Tag Archives: Desert

Coconut

Sam Hutchinson looms over another man, possibly Hugh Dunlop in this photograph from an unidentified historical archive.

Sam Hutchinson looms over another man, possibly Hugh Dunlop in this photograph from an unidentified historical archive.

When my brothers were old enough to drive it wasn’t uncommon for several of us to pile into a car and head out into the Potholes to fish, swim or hike. We liked swimming in a certain hole in Hayes Creek. A favorite fishing spot was Hutchinson Lake, where red basalt cliffs rimmed the cool greenish waters. Even at that age, my father had told me plenty of stories about the Hutchinson brothers. My imagination placed old Sam Hutchinson on those clifftops, dressed in a black lawman’s cutaway coat and a flat-rimmed hat. Taller than seven feet, he once rode over those hills and lived in a cabin not far from where the lake is found.

Perhaps it was this image that inspired me to wander while my brother fished for those big trout that rarely got caught. I trudged out into the brush north of the lake looking for anything that might have been dropped by old Sam and he rode out one day. I found crushed and rusty tin cans, flaking apart. There were the remains of wire fencing smashed into the earth. Bits of purpled glass sparkled at me through the cheat grass. Then I found a rut. Continue reading

The Return of Martin Paroz

Soldier settlement homes were modest in size. State records of each of the homes are kept in WSU archives. Hanford, White Bluffs, and Hanford Nuclear Site Images (PC 104) Manuscripts, Archives, and Special Collections Washington State University Libraries Pullman, WA

Soldier settlement homes were modest in size. State records of each of the homes are kept in WSU archives. Hanford, White Bluffs, and Hanford Nuclear Site Images (PC 104)
Manuscripts, Archives, and Special Collections
Washington State University Libraries
Pullman, WA

Next month it will be one hundred years since the start of what became known as World War I, a misnomer that blinds many people to the far ranging conflicts practiced by men in earlier ages. And even though that particular war ended so long ago, each year in France and Belgium tons of unexploded ordinance from the First World War are exhumed from land where the battles were fought. Historian Alan Taylor recently published a sobering photo-history of the war in The Atlantic in which he shows the ravaged land, slowly being reclaimed by forests, where once villages stood until they were cratered out of existence. Sheep graze in unredeemed minefields; farmers plow up hand grenades and cannon shells.

Early in the war, governments of the British Commonwealth began planning for the return of their soldiers. Aware that the deluge of war-touched young men could not be ignored at the risk of destabilizing society, politicians began designing a program to reintegrate the soldiers through agriculture. Continue reading

Landslide

Sandhill cranes frolic in the fields of the Danielson farm, with the Saddle Mountain cliffs looming over it. Photograph by Phyllis Danielson.

Sandhill cranes frolic in the fields of the Danielson farm, with the Saddle Mountain cliffs looming over it. Photograph by Phyllis Danielson.

The communities of Oso and Darrington were devastated by the recent landslide, in which around fifty houses and more than thirty people were annihilated in the space of a couple of minutes. It will be a long time before life can return to anything like it used to be, with Darrington’s main artery to the rest of the world cut off. Now commuters from Darrington have to head north, past our Sauk River cabin, to get to their jobs, shops and supplies. It takes a lot of time and gas. My son’s scout troop raised cash and supplies that we took to Darrington last weekend, and I’ve been watching the news about the landslide daily.

Pictures of the Oso landslide reminded me very much of the landslide my family and I used to climb around on when I was a kid. One of our favorite hikes was to the cliffs at the top of Saddle Mountain, where you can climb down to a ledge where sandstone exposures have been carved by the winds and graffito-ed by generations of local visitors. Continue reading

Written in the Earth

A soldier of Custer's regiment uses his Springfield carbine as a club. Source of this painting is not known.

A soldier of Custer’s regiment uses his Springfield carbine as a club. Source of this painting is not known.

When you grow up in desert heat, at least when video games and television have yet to proliferate, one of the joys of childhood is playing with the garden hose. Personally, I enjoyed digging rivers and lakes into the earth of the wire enclosure where our chickens roamed. I remember the amazement of unearthing a living frog that had burrowed into the ground for hibernation, and that had narrowly avoided the blade of my shovel.

One of my maxims about the desert landscape around Saddle Mountain is that this earth is honest. When people pass through, the traces they make remain to be read by those who come after them. As I think back on the traces we’ve discovered on our farm alone, it amazes me that so much history is written in its sand and dust.

In the early 1960s my father hooked his tractor to a battered old machine he called the rototiller. He was in the process of rooting sagebrush out of a new field, and this machine would completely destroy the plants that grew there naturally. Continue reading

Elevator

One hundred and eight degrees Fahrenheit, and I tied a rope to the wire handle on a five gallon can. I was inside a square wooden grain elevator with a corrugated iron roof several stories above me in Basin City. Up before dawn, I drove through the dark to Bruce, Washington, where my uncle ran the local Full Circle, Inc., agribusiness office. He had the Warden, Bruce and Basin City branches to manage. After five or six summers working in the grain warehouses, I had been given the job of taking care of the Basin City elevator. Each day I’d pick up a courier’s pouch at Bruce and climb into a company truck for the run down to my station.

One of the first things I did in Basin City was to try to control the rats. Every day their droppings and their footprints circled the exterior of the elevator. Their dens were narrow cracks in the sides of the concrete pad the elevator stood on. I shoved wire mesh, broken glass and bits of barbed wire into the cracks every day and when I returned in the morning I’d find the hole empty of all my wicked obstacles, not a trace of blood on the fine dust and sand. Rat footprints thronged across the blowsand. Poison was left untouched. These rodents knew their business. Continue reading

Points

Found just outside my doorway in the muddy pit where I was laying bricks for a patio, this projectile point sent ripples of excitement to Seattle and back.

I made my most “significant” archaeological find when I was leveling the earth in front of my porch to set some bricks for a walkway. I came across a stone…not that uncommon…but this one was a peculiar shape. It was flat and sharp-edged. Most of the rocks I was unearthing had been rounded by glacial or riverine action, basically the gravel from an old road. For some reason I set this one aside and later I took it to the sink in the bathroom to sluice the mud off of it. I was floored by what I found: a beautiful palm-sized projectile point.

When I was young in the Lower Crab Creek valley of Eastern Washington it was almost a sign of status to have discovered what we called an arrowhead. My older brothers had all found them and it was frustrating that no matter how many hikes I took, no matter how vigilant I was, with my eyes scanning the crust of the the desert soil, I never received what seemed to be that secret blessing from the past. Maybe they’d all been used up. Then came the hot summer day when my father, blanketed in yellow dust, came home for lunch after spending the morning rototilling a new field he was opening up. He reached into the pocket of his overalls and dropped a red arrowhead on the kitchen table. Continue reading

Then & Now

I published this photograph of the Lower Crab Creek Valley as viewed from the Taunton townsite in “Another Flood.” On a recent visit to the same spot I took the following photograph.

This summer I took a hurried trip through Eastern Washington, photographing sites I have written about. In this article I try to post old photographs alongside more recent ones. In some cases I have also provided views of places previously mentioned in my posts, although no older photographs are available to compare them to.

A view of the Lower Crab Creek Valley in 2012, more than fifty years after the previous photograph was taken, reveals the changing ecology of the formerly arid landscape. Irrigation and invasive species have radically altered the local habitat.

There is definitely an article to be written concerning the environmental changes that have taken place in the Lower Crab Creek Valley over Continue reading

Legends of the Ice Cave

Beneath this towering cliff and rubble fallen from it lie the remains of the Saddle Mountain Ice Cave.

There has been a fair amount of mystery concerning the Saddle Mountain Ice Cave. Even today you’ll find inquiries about it on internet chat sites. Over the years, locals disagreed on lots of points concerning this phenomenon. Some said it was a natural cavern, a huge chamber full of glittering perpetual ice. Others said it wasn’t really anything more than a big root cellar where people kept chunks of ice they would cut out of Crab Creek in the wintertime. Some people even doubt its existence. But it’s there.

Virtually all that’s left of the Ice Cave is a pile of old timbers and the remains of the massive wooden doorframe.

The Ice Cave is about four miles west of the end of the paving on the old Corfu Highway after you leave Smyrna, around eight miles from Beverly. It’s difficult to spot the remains from the roadway, so look for a large alkali clearing in front of it and a huge slope of tumbled rock flanking its other three sides. Continue reading

The First Chelan

Although Wikipedia describes this image as the steamer John Gates navigating Priest Rapids in 1884, the locality is surely not Priest Rapids, but Rock Island Rapids where the Chelan capsized on her upriver attempt and lost her rudder on her return downriver.

I’ve struggled with where to begin the story of the first steamboat Chelan. It’s a tale with roots in the larger conflicts that made the Northwest of the 1870s such a tragic and violent place. The steamboat wouldn’t even have been built if it were not for the breakout of the Nez Percés under Chief Joseph, but it wasn’t built as a direct result of that conflict. It was a response to another attempt by Native Americans to claim their natural rights and to reclaim their freedom. Even so, that was still only an indirect cause of this steamboat’s birth. It was a result of a murder by renegade Indians, angered by the deaths of their friends and family who were cut to pieces by the gatling gun mounted on a different river steamboat. Yet Chelan wasn’t built because the Perkins died. But all of these events led to the eventual arrest of Chief Moses and the removal of his followers from their land in the Columbia Basin. It was the creation of a new reservation for the Sinkiuse Indians that inspired the army to build the Chelan. The boat was needed as a ferry for crossing the Columbia River on the trail to a newly established fort that would safeguard Moses’ Indians on their new reservation.

As far as I know, no photographs of the steamboat Chelan exist. There are photographs of a later steamboat, built in 1902, which operated on the upper stretch of the Columbia until it was retired in 1910 when freight began moving by rail. The 125 foot sternwheeler was operated by the Columbia & Okanogan Steamboat Company. It was one of four retired steamboats tied to one another at a Wenatchee mooring, that burned in a spectacular fire on July 8, 1915. Continue reading

Treasure on the Mountain

Too excited to wait for daylight, we began searching the wagon road in the early dark of an October night.

Joe and I had a plan one night in 1970. I had scraped together wages from a variety of odd jobs and mailed off for a Heathkit metal detector kit. My brother Arnold agreed to put it together for me: he always was an electronics whiz. Now it was done, and Joe and I had a plan. We threw some matches, water, weiners,  bread, pop and cookies into a couple of backpacks, tied on some sleeping bags, and I took a shovel out of the garage. Then, with the metal detector slung over a shoulder we set off up the road in the late afternoon.

The idea hatched a few weeks earlier when my Uncle Luke had piled us into the back of his Ford Econoline pickup to drive up to the cliffs. As we ground our way up the primitive dirt track we kept crossing wide ditch-like ruts leading off into the sagebrush, but we were too high up for irrigation. At the summit of the pass we stopped for a breather next to a small cairn of rounded basalt stones. There were several of those ditches leading through the gap, and my dad told me they were the ruts of a wagon road. As the ruts wore too deep into the powdery earth, succeeding travelers would break new trail parallel to the older ruts. The whole north face was interlaced with wagon trails, twisted into switchbacks. We scrambled back into the pickup to continue our trip and a low flying private plane buzzed us, sneaking over the gap in a shortcut across the forbidden airspace of the Hanford Reservation. Continue reading