’s located behind the area that has been roped off to prevent vandalism. It’s clear that I’m going to have to call and sign up for one of their scheduled walks in the restricted area next Spring, since there are none scheduled in the late fall and winter.

Always Take the Long Road Home

After two straight days of hiking up hill, I didn’t think I wanted to do another Columbia Gorge or Mt. Hood hike, but I didn’t see much reason to head straight home since Leslie was going to be gone for the weekend. So I decided to take the long way home and follow the Columbia River


eastward to Umatilla and then head north. I spent the night at Beacon Rock State Park and headed out in the morning with designs of idling the day away taking pictures.

It didn’t take long to find a place to stop and get my first shot, the north side of Mt. Hood,


quite a contrast to the shots taken the day before from the south side of the mountain. Of course, this is also a telephoto shot and only shows the top of the mountain. Still, it seems there’s more snow on the north side of the mountain than on the south side.

It’s hard to spend a day in the Gorge and not learn something new about it if you’re paying attention. This trip I noticed that the Indians had set up a traditional fishing platform, seen off the little green peninsula in the center right of the shot (as always, click to enlarge).


Coincidentally, I stopped at a pullout near Celilo Falls, which, as it turns out, was one of the most important fishing and trading areas for local Indians and served as the center of a widespread trading network.


Of course the falls disappeared in 1957 when the Dalles Dame was built. Here’s a video of Indians fishing from platforms similar to the one in the previous shot before the dam was built:

In this shot taken from a few miles up the road, looking back at Mt Hood towering over these arid, rocky cliffs you can actually see the bridge in the background of the previous video.


At Maryhill’s Stonehenge, Mt. Hood finally disappears from sight when you reach the plateau above the Columbia.


I Finally got to Hike with Terry and Bill

I hardly had time enough to clean my pickup up from our California trip before I headed out to Vancouver to hike the Columbian Gorge with Terry and Mt. Hood withBill. Now that I’ve purchased an Off-season States Park Pass, I can stay at any open State Park for free, or for $10 if I connect up to electricity or water. Hopefully that means I’ll be able to hike the Columbia Gorge or Mt Hood more this year, at least when the weather cooperates.

Unfortunately, in my rush to throw everything together I left my camera in the camper when I hiked Multnomah Falls to Wahkeena Falls on the first day with Terry, which, as it turned out, might not have been entirely a bad thing. Terry was obviously in much better shape than I was, weighing 147 pounds and with a resting heart rate of 47. Even without a camera he had to wait several times on the uphill grade while I stopped and gasped for breath. I’m sure lugging a camera and an extra lens along would have made it even harder to keep up. It was a great day, though, and I was thankful that Terry had agreed to take me along with him. It took a couple of years for us to put a hike together because the weather has been remarkably uncooperative in the past. Hopefully we’ll be able to get together again this winter or next spring.

I wasn’t about to forget my camera two days in a row even though I knew I would probably have as much trouble keeping up with Bill the next day as I did keeping up with Terry. Knowing I’d hiked the day before, Bill chose Tom, Dick, and Harry Mountain, a hike we used to do in late Spring or early summer when the mountain snows were just beginning to melt. Even though it’s at a higher altitude than the Gorge hike, it was shorter and, I think, less steep, though I certainly wouldn’t swear to it as we climbed steadily.

Luckily it was relatively cool, and the dense forest at the beginning of the hike helped keep it that way. I love walking in Pacific Northwest forests.


As we approached Mirror Lake we could look ahead at our destination, Tom, Dick, and Harry Mountain. It didn’t seem nearly as close as it looked here when we started the climb, particularly when we emerged from the forest into the clearings on the top of the ridge.


There was no arguing, though, that the views from the top were worth the effort, though Mt. Hood looked as bare as I have ever seen it in the 40+ years of hiking it.


I was better able to appreciate the Fall colors on the way down than on the way up when I spent most of the time staring down at the trail.


We stopped at Mirror Lake to get a shot of Mt Hood peeking over the firs. Unfortunately, there was a little too much breeze for the lake to live up to its name.


It made me resolve to get back here in Fall or early Spring when Hood has more snow on it to try to get a better shot of Hood and its reflection.

It was another great hike, though my legs felt a little the worse for wear after two days of the toughest hiking I’ve done all summer. Walking on flat trails or indoor tracks, even when you jog part of the time, is not the same as hiking up and down steep trails. I need to do a lot more trail walking.

Can You See What I See?

There are days when I’m reminded that I still have a long ways to go before I become a really good birder. After the slow morning at Ocean Shores we headed to Westport to see what we could find. If it hadn’t been for Leslie, I’m pretty sure I would have missed this mixed flock of Brown Pelicans and gulls.


Heck, I have a hard time seeing them even on my computer screen. How many pelicans can you count?

Luckily, I do better at spotting singletons or I would probably give up birding altogether. I managed to spot this Common Murre in non-breeding colors at a considerable distance, while just a speck on the horizon. Considering how seldom I’ve seen these birds, this was a good sighting.

CommonMurreNB I

f it hadn’t been for two seasoned birders, however, I would never have seen this even rarer Pectoral Sandpiper at Midway Beach. In fact, I stared blankly in the distance nearly five minutes before noticing the bird standing right in front of me, much closer than I ever thought it would be.


Apparently my combat training has trained me to first scan the horizon; I ALWAYS scan from the horizon in. Of course, if this had been an enemy combatant, I would have been dead long before I ever saw it. More often than not, though, I find birds when they move, another skill I practiced in the Army. If they would simply stay put, I’d miss most of them.

Luckily, once you spot birds it’s relatively easy to get pictures. If you’re patient, and quiet, often they’ll simply go back to finding food once they’ve decided you’re not a threat, like this bird did, coming so close I had a hard time keeping it in frame.


Of course, it helps if you know where to find birds. It’s hard to miss Marbled Godwits


if you show up where they are foraging. They’re one of the larger shorebirds and seem relatively indifferent to people, at least at Tokeland. I haven’t seen them for nearly a year, though,


so this helped to make the day seem complete. After a large lunch, Leslie wasn’t particularly hungry, so we stopped at the Dairy Queen in Raymond where I had my usual chili dog and cola, not quite as satisfying as a Guinness and fish special, but it’s one of my go-to comfort foods that I seldom indulge in any more and a good way to end a nice outing.

A Morning at Ocean Shores

Right after we returned from Nevada, Leslie and I headed out to the beach to catch the end of the Fall Shorebird Migration. It was either that or pick up a poetry book, and I didn’t want to miss a single moment of the wonderful Fall we’ve been having so far. Once the rains begin to descend it might be June before we see two sunny days in a row again, plenty of time to read poetry books.

I’d been reading about recent bird sightings at Ocean Shores, so I thought we’d start the day there. What I didn’t hear was that the State allowed a special, early duck hunting weekend and a man and his two kids were blasting away when we finally arrived at the pond. Needless to say, there weren’t any shore birds in sight (though, as it turned out, I was told later in the day that after the hunters left the shorebirds did show up).

We settled for seeing a small flock of Brown Pelicans, still in summer breeding colors as they flew up the beach line while we were walking back to our car.


We even were lucky enough to even see some of them dive for fish, like these two.


Afterwards we headed up to the jetty, hoping to finally sight the Surfbird that I’ve never managed to see yet. Once again we were foiled by some major waves, making it nearly impossible to walk out on the jetty with risking life and limb.

Instead, we settled for walking the wind-protected side of the jetty, where we spotted Harbor Seals and surfers taking advantage of the high waves. This somewhat less adventurous Sanderling (I’m pretty sure it’s a Sanderling fading from breeding plumage to winter plumage, but I wouldn’t swear by that) joined us on the lee side of the Jetty,


where we were soon joined by a pair of Black Turnstones in non-breeding colors.


I suspect they thought that if the Sanderling could hang out with us it was safe to land nearby.

Generally the morning was a bit of a disappointment, at least birding wise, but it’s hard to be disappointed with any morning that ends with a Guinness Extra Stout and a "Leroy Special,” fish and green salad at the Galway Bay Irish Restaurant.

I Still Haven’t Seen Crater Lake

If we had actually planned to go to Crater Lake, our stop there at the end of our trip would certainly have been the greatest disappointment of our trip. Luckily, it was just an afterthought, and considering my history with Crater Lake it wasn’t surprising that it turned out the way it did. I first tried to go to Crater Lake on my honeymoon with my first wife nearly 50 years ago. As we headed up the road we discovered that an early snow had closed the West Entrance. I have tried to go there several times since then, always with the same result. I long ago accepted the fact that I just wasn’t meant to see the lake.

This trip we were actually approaching the park from the East, and we had most of the day left, plenty of time to visit the park. Things were actually looking pretty good as we entered the eastern portion of the park. I was awed by the deep canyons leading up to the lake.


As we approached the lake, though, we smelled smoke, but we’d encountered smoke most of the way up from Tahoe. Then we encountered a signboard saying not to report a naturally occurring fire. Before long the smoke was so thick we started the air-conditioner, circulating the air in the car.

By the time we reached the top of the crater and were able to see the lake far below, we couldn’t — see it that is. It was completely obscured by the smoke And since the best-known asset of the lake is its clarity, there really wasn’t much to look at.


We certainly didn’t bother to drop down into the lake to see what it looked like from there or to take the boat that tours the lake.

We felt sorry for those people who had driven or flown hundreds of miles just to see the park, but I was determined to make the best of our side-trip and focus on what I could see: the jagged edges of the collapsed volcano,


firs and pines hung precariously on the edge of the volcano,


and twisted pines, reminiscent of the Bristlecone Pine we saw in California.


It obviously requires greats strength and endurance to survive on these wind-swept cliffs, especially with such a short growing season, but life has a way of enduring under the most demanding conditions.


Of course, some of us are merely visitors here, enjoying the beautiful views before flying off for the winter.


We drove a thousand miles to see Bristlecone Pine in Nevada that we never saw and drove hundreds of miles out of our way to see Crater lake and ended up seeing some magnificent trees that we didn’t even know existed. Life reveals itself in mysterious ways if you are open to what’s there.

Expect the Unexpected

As an English teacher I taught students that a good essay should have a theme, an idea that tied all the details together. So it shouldn’t be surprising that I try to do the same thing in most of my blog entries, even if it is nothing more than making a point about a particular flower or a particular bird. In fact, the most common cause for not posting every day, besides pure laziness, is my inability to come up with a theme.

I suspect one of the reasons we value structure and order so highly is that much of life is purely chaotic. Things just happen, but we feel better if we can impose a cause on random events.

My recent trip seemed ample proof of that. Almost everything I planned turned out to be a disappointment, but the trip as a whole was successful because of so many unplanned surprises. The best part of the trip were things that were discovered in route, not things I had anticipated for years.

Visiting Tule National Wildlife Refuge was definitely a last-minute decision, one based on its nearness and on not seeing many birds the rest of the trip. I wasn’t going there to see a particular bird, but just stopped by to see what, if anything, was there.

There were a lot of egrets and grebes, so I focused on them on my first two entries. My favorite pictures were all singletons, though, except for two shots of Red-Tailed Hawks. Leslie got this shot of Red-Tailed Hawk that had obviously become accustomed to people driving by,


while I got this shot of another one who seemed to circle to check us out.


I certainly wouldn’t drive a thousand miles to photograph a Red-Tailed Hawk since they’re just down the road, but I liked both of these shots.

I hadn’t seen White-Faced at Ibis when I was there before, and there were only a few strays at Tule, but I liked this shot of one landing right in front of us a lot.


Finally, I couldn’t resist getting another shot of Black-Necked Stilt even though they were too far away to get a really good shot.


It was only later in front of the computer that I realized those birds in front of the pair had to be juvenile Black-Necked Stilt, a bird I’d never photographed, or seen, before. When you’re too focused on one thing, you’re very likely to miss something even more interesting.