Sunday, April 6, 2014

Yakima Canyon Weekend

This weekend the forecast for Seattle down to San Francisco called for heavy rain so Emily and I did the only logical thing we could come up with and went East over the Cascades to the high desert of Washington in search of sunshine.  I had been put in over 60 hours of work the previous week and was nearing 40 hours by Thursday so after I got my delivery out Friday I left work early so that we could pack up and take off.  Click the title to read on….

We didn’t leave the Portland area until about 2pm on Friday and the drive to the town of Yakima in southeast Washington took about 3.5 hours.  It was a beautiful drive through the Columbia Gorge that we hadn’t taken since we saw a concert at the Gorge Amphitheater with Kevin and Alexa 4 years ago.  We determined that The Dalles was the last town that had a decent number of trees around it before the landscape became rolling hills covered with wind turbines.  Once we crossed the River we took a short detour to check out a WWI memorial called “Stonehenge” which was dedicated to the Klickitat area soldiers and sailors who lost their lives in the war.  It was pretty cool and there were great views from its cliffside location over the Gorge below.  

When we got to Yakima we stopped at Famous Daves BBQ for some of my favorite BBQ ribs.  Yes, it is a chain restaurant but honestly.. the best ribs I’ve ever had.  We sat at the bar and the bartender gave us some suggestions on where to camp, that happened to be the same ideas I had thankfully.  By the time we finished our dinners and had driven through the beautiful Yakima Canyon to our camp site at Umtanum Creek the sun had set and it was getting dark quickly.  We  set up our tent, skipped starting a fire like our neighbors next to us and climbed in with Leo for the night.

On Saturday morning we slept in a bit before packing up our stuff and driving back through the Canyon to the town of Selah.  When we left the camp site area we found ourselves driving along the canyon through a full blown marathon that had been set up overnight.  There were runners all over the road of all ages and we crept along winding a path through them at under 30mph.  We didn’t mind the slow go of it because we had all day and it was beautiful out.  Every once in a while Emily would yell some encouragement out the window at folks while I would get yelled at for going too fast (I really wasn’t).  

We made our way through the town of Selah up to the trailhead and were surprised to find a full blown bbq going on of people we call “horse people”.  Trailer after horse trailer and everyone had cowboy hats on.  Uh-oh… Well, to our pleasant surprise when we pulled into the lot and up to the gate our guidebook said to go through, an old cowboy came shuffling up and offered to open it for us.  Honestly, he seemed like one of the nicest people we’ve ever met and his country manners made us smile.  I could see him being one really cool grandpa.  We headed on up the dusty dirt road as far as we safely could with the Prius before the ruts got too bad and we were forced to pull over to start our hike.  

With very little water left from breakfast in the morning and feeding Leo I did not plan for us to go on a very long hike.  We left the car and headed up the treeless hillside for about 2 miles up to the rim of Yakima Canyon.  We followed some riders on the road but they didn’t continue up the footpath thankfully.  Although this hike is noted for flowers we were too early in the season to see many.  Without any shade at all and very dusty dry conditions we were glad to hike it now rather than on a 110 degree day in the summer.  Leo definitely would not have made such a hike.  But, we had a cool breeze and great weather which worked out perfectly.  

The view from the canyon rim down to a small dam was really beautiful.  I had hoped to maybe see a herd of Elk, birds of prey or maybe some big horn sheep but we didn’t see anything.  Perhaps the horse party and having Leo with us scared them off.  We decided to hike a little bit further down the trail but when it began to dip down and then climb ahead of us we decided the little extra view wouldn’t be worth it and turned around.  We saw about 8 other hikers on the path but no wildlife safe a few butterflies and warblers singing in the tumbleweeds around us on the way down.  

When we got down we drove in Selah for a few drinks to take with us back into the Canyon.  By then the marathon had nearly wrapped up.  There was a police stop set up and they told us to keep it under 25mph but just a couple miles into the drive we past a very elderly couple shuffling along with a van following them for support which must have been the sweep van for the race as we didn’t see any other runners after.  When we got back to Umtanum Creek we ate some sandwiches I had bought and watched hikers head up a steep slope.  We asked where they were going and were told there were caves… another time perhaps.  

We left the trailhead just after 3pm and headed into the woods across a suspension bridge that made Leo nervous and then over a the train tracks.  The night before we were awoken just twice by the large freight trains rumbling by us along the river.  We hoped that by heading deep into Umtanum Canyon we wouldn’t hear them.  The trail in was quite beautiful with canyon walls on both side towering over us.  We passed alongside the small Umtanum Creek as it winded it’s way through the canyon, occasionally blocked up by Beaver activity where we would have to find creative ways to cross it.  

We continued about 2.5 - 3 miles into the canyon through low stands of Alder, Quaking Aspen and birch.  We passed a really good looking campsite about 2 miles in that was already taken so kept going.  There was another woman and her dog that we kept hopscotching along the way who was there for just a day hike.  Eventually, the trail began to narrow and become overgrown and I was worried that we wouldn’t find a camp spot.  Luckily we spotted a good one by the creek with a fire pit and plenty of wood.  We were in the Canyon just before the BLM fire ban started on April 15th so we were glad to be able to make a small fire for the night.  

It was 5pm when we arrived so after setting up our tent and arranging our gear we had plenty of time to lay around.  I started the book by Nick Offerman (Ron Swanson actor) that Em had bought me for valentines day.  Love it!  Leo busied himself by sniffing the area and grabbing random sticks to play tug of war with me.  After a while he just tuckered out and climbed into the tent to fall asleep on my sleeping bag and spread his fur everywhere.  Leo is pretty much the perfect dog with one exception - he literally explodes fur everywhere he goes…. 

We had a relaxing evening enjoying some goat cheese flavors, chocolate, a box of wine I packed in and the usual Mountain House freeze-dry dinners, as well as enjoying good conversation and each other’s company with Leo by our side.  The weather held for us, only sprinkling lightly on us for about 20 minutes.  We kept the fire going with plenty of wood and by the time we were ready for bed we had finished the wine and most of the snacks.  I was pretty well lit.  This was kind of pre-planned as yet again my Big Agnes sleeping pad failed me and completed deflated both nights leaving me sleeping on the cold hard rocky ground.  I’m going to give them one more try before I go back to faithful Thermarest.  Thankfully, their tent (the one we were in) is one of the best pieces of gear we own, so props for that I guess.

On Sunday we relaxed in camp until around noon, again reading our books and enjoying the sunshine.  The hike out seemed much faster than the way in and it was under blue skies, and even warmer.  We stumbled across an old homestead foundation along the way out next to a beaver dam.  It was the only human structure we saw in the whole canyon.  We made it out in less than an hour and I even got a funny video of nervous Leo crossing the bridge over the Yakima River.  From there it was just a long 3+ hour drive back to Ridgefield where we arrived to sunny skies.  It was a great weekend away from the western cascade rain and we will definitely head back next spring as well, hopefully for some flowers next time!

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