OUTDOORS - Hanford Reach provides beautiful sunsets

Don Davis and Nora the Schnauzer check out the Wahluke Unit at the Hanford Reach in November.

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Nora watches the soothing light from sunset on the Hanford Reach.

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Slanting sunlight warms the Wahluke Unit cliffs on the Columbia River.

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Cliffs, brush and animal trails tower above the hiker, standing at river-level, on the Hanford Reach.

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Nora inspects a dead fish along the river shore.

A blazing orange-red Hanford Reach sunset unfolded as I balanced on both knees and snipped at the 22nd cockle burr collected by Nora the Schnauzer.

She lay on her back, and fine hairs under her right front leg clasped the burr close to the skin.

I snipped with care, as close to the burr as possible.

A mistake could bring a "YIP!"

Perhaps even blood.

Meanwhile, I mentally upbraided myself.

I had made a mistake, or two or three.

One came after a pleasant stroll upstream to climb a sand dune near the White Bluffs on the Columbia River, when I decided, alas, to climb down and return along the water with views from below the cliffs.

Well, yes, I enjoyed the views. Only a donkey would criticize them.

But within one minute, 33 seconds of descending the dune, I groaned.

"Oh, my."

Russian thistle tumbleweeds throttled the path into the ravine. Nora stopped for me to lead the way. I did, but she didn't follow.

I looked back and didn't see her.

"We should go back," I thought.

But we didn't.

My mistake.

Anyway, I picked Nora up and pushed through the thistle with her under my right arm for about 40 yards until the path cleared somewhat.

We followed the path, probably made by animals, across a flat. Then we studied the cliffs that towered 400-to-500 feet above the water.

Impressive, if not stunning.

I also located the slope in the cliffs near the boat launch and our vehicle. A couple of hours away, I surmised.

We had started our trek two hours before noon. We climbed the dune shortly after noon.

I figured it would be at least 2 p.m. by the time we reached the wagon again.

So, another mistake, as it turned out.

Well, the sky remained clear and the river remained smooth.

Anyway, Nora crossed the weedy flat, stepped onto the clay-mud shore and found an aromatic dead fish. She circled it as if deciding which side of her face to rub into it.

My screech discouraged her, however.

Then, when we came upon a second, less smelly carcass, she paid scant attention to it.

"Good dog," I said.

I eventually followed Nora onto the clay mud, and 12 steps later my boots felt like cinderblocks on my feet.

Chunks of heavy clay clung to the soles.

They took the "stroll" out of taking a hike even after I retreated from the riverside to the faint trails directly beneath the cliffs.

Oh, well.

Once, as we passed directly beneath towering cliff formations and I looked upstream toward the white bluffs, I heard a rumbling above.

I looked up. A chunk of cliff had fallen. A dust cloud rose and small rocks bounded down the cliff face. Then a waterfall of clay poured from between formations.

Soon after that, we reached the steep, weed-covered incline to a saddle.

"We can climb that," I said to Nora, who seemed skeptical.

She followed, however.

The climb covered 125 yards or so of soft footing that slid with each step. It took 27 minutes, including pauses to take photos.

We reached the top at 3:39 p.m., with the sun on its way to a most remarkable sunset.

While we waited, I flopped Nora onto her back and began the cockle-burr surgery.

The surgery took half an hour, and I left 24 extracted hair-covered burrs on the ground.

After recording sunset images, we finished the final, easy quarter-mile of the Wahluke Unit hike.

On the drive out of the unit, I stopped for another few shots of the sunset.

Then, on the way home, I stopped at a car wash and used the high-pressure, soapy spray to knock the Columbia River clay from my boots.

Contact Don Davis at dondavis@wwub.com.

If You Go

The boat launch on the Wahluke Unit of the Hanford Reach is about 115 miles from Walla Walla.

Take Highway 395 north from Pasco to Mesa. Take Highway 17 from Mesa to Highway 24, near Othello.

Turn west and continue to mile post 63.2. Turn left onto a gravel road into the Wahluke Unit.

Drive five miles and turn right toward the boat launch area.

Before reaching the launch, turn right and park near some trees.

The trail up the river is about 20 yards from the turn.

For information about the area, check website www.fws.gov/pacific/planning/draft/docs/WA/Hanford/Wahluke.pdf on the Internet or Google Hanford Reach Wahluke Unit.

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