We drive over Snoqualmie Pass,
then we motor down,
to the wider view,
on the other side of the mountains.
The dry side.
We’re headed to Umtanum Creek Recreation Area,
a shrub-steppe habitat of dry hills, sage, and rattlesnakes.
Bighorn sheep are said to roam the craggy tops;
in the creek’s deep crease
and wildflowers cycle through bloom, seed, dormancy, and bloom again…
Umtanum Creek’s clear water feeds the wide Yakima River,
which in turn feeds the Columbia River,
which empties into the Pacific.
Today the water is cold but the sun is hot –
perfect for a raft trip down the Yakima.
But we’re interested in a dry place, so
we head across Yakima river
on a bridge
of creaky wood
and swaying steel.
The creek’s final course flows quietly
under a cool, shady thicket. We could follow it –
walk up the creek trail,
Remember last year? We walked up the creek and
after that we were curious about that hill, so
we trudged up
a steep path
but we were tired and
we didn’t get very far.
Why not do the hill path first this time?
Later we can cool our heels
in the creek.
It’s hot. Steep. Rock-strewn.
No one else is
on the trail.
We have 3 bottles of water,
little bags of nuts and raisins, a chocolate –
we’re already thirsty.
I drink in the open landscape, the
way rolling hills
are clothed in subtle shades of umber and gold,
olive and gray,
and the creek below
weaves a frothy emerald path
through the canyon.
I sense movement ahead on the rocks to my left.
– amazing –
a bighorn sheep!
I’ve never seen one before – didn’t expect to see one today.
Don’t you have to be miles from the road to see this kind of wildness? Don’t you have to come at dawn, or dusk?
(Oh, would a long lens be good right about now!)
Just one ram,
and so nobly beautiful!
Surprise – instead of running away he makes eye contact. He poses on the rocks,
then climbs down closer.
I walk a few steps up the trail,
and he steps nimbly, almost aggressively,
It’s lamb season, so we realize this may not be safe –
time to back off!
I force myself to step backwards on the trail,
not wanting to divert my gaze.
One last look –
can you see him there still?
King of the Hill…
It’s all good though. He has his turf.
We had the privilege of meeting him,
in his world
for a few electric minutes.
Back down along the creek, a rattlesnake
slithers slowly away
through rock shadows –
No matter I didn’t get a usable shot – I’m glad it’s gone.
Again I’m distracted by butterflies and wildflowers,
the curl of dry grass,
yarrow with its fair share of insect life,
tall grass ornamented with tiny yellow flowers,
announcing their pinkness
amidst the green.
Finally, the water up close:
feet cool off:
Back on the road
heading down Yakima Canyon,
we glimpse strange basalt rock stacks painted
lichen red and yellow,
like primitive sculpture, or maybe an artist’s recent work
(how’s that for site-specific?).
And then more luck – we’ve gone from bighorn sheep and rattlesnakes
to a vintage ’51 Pontiac Chieftain,
looking very at home, even on the four lane!
We pull off so I can photograph the plain, graceful hills in late afternoon light.
A Western meadowlark sings somewhere out there – we can’t see it.
and weathered fence posts
march crookedly up and down:
imaginary ideas of here
pasted on the hills.
We know there is no ownership.
I imagine the poles as dashes – pencil marks across
pale and dry as paper,
but ever changing.
Heading back towards home,
the Cascade Range appears in the distance
like a mirage.
Let’s stop at the top –
I want to breathe in the difference between
the dry place
and the fiercely steep, snowy place above,
the mountains with their towering trees and
spring flowers, still
as if it were April.
We stop briefly at Snoqualmie Pass,
walk to a smidgeon of the Pacific Crest Trail –
(hikers pass through here on their 2,650 mile trip from Mexico to California).
How’s that for inspiring?
Yes, trillium are still blooming here.
This is one of the reasons we left New York and moved out here two years ago –
truly wild land is more accessible to us now.
In the course of a day
we can drive from
June to April
and back to June again,
from wet to dry to wet again
from lush to arid to lush again!
Yes, how’s that for inspiration.