OUTDOORS - South Fork of Walla Walla River is cool escape

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A fritillary butterfly lands on a conehead flower.

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A sudden rain storm caught Nora. She was back to her dry self quickly.

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Nora takes a break on the trail.

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The South Fork of the Walla Walla river winds through its valley, sparking under a cloudy sky.

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A western swallowtail butterfly checks out a teasel.

The South Fork Walla Walla River Trail provides water and shade on really steamy summer days, so Nora the Schnauzer and I can handle a two- or three-hour walk upstream and back.

That's what it takes to run her battery down.

So I told myself when she became too rambunctious in the evenings, after sleeping all day during a recent heat wave.

We started our latest trek up the river at late morning, with temperature already reaching the damp T-shirt level in the valley.

Nora, as usual, clocked a double-time pace with her nose to the ground that outdistanced me by 40 yards before she paused to check if I followed, as she has trained me to do.

I followed, of course, not fast, but more speedy than full stop.

Well, until I saw a swarm of swallowtail butterflies fluttering among a stand of teasel on the cliff (or sunny) side of the two-track trail.

Perhaps the warm air explained their numbers, but whatever the cause, I stopped.

I snapped a dozen photos of yellow and black swallowtails on blue blooms.

When I turned to resume, Nora sat in the middle of the road and gazed off toward the river. She looked my way, turned and trotted on.

At that moment, however, a black and white swallowtail fluttered in among the white blossoms on a shrub and landed. So, I paused again, for another bunch of photos as Nora trotted out of sight.

When I looked up, she sat in the shade beside the trail.

So, I caught up and we continued.

Soon after that, Nora stopped to look behind us. I looked, and a handsome brown dog trotted about 100 yards back. I didn't see a person, so we continued with Nora leading the way.

Ten minutes passed as I strode along, glancing into the shadows for deer, elk, cougars or bears.

Then something moist and cool touched my left hand, and I elevated straight up.

The handsome brown dog, wearing a smile, stood beside me. It looked familiar close-up, and I looked back to see Kathy Howard of Walla Walla a few yards back.

So, Rascal had sneaked up on me. The rascal.

Nora and I often meet Kathy and Rascal walking at Mill Creek. And we sometimes see her husband Chris running there or at the lake.

Chris and I once skied to within a stone's throw, with a catapult, of Table Rock and camped overnight.

Chris, who has climbed Mount Rainier, would have made it, but I slowed him down.

Anyway, passed again, Nora and I followed.

An hour or so later, we met Kathy and Rascal on their way back. Kathy said she had seen two snakes, a rattlesnake and a black racer.

We stopped at the crumbling cabin, with a spring dribbling from an ancient pipe, about three miles up the river.

Up the that point, Nora had scared up one grouse, and I had snapped the usual scenic shots, along with more butterfly photos, including a fritillary on a black cone-head blossom and a Great Basin wood nymph squaring off with a spider on a limb (the wood nymph flew).

We didn't see a snake, but we saw the crooked track one left as it wriggled across the dusty trail.

We ate our snacks at the old cabin and headed back as dark clouds rolled up the river. In a few minutes sheets of rain drenched us.

With a sweat-soaked shirt, I welcomed the cool shower. The sopping Nora looked bedraggled but didn't act upset.

The rain passed quickly, and a half hour later Nora wore curly, dry hair again.

We passed a fly fisher a mile from the trailhead and two women having a picnic beside the trail half-a-mile up.

Nora met all three, and she munched a piece of bread dropped by the women.

So, all-in-all, on a hot summer day, the South Fork Walla River Trail measured up.

Contact Don Davis at dondavis@wwub.com.

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