Hunters in the Valley

A meandering mosey through field-mouse territory in the Walla Walla Valley turns up predators of flight as well as of the four-footed nature.

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A hawk perches on a post in the Walla Walla Valley, looking for a meal.

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A coyote searches for a meal.

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Nora the Schnauzer channels her inner hunter near irrigation equipment.

As I knelt over the snowshoe and pulled a binding strap tight around my boot, a wind whipped across Andies Prairie Sno-Park.

A 20 mph gust.

It drew tears to my eyes. They ran down my cheeks.

My bare finger tips, aching from fiddling with the snowshoe bindings, called for attention. I breathed on them briefly.

Nora the Schnauzer, wearing her red turtle-neck sweater and oblivious to the cold, raced around the perimeter of the parking area. Her ears flapped up with every bound.

Anyway, it really wasn’t so cold, with a temperature in the high 20s, but the blasted wind chilled my nose and hands.

"Come on Nora," I squeaked as I pulled on wool gloves, shouldered the day pack, the camera bag and picked up the ski poles.

Anyway, we had left the fog-bound Walla Walla Valley seconds after I put out the garbage at about 8:30 a.m. When we slipped above the fog on Oregon Highway 204, I photographed the layer below. It looked like smoke.

We stopped next at Morning Creek Snow Park to check to snowmobile trails, and they appeared to be well packed. One pickup and snowmobile trailer with two machines sat in the parking area, which was a good sign: hard-packed trails and not many users.

We also stopped at Woodland Snow Park and found two men in one pickup with two machines on a trailer. The snowmobile trail had been recently groomed, and Nora dashed run around in the snow with no trouble.

We pushed on to Andies Prairie and found empty.

The wind continued to belt me in the face as we climbed the hill from the parking area. Except for my fingertips, hardly warmed by the wool gloves, I felt comfortable. I wore longjohns, nylon pants and shirt, warm socks, hiking boots, a light sweater, a hooded nylon windbreaker and a down vest.

I carried an extra jacket, along with water and snacks, in the daypack. And the pack had room for any layers that I removed if I became too warm while walking.

Nora ran hard after wind-blown moss and twigs, but she stayed on the packed trail as we climbed the hill. That was good, because I wanted to follow the snowmobile trail for an hour or two, toward Balloon Tree Road. It would be packed down after the weekend, and golf balls of snow wouldn’t cling to her legs if she stayed on the trail.

I also figured a Monday would be much less crowded on the trail, so Nora wouldn’t get in anyone’s way.

We passed a junction in the trail and hurried down an incline into the woods, which blocked the wind. I dropped the pack and dug out mittens, which quickly warmed my fingers.

In the woods, the crunch of my snowshoes and ski poles on the snow replaced the roar of the wind. I paused often to photograph shapes of snow on young trees. It reminded me of seeing images in the clouds. Snow forms looked like eagles, elfs, gnomes, elephant seals and so on. I saw no line critters, however, but I did see show-shoe rabbit and squirrel tracks.

Nora continued to sprint around on the trail.

She jumped into the deep snow once. She sprinted ahead like she saw something cross the trail. She stopped and jumped from the trail. She jumped right back onto it and shook herself so hard all four feet rose into the air.

Anyway, we hiked for three-and-a-half hours, out and back. I spent much of that time taking pictures, and her waiting more-or-less patiently. We stopped once for her to drink, down her snack and try a few nibbles of my vanilla-yogurt PowerBar.

The wind had slacked off some by the time we reached the car again, and flurries of snow fluttered around us. Nora has some snow stuck to her sweater, which remained dry, but very little on her legs.

So, I had a pretty good idea how she would deal with the snow.

If You Go

Andies Snow Park is about four miles east of the Spout Springs Ski, six miles east the Tollgate Store and the Tamarack Inn, on area on Oregon Highway 204. Sno-Park Permits are required on vehicles using the Snow Parks. Oregon Sno-Park Permits are solc at DMV offices and cost $3 per day, $7 for three days and $15 for a year. Oregon also recognizes Wasington Sno-Park Permits.

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