Thursday, April 30, 2020

Coyote Wall & the Labyrinth

Nearly everything is closed right now due to the global pandemic, and I'm holed up at home trying to make myself do things besides working and reading the endless bad news. So I'm going to try to put a dent in my endless pile of draft blog posts and unused photosets with some of this unstructured free time; it's obviously not a replacement for going outside, but it's the best available option at the moment.

So here's a photoset from last May, taken at Coyote Wall in the Columbia Gorge, on the Washington side a few miles east of White Salmon and Hood River. Coyote Wall is easily visible from Hood River & Interstate 84; it's the huge rock formation that looks kind of like a flat-topped desert mesa with sheer cliffs, but tilted maybe 20 degrees so that one end meets the river. I only recently realized the place had a name, which was around the same time I learned it has an extensive trail system that I knew nothing about. Turns out that officially there have only been trails here since 2011, when the Forest Service adopted a master plan for the area. Of course there were trails here before that, largely of the outlaw mountain bike variety, but apparently I wasn't part of the right rumor mills or whisper networks or insider cabals or whatever to have known anything about the place. Story of my life, really.

Anyway, if you go at the right time of year -- which I apparently did -- at some point while hiking endlessly uphill you'll hit the altitude where it's currently peak wildflower season. Which is truly amazing. I like to think some of the photos in the photoset approach doing it justice. To give you some idea, my original plan for the day was to do the Coyote Wall - Labyrinth Loop trail, but in reverse order to ensure I at least saw the Coyote Wall part if I decided to bail out early. Then after that I was going to cross the river and go to Rowena Plateau, a place I've repeatedly said is my favorite place in the Gorge and maybe my favorite anywhere, a strongly-held opinion dating back to 1990 or so, mumble-mumble decades ago. And I decided to punt on that whole leg of the trip and wander around here longer instead. Mostly I just wanted to stay longer here, but I had a gut feeling that doing both in the same day would lead to ranking them, and the old sentimental favorite might not win that one, and overall I'd be happier leaving them as separate and unique experiences. I am slightly embarrassed to report this, but while I was wandering around with all the sunshine and flowers there miiiight have been a brief "Sound of Music"-style twirl or two. I say "slightly" because there was no actual singing involved, just the twirl part. And furthermore, I am only telling you any of this because there's a global pandemic now, and everything's closed indefinitely, and I really miss going outside in any capacity. So yeah.

Eventually the trail brings you to a point where the steep slope levels off and the open grassy slope gives way to a mixed forest, and a few trails lead off in different directions. A lot of people turn around at this point, having gotten what they came for, and I probably would have been just fine doing that myself in retrospect, but the loop I was doing kept going, so I kept going, and the next bit was something called the "Crybaby Trail". My memory can be a little sketchy about these things, but my recollection is that this trail is slightly wider than a mountain bike tire, and it's laid out along the very edge of a cliff many hundreds of feet high, and on sunny days it attracts all of the world's snakes to come and sun themselves. Or to hide in bushes right next to the trail, for some of the more easily startled snakes. I may be exaggerating about the width of the trail, possibly. I may have mentioned once or twice that I have an occasional heights issue, or more exactly a not-having-anything-to-grab-onto-around-heights issue. Which I don't like, and I try to poke at it under controlled conditions when I can, in the hope I can get over it or at least mitigate it at some point. This hasn't worked so far, and I have to say the Crybaby Trail was my least favorite part of the adventure, but maybe next time will do the trick, whenever that turns out to be.

The Labyrinth part of the loop takes you through varied terrain to the east of Coyote Wall. Some additional open grassy areas, and sections of forest, and lots of rugged lava rocks, and at least one waterfall. I would probably have more to say about this part if a.) I hadn't just been where I'd just been (both the Julie Andrews part and the cliffside Well of Souls part), and b.) I had written this post in a reasonably timely fashion, when it was easier to remember more than a few key highlights. One key highlight I do remember from this stretch of trail was briefly glimpsing a pika, as it fled thinking I was some sort of horrible predator. I hear them all the time while hiking but I'm not sure I'd ever actually seen one before this one. So that was cool. The cute little squeak sound they make sounds exactly like a family dog's favorite rubber squeak toy when I was a kid. So when I hear pika calls I think I'll always have this mental image of a small dachshund eagerly playing fetch with a large squeaky rubber cheeseburger. Which was exactly as silly as it sounds.

In any case, it's time to wrap this thing up before the clock hits midnight, so I can keep the "at least one post per month since 2005" streak going for another 30 days. I had this idea at the beginning of April that I might have time to do more than one this month given all the working from home and avoiding all human contact and so forth. But it hasn't really worked out that way so far. I'm not sure whether that's because April 1st was just a few hours ago and there simply wasn't time, or because it was two billion years ago and I spent most of the month trying to evolve cell walls, followed by a rudimentary central nervous system. Both of these things seem equally true somehow. But I have high hopes for May. Got a shiny new vaguely-defined time period to work with, that's bound to make me incredibly productive and creative this time around. Please note how I am setting this joke up for future me as I try to finish another post with minutes to spare the evening of May 31st.