Tag Archives: Trails

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

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The Crossroads

Lower Crab Creek provided water. In Eastern Washington, that was a godsend. Temperatures on the Columbia Plateau routinely soar to over 100 degrees Fahrenheit in the summertime, and rain is scarce. Cleaning irrigation ditches with a shovel west of Othello as a boy, many were the prayers I sent for even one scanty cloud to shield me from the overbearing sun.

The Sinkiuse Indians who lived there before me probably shared my distaste for the relentless sun. But they didn’t have the benefit of a well of cold water I could retire to, an air conditioner that cooled the house when I took a break. They were stuck with the weather the way it was: hot in the summertime, cold in the winter. They took a more basic approach to living on the Columbia Plateau: they stuck close to water, or if that weren’t possible, they found the shortest route from one water hole to the next.

Over centuries of migration and travel, humans developed routes that guided them along the most direct lines of travel from one pool or stream of potable water to the next. Continue reading

To The Cliffs and Beyond

My grandfather first climbed to the cliffs on Saddle Mountain in the 1920s. He was not the first visitor to a high ledge where soft sandstone is sandwiched between layers of black basalt. Names were carved into the soft rock, dated, gouged deeper on subsequent visits. My father, whose first visit to the cliffs must have been when he was a youngster in the 1920s, introduced the site to his children. Our first visits were made by motor vehicles. Rough trails still exist that can be followed by a truck with high suspension…not that I recommend the method of access. You miss so much when you’re trapped in metal.

My favorite route to the cliffs followed the Milwaukee Road tracks for a mile or so, then veered up the fenceline separating private cultivated land from the BLM sections. After you leave the railroad tracks you start a relentless climb, like going on foot up a mile-long stairway. First you traverse massive slopes of yellow clay, silt that precipitated out of the flood when the waters struck the mountain, slowed and diverted to the east and the west. These banks are composed of countless thin layers. In some places you can find petrified bones, usually blackened vertebrae of fish or small animals. We also found turtle shells and I keep a broken bison bone in my classroom, orange and yellow and imperfectly petrified. Continue reading