Forum Index > Trip Reports > White Bluffs - Hanford Reach 4/05/08
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Don
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PostSun Apr 06, 2008 4:04 pm 
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I left Renton at 3:15 am and aimed the truck east-bound in promise of blue skies.  It was snowing heavily at Snoqualmie Pass, but soon stars began to appear.

I arrived at the Wahluke National Wildlife Refuge turnoff at 5:45 and immediately found the parking area for the north slopes hike.  The sky was turning pink to the west, signalling the coming of first light.

I followed the faint path in the direction of the more pronounced path up-slope.  The ground was covered in frost and still wearing its winter mask; no flowers to be seen at all.  Coyote prints and scat were numerous along the trail.  So were deer and elk tracks.

I reached the top of the bluffs and followed the path towards the sand dunes in the distance.

I reached the first dune and began photographing the patterns of the ridge-line in silence.  When I ducked behind the leeward side of the dune, a chorus of howls and yips sang out from very close by!  When I stuck my head over the ridge, all became silent again.  And that is how the game continued to be played.

Sand Dune
Sand Dune
Sand Dune
Sand Dune
Sagebrush in the Desert
Sagebrush in the Desert

I also kept finding fresh deer tracks - sometimes even on top of my boot tracks.  Never did see the owner.

As I continued on, the dunes increased in size and height.

Sand Dune
Sand Dune
Hiker on Sand Dune
Hiker on Sand Dune
Hiker on Sand Dune
Hiker on Sand Dune
Sand Dune
Sand Dune

Finally, it was time to turn back and prepare for my second hike.

In my haste to get an early start, I neglected to pack food or water.  So I headed back to Mattawa for supplies.

Mattawa is an interesting town, small in size.  Despite that it boasts 5 eateries (that I counted).  Choices are good.  But if your preference isn't Mexican cuisine, best keep driving.

On my return I took a side trip up Saddle Mountain.  Excellent views!  It was interesting to look down on the coulee of Lower Scab Creek.  But what was more interesting to me were all the foundations of the since-removed radar and gunnery stations.  A lot of history in this area.

I drove back to the Wahluke National Wildlife Refuge and this time continued on to the south slopes TH.  I walked the closed road as it descended down to the banks of the Columbia River.  Soon I elected to leave the road and ascended one of many paths to the ridge-top.  The views were excellent - especially down into what Alan labeled "The Great Valley" in his Desert Hikes book.

South White Bluffs
South White Bluffs
South White Bluffs
South White Bluffs
South White Bluffs
South White Bluffs

I ran the ridge south until a fence obstructed the path.  I then headed east and uphill to gain the larger ridge.  This ridge wasn't a ridge at all as it turns out, but rather a large plateau.  Cool views!  I meandered along until finding a trail which skirted above the cliffs.  Coyote signs were prevalent along here, and for good reason:

Coyote Den
Coyote Den

Coyote dens were numerous just below this trail.

I followed the trail back to the TH and drove back to the White Bluffs Ferry Landing (boat launch) to snoop around.

The most interesting thing was this cabin.  At the time of Alan writing his Desert Hikes book, there were signs telling the history of this cabin.  Not anymore.  Now it is littered with signs declaring the penalty of vandalism/removing of artifacts.  It was hard to compose a picture around them.

Old Cabin
Old Cabin

I had hoped to catch evening light on the north slopes of the White Bluffs, but it was not to be.  Clouds had filtered in from the south and west and it was mostly overcast now.  Another day perhaps.  Time to head home.
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Quark
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PostSun Apr 06, 2008 4:40 pm 
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Nice, Don up.gif

Any evidence of the brushfire from last year?

There's a mexican restaurant on the S side of the street in Mattawa.  It used to be a Taco Bell, by the looks of it....can't remember the name of it, but it doesn't matter; it's the only mexican restaurant in a once-Taco Bell.  It's good food, if it's owned by the same proprietor.

I would like to check out the dunes, and walk on the cliffs next time - I usually go down to the river and hang out there; the south bluffs hike in Alan's book.  There's an old orchard and homestead site down there to check out (no buildings).  Ghosts all around.

I didn't realize it was so dune-y there.  Cool beans! up.gif

Excellent photos. up.gif  up.gif

The pioneers who founded the White Bluffs saturated the slopes with irrigation for their orchards  - slopes that aren't set up for irrigation in Nature.  Though the families were moved out in the 1940's for the nuclear operations, the slopes still fail on occasion.

The book, Orchards of Eden, by Nancy Mendenhall*, where I got the above information, is a great read.  It follows the lives of a pioneer family who moved there from - get this - Hoquiam.  Talk about an about-face shock!

*(Did I loan this book out to anyone on this site?  I can't find it!)

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"...Other than that, the post was more or less accurate."

Bernardo, NW Hikers' Bureau Chief of Reporting
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marta
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PostSun Apr 06, 2008 4:44 pm 
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Beautiful. I love the early light on the dune.  up.gif
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More Cowbell
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PostSun Apr 06, 2008 4:48 pm 
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Quark wrote:


*(Did I loan this book out to anyone on this site?  I can't find it!)

I thought you were going to leave it out for me once but I'm almost positive that I don't have it as I don't remember ever seeing it.

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“If you want to forget all your other troubles, wear too tight shoes.” - Unknown
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Hiker Mama
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PostSun Apr 06, 2008 4:53 pm 
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Very nice, Don.  You are a dedicated man, getting such an early start!  shakehead.gif
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Bloated Chipmunk
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PostSun Apr 06, 2008 5:04 pm 
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Great TR & pics Don!  Yet another desert hike to add to my list for this yr..... up.gif  cool.gif  I love sand dunes.  biggrin.gif

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Home is where the hiking is. 

"Peaks that have come and gone four times should halt a man in his steps." -- William O. Douglas

A balanced diet is a margarita in each hand.
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Don
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PostSun Apr 06, 2008 5:14 pm 
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Thanks everyone.

Quark - there are a few things I forgot to mention in my TR.  One is the aftermath of the brush fire!  The bluffs were not affected, but the signs are all along the main road as you drive in.  Must have been a pretty big fire.

I'll eventually think of the others... lol.gif

Hiker Mama - the hope was to get there in time for sunrise photography.  The reality is that the bluffs (north) are best suited for evening photography.
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seawallrunner
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PostSun Apr 06, 2008 6:29 pm 
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these are beautiful photos Don! What an adventure - well worth getting up at oh-dark-thirty for (or, quarter past oh-dark-thirty)

Where is Hanford Reach, compared to Arid Lands Ecology Reserve? Is this the same general area? There is only one Hanford, of course - but this is a VERY large area.

Last year I was signed up to attend a class with the N Cascades Institute in the area, but a very bad cold/flu kept me home instead. I see the course is offered again this year in May, and thanks to your photos I am very interested now.
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Don
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PostSun Apr 06, 2008 7:30 pm 
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Thanks Seawall!  From Vantage, cross the bridge over the Columbia River, turn right (south) on 26, turn right again in a mile onto 243 and follow it to Mattawa.  Turn left onto 24 SW and follow it east to 24 (243 becomes 24 so you can just follow it all the way - this is just a shortcut).  Turn left onto 24 and follow it about 9 miles to the turnoff at MP 63.  It reads more complicated than it really is.

I would wait until late April/early May for the flowers - FYI.

Oh, and it also helps if you have the author to Desert Hikes on speed dial and can call him and harass him with questions throughout the day.   biggrin.gif
After a dropped call, Alan called me back to say "Must have been the Hanford 1:00 radiation release that zapped your phone - forgot to tell you about that."   lol.gif
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trailjunky
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PostMon Apr 07, 2008 12:13 am 
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Way to go Don, wished I could have joined ya.  This area has been on my to do list for some time now.  Nice shots, as usual. up.gif
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Mikey
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PostMon Apr 07, 2008 6:43 am 
Maps ?
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It appears difficult to find a detailed map of this Wahluke National Wildlife Refuge area on the internet!!!   Here are some links and information.

http://www.oregon.gov/ENERGY/NUCSAF/HCB/docs/OR_WA_HanfordMap.pdf

"Best Wildflower Hikes Washington" - by Art Kruckeberg, Karen Sykes, Craig Romano
You have two options, hiking the 8-mile round-trip North Bluff or the 10-mile round-trip South Bluff. The trailhead for both is reached after driving a 5.3-mile road marked "Wahluke National Wildlife Refuge" off SR 24.

http://www.fws.gov/hanfordreach/planning.html

http://www.fws.gov/hanfordreach/documents/draftccp/map5.pdf

About 6 years ago I had a nice tour of the irrigation district east of the Columbia River.

The Arid Lands Ecology Reserve appears to be SW of the Hanford Reservation on the west side of the Columbia River.  Here is a link to some information about the area:
http://www.publiclands.org/explore/quadrant_map.php?quad=wa_q17
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Don
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PostMon Apr 07, 2008 7:08 am 
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Mikey wrote:
"Best Wildflower Hikes Washington" - by Art Kruckeberg, Karen Sykes, Craig Romano
You have two options, hiking the 8-mile round-trip North Bluff or the 10-mile round-trip South Bluff. The trailhead for both is reached after driving a 5.3-mile road marked "Wahluke National Wildlife Refuge" off SR 24.

To clarify, the south and north slopes do not share the same trailhead (you could hike south from the north slope area, but it would be substantially longer).  "Best Desert Hikes" by Alan L. Bauer and Dan Nelson is an excellent reference guide for these hikes (no disrespect to our dear Karen, Craig or Art).  The road for "Wahluke National Wildlife Refuge" is an unmarked road with a solar powered gate at milepost 63.  The milepost sign is the key.  Once inside the gate, you soon will see an entry sign introducing you to the refuge and its history.
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Spotly
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PostFri Mar 19, 2010 7:41 am 
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Don wrote:
Mikey wrote:
"Best Wildflower Hikes Washington" - by Art Kruckeberg, Karen Sykes, Craig Romano
You have two options, hiking the 8-mile round-trip North Bluff or the 10-mile round-trip South Bluff. The trailhead for both is reached after driving a 5.3-mile road marked "Wahluke National Wildlife Refuge" off SR 24.

To clarify, the south and north slopes do not share the same trailhead (you could hike south from the north slope area, but it would be substantially longer).  "Best Desert Hikes" by Alan L. Bauer and Dan Nelson is an excellent reference guide for these hikes (no disrespect to our dear Karen, Craig or Art).  The road for "Wahluke National Wildlife Refuge" is an unmarked road with a solar powered gate at milepost 63.  The milepost sign is the key.  Once inside the gate, you soon will see an entry sign introducing you to the refuge and its history.

Clear!  lol

I drove down there last weekend and decided to hike the middle section between the north and south trailheads. There is no trail but other than a few small sections of brush, it's mostly open terrain. Rolling scrubland at the start but then I gained the ridge to the east about a mile into the hike. From there to the South Slope trailhead is all rolling sand dunes. They were very compacted, making for an easy stroll. My cell phone step counter calculated the RT distance at 11 miles but mapping it on the software showed closer to 8 or 9. It's a pretty section but doesn't really compare in that regard to the established trails on the north and south side. Here's a few pictures of this section:


Looking north towards the North Slope trailhead/boat ramp. This is maybe a mile north of the South Slope TH:

At the South Slope TH:
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LandNeedle206
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PostSun Jan 23, 2011 9:14 am 
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Spotly,

I don't know if you made a mistake going off trail, but I feel like I did when I did the same thing back in October.  huh.gif

After navigating the area for the past three years consecutively (my Halloween hike) I pretty much have to agree with you that the exploring the unbeaten path doesn't have a ton of benefit. I'm pretty much going to stick with the routine from here on out...

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Quincy D.
Western Washington University Class of 2006
Resident Nurse - Zoom Ankle
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