Top 10 (or so) trips of 2009

The year takes the Davis's from the Pacific Coast to the banks of the Snake River to welcome their great-granddaughter to the world.

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A view of Gunsight Mountain overlooking a partially iced over Anthony Lake.

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Nora heads up the South Fork John Day River trail.

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Baby owls in the cliffs above the parking area at Bennington Lake.

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Harbor seals sun at Yaquina Head on the Oregon Coast.

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Genevieve Bella Brown made her entrance into the world in early October in Lewiston.

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Brown pelicans take wing at Newport Beach on the Oregon Coast.

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Nora the Schnauzer looks over a lake that displays the devastated Mount St. Helens area.

During the past few days, Top 10 lists have popped up in the media like May’s dandelions in my yard.

Everywhere you turn: The Year’s Top 10 (fill in the blank with: movies, books, TV shows, news stories, baseball salaries, golf salaries, celebrity scandals, sports plays, quotes and so on ad infinitum).

So, on this penultimate day of 2009, allow me to present my Top 10 Excursions of the Year.

I should list them in some order, such as from least memorable to most memorable, No. 10 to No. 1 in order to build suspense.

Actually, recollecting 10 things I did in 2009 makes me perspire.

Let’s see, sometime in July, I traveled with Darlene and Nora the Schnauzer to the Oregon Coast. We visited the Oregon Coast Aquarium, the Sea Lion Caves, several Mo’s chowder houses, wavy sand dunes, Yaquina Head Natural Area, 10 visits to factory outlet centers, and, well, you get the idea.

Mainly, Nora and I walked the sleepy, fog-draped beaches at dawn. I always remember the beaches.

So, I’ll list the Oregon Coast excursion first.

And, let’s see, Nora and I hiked up Cummings Creek, off the Tucannon River Road, along a two-track trail between rough-hewn canyon walls.

Deer bounded away as we approached, except for a doe and a fawn that watched us from a distance on the trail before sneaking into the thicket along the stream.

Then a Steller’s jay perched on a limb and scolded Nora.

Nora and I also hiked at Anthony Lake where unexpected snow kept us from climbing to the pass in search of photogenic mountain goats.

Nora and I also hiked two days along the river in the North Fork John Day Wilderness, and she carried her own pack with food and water.

Darlene, Nora and I drove the Elkhorn Scenic Byway (part of the Blue Mountain Scenic Byway) through Sumpter Valley. We watched a gold-panning demonstration and visited the Sumpter dredge.

On Lake Creek Trail No. 3079 into the North Fork Umatilla River Wilderness, Nora flushed a pileated woodpecker from the ground and posed among a garland of fairy slippers.

On a trip to Mount St. Helens, even Nora stood transfixed (for 10 seconds) before the devastations caused by the volcanic eruption in the early 1980s. We left the area with several photographic gems.

Nora and I made two all-day hikes into the Juniper Dunes Wilderness. Once when I lost an ExpoDisc, used to set a digital camera’s white balance, and once when I went back to look for it.

I didn’t find it, of course.

So I have an excuse for going back again. Several times.

In March, Darlene accompanied us to the Othello Crane Festival. Nora and I visited the area a couple more times to look for cranes.

All three of us also visited Zumwalt Prairie, owned by the Nature Conservancy, to look for elk. We saw horned larks and sandpipers, and striking views of the Wallowa Mountains. As we drove home over Highway 204, a cow elk and two calves crossed the road in front of us.

Nora and I hiked along the Columbia River, at the Hanford Reach National Monument, beneath a blue January sky. We saw eagles and more stunning scenery.

I followed Nora for six miles up the South Fork Walla Walla River Trail and fished for trout. I caught half-a-dozen six-inchers, and we saw a bear and Nora flushed several grouse. She also spotted her second pileated woodpecker of 2009.

Nora and I also spent many hours watching baby owls, ospreys, mink, herons and ticks at Bennington Lake and along Mill Creek.

And, oh, yes, in early October, Darlene, Nora and I drove to the Lewiston hospital to visit the 23-hour-old Genevieve Bella Brown, daughter of our granddaughter, Brook, and her husband, Kyle. Bella is a beauty.

So, there are my Year’s Top 10 (or so) excursions.

Now, with the final day in 2009 closing in, I may begin planning for the future.

Maybe I’ll keep notes for a possible Top 10 on the penultimate day of 2010.

Maybe not.

If you go

To reach the north entrance to the Juniper Dunes (March, April May), take the Pasco-Kahlotus Highway north for about 25 miles and east (left) onto the Snake River Road. After 3.5 miles turn left onto East Blackman Ridge road. Drive 2.4 miles and turn left onto Joy Road. There’s a parking area after 2 miles at the gate.

To check the numerous hiking trails on the Walla Walla Ranger district of the Umatilla National Forest and the North Fork Umatilla Wilderness Area, Google Umatilla National Forest, click on "Home page," and click on "Recreational Activities" in the left-side column.

To reach Anthony Lakes, take the North Powder turnoff from Interstate 84 and follow the signs to the ski area.

The North Fork John Day Wilderness trail may be reached by driving the Elkhorn Scenic Byway eight miles east of Imigrant, Ore.

To reach Zumwalt Prairie, 125 miles from Walla Walla, take Oregon Highway 204 to Elgin, turn left on Oregon Highway 82 to Enterprise. About three miles out of Enterprise turn left on Crow Creek Road. After five miles turn right onto Zumwalt-Buckhorn Road. It’s another 13 miles to a right turn on Duckett Road.

A Mapquest search lists Mount St. Helens as 257.64 miles via Yakima, Packwood and Randle.

Newport Beach and Nye Beach are about 370 miles from Walla Walla, though Corvalis.

For information about Oregon Scenic Byways, Google Elkhorn Scenic Byway and Blue Mountain Scenic Byway.

Cumming Creek trail is about 30 miles up the Tucannon River Road from Highway 12.

To reach the white cliffs on the Wahluke Unit of the Hanford Reach National Monument take Highway 395 from Pasco to Mesa. Take Highway 17 north to Highway 24. Drive east for about 12 miles and turn left at the entrance to the Wahluke Slope Wildlife Area. Follow the small signs to a copse of trees half-a-mile from the boat launch area. A faint trail goes upstream along the river.

Othello is about 90 miles from Walla Walla on Highways 12, 395 and 17.

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