Walking with Lewis & Clark

The Lewis and Clark Commemorative Trail provides vistas the explorers themselves once viewed.

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Nora the Schnauzer tooks towards Hat Rock and the Columbia River from a plateau called Ship Rock.

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Nora climbs on a rock anchor that strengthens a fence above the Hat Rock marina.

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Nora enjoys the views from plateaus between Warehouse Beach and Hat Rock State Park.

On a recent chilly, foggy noontime, Nora the Schnauzer and I arrived at the Warehouse Beach trailhead for the Lewis and Clark Commemorative Trail.

We parked behind another vehicle from Walla Walla.

Well, it had "Walla Walla" on the license-plate holder, which was a clue. But I won’t jump to conclusions.

Anyway, we passed the information kiosk and took the right fork of the trail. It’s sandy and narrow. And, compared to the left fork, follows a more winding route close to the river and toward Hat Rock State Park.

The two-track left fork, which I’ve never followed very far, appears to take an arrow-straight route to the Hat Rock State Park area.

Either way, the L&C trail continues along the Columbia River for about seven miles from Warehouse Beach to McNary Beach, near the dam.

The trail is popular with horse riders. The area is also popular with waterfowl hunters and upland game-bird hunters during the seasons.

All that said, I had never parked behind another vehicle at the trailhead, and I expected to meet other day hikers.

As usual I carried a day pack. With the temperature in the mid-30s and rising slowly, the pack held water and snacks for me and Nora and a rain jacket for me in case of a cloudburst.

It also held some first-aid stuff in case Nora or I skinned a knee or got a blister.

Mainly the pack held space for layers of clothing that I would remove when (if) I worked up a sweat.

So, as we headed out, fog lay over the river and limited the view. It hid the gap at Wallula Junction upstream and Horse Heaven Hills across the river.

Yet, I could see far enough to watch Nora. She ran up and down the sandy path, seldom getting more than 30 or so feet ahead and seldom getting out of sight for more than a few seconds off the trail.

And to her credit, Nora only sniffed at the dried corpse lying in the sandy path and hurried away.

"Someone shot a fox," I mumbled, noticing the long tail.

That thought didn’t last long. It was the remains of a cat, with a big hole in its back.

I’d spotted several spent shotgun shells along the trail, but the hole didn’t look like a shotgun made it.

Anyway, I forced the dead cat from my mind.

As we passed a copse of trees and followed the path toward the river, I heard a man yell, apparently at a dog.

I followed Nora up to the first plateau and spotted two figures on the main trail. The man called again, and two happy dogs cavorted ahead of the couple. The seemed to be having fun.

Then Nora and I strolled along the edge of the plateau above the river.

A heavy rumble announced a train coming through the gap on the north side of the river.

At first the fog hid the train from view, except for its headlight, until it reached directly across the river. It rumbled realistically but looked ghostly in the fog.

The plateau has three levels, and we continued to the second one with an expanded view toward the river and Hat Rock.

A fence surrounds the third level of the plateau, called Ship Rock, and we walked along it until we found where someone had snipped the wires and bent them back.

Rock cliffs, sometimes 20 feet high and straight down, surround the second and third levels of the plateau. An easy path through the rocks on the river side leads to the top.

Like me, Nora clearly enjoys the scenic views from high places.

Unlike me, with every opportunity she walks to the edge of a precipice and peers over the edge or sniffs at bird droppings.

From the top, we found a break in the cliffs on the south side. I hesitated because I carried a half-ton camera and big lens. I didn’t want to slip and bang either against the rocks.

I didn’t want to weasel out, either. So, after Nora scooted down the fifteen-foot niche, I followed.

Nora waited and watched, but she didn’t applaud when I made it OK.

Soon after that, with daylight disappearing, we cut across to the arrow-straight trail back to the trailhead.

Despite the flat and straight trail, I kept losing sight of Nora in the growing darkness. I called her back and fastened her to the leash on my belt.

I had to walk a little faster to keep up, but that was OK. Maybe we would make it home in time for dinner.

If you go

Take Highway 12 from Walla Walla to Wallula Junction. Take Highway 730 about 20 miles from there to the signed turnoff at the Warehouse Beach Recreation Area. The L&CCT trailhead is on the left as you approach the Columbia River.

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