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White Bluffs and Crab Creek
posted by John : June 22-23, 2013

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So full of energy

It's been five months since my last snowshoe adventure. Five months is too long. Sure, I've been on snow (at least once a month), but not in snowshoes. And since I've just re-upped with Tubbs for another year of Ambassadoring, I figured it was time to find some snow.

Or, failing that, some sand.

We drove for three hours made even longer after after the realization that the movies the kids had selected (all Star Wars!) were missing the feature disc. Instead, we letterboxed (on Indian John Hill just east of Cle Elum), stopped for coffee (Ellensburg), and watched the bonus material. I could hear everything, including George Lucas talking about deleted scenes and special effects, but I couldn't see. Totally unfair.

When we finally pulled into the parking lot for the White Bluffs Ferry Landing (a town where the ferry crossed the river) we didn't spend any time looking at the sole remaining building on the east side because it was already 84F. Ugh.

Still, we were there to use our snowshoes so we headed back up the paved road, then to the obvious trail heading upstream. (The Columbia actually flows in this section so it's cool to write "upstream" as opposed to "uplake" or something else.)

The trail is easy to follow as it first climbs back up the bluff, then follows the edge. It's never so close as to feel dangerous, but is still close enough that when Treen went exploring and dropped out of sight I'd be a bit worried.

Three miles is a long way to go in the heat. Especially when you can see the destination in the shimmering distance and it never seems to get any closer. At the top of each little rise we'd pause because it was there, and only there, that a slight breeze blew and could cool us a few degrees.

When we finally stepped on the the isolated sand dune it was like entering another world. If you narrowed your field of vision, it feels like you were truly in a real desert and you expect some camels or something.

We quickly dug about six inches into the dune where the sand was a little damp and much cooler and made a spot for Treen. The sled (Oh, did I forget to mention we brought the sled?) provided a bit of shade for her and she somehow didn't spill a drop of water. Or maybe it just evaporated before it hit the ground.

The dune was perhaps 50 feet tall. Just like I'd imagined, it was like a standing wave with a mellow slope on one side and a sharp drop-off on the other.

In snowshoes, the kids were able to climb to the top with little trouble. On the wind-blown slope I sank about an inch. On the leeward slope, the sand was much softer and I sank in well above my shoes. The kids floated atop it all.

We tried the sled, but it turns out the magic of sledding on snow is due to a layer of friction-melted snow that lubricates the interface of plastic and snow. Although it felt hot enough to melt the sand into liquid (presumably leaving a glass trail behind us), it never happened. As a result, we hardly moved on the shallow slope. On the steeper, softer side, we got some moderate speed, but nothing compared to what snow would have given us.

All told, we spent perhaps an hour playing in the big sandbox. But we were low on water by that time and needed to get to our campsite for the night so we headed back.

Oh, the dreaded walk back. Three miles of blistering heat (for a westside resident it was blistering) and only dreams of ice cream and Frapaccino to cool us. Treen took every opportunity to lie down in whatever tiny speck of shade she could find.

When we got back to the road I unloaded and ran back for the car while the kids and dog sat in the shade. After everyone was in, we drove back to the river for a few minutes of sweet, sweet wetness.

Usually, this is where an adventure like this would end. Not this time, because we weren't headed home.

We drove into Othello, a town I hadn't seen in years. It was both more modern (hello, Walmart) and more neglected than I remembered. We bought some water and ice cream and headed southeast to the Scootenay Resevoir to camp. Except someone forgot to tell them we were coming and they were closed. (Besides, it was not exactly the "primitive" camping I was led to believe.)

Back to Othello for network connectivity and on a hunch we'd find somewhere to camp, we drove west along Crab Creek. I knew that if nothing else, we could camp in the parking lot of Lake Lenice, where Grandpa Jack and I had been fishing a few weeks before.

We were saved the ignominy of parking-lot camping when we found a primitive road off the main dirt road. A little dicey, but we drove to the top of a mini-mesa and found the perfect spot. The kids got the tent set up, I cooked dinner (honest-to-goodness macaroni and cheese FROM THE BOX), and Treen finally got cool in the shade of the car.

Unfortunately, the perfection was shattered by the mind-numbing buzzing of a billion mosquitos. I got Treen in to the car and cracked a window. The kids were safe in the tent. I raced around slapping and setting up my bivy before I was secure. However, with only a few inches separating my head from the screen of the bivy there was no escaping the little buggers' whine.

The super moon came up over the ridge and lit us up like day. Well, kind of. It wasn't really that super. But apparently it was super enough that Henry decided it was time to go to the bathroom. When he came out he refused to wear a shirt so while he did his business I did my best to defend him against the blood suckers. (The next morning showed I didn't do a great job.)

I grabbed headphones and fell asleep to a British voice explaining something scientific while apparently fighting hordes of mosquitos. Luckily, I had no dreams.

In the morning, we were thrilled to see there were no bugs around... until I opened up the car to let Treen out. All I can say is that Treen never seems bothered by bites, but I'm sure they got her more than once. When we left we had the windows open for miles to try to suck the blood suckers out of the car. (Even 10 hours later after the car was completely unpacked, Amy was swarmed when she opened the door back at home.)

We stopped at Wanapum State Park for another letterbox and then returned to the Wild Horse Wind Farm to get the tour we missed last time. It was cool and impressive to see the windmills up close. Heck, we even got to go into the base of one. And since we failed to realize there was a letterbox at the visitor center, we'll have to go back yet again.

Other than getting stuck in traffic on the way back, there were no more adventures.

Aside from realizing that snowshoes were AWESOME for walking on sand, which we had kind of surmised, it was great to see we could just throw gear in the truck and wing it for a night out. I'll still overplan our big trips (like the three nights we have scheduled in Rainier this summer), but if the opportunity arises for another road trip you can bet we'll take it.

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