Hiking the Lewis and Clark Commemorative Trail

Snow geese by the hundreds go completely unnoticed by Nora the Schnauzer while exploring the Lewis and Clark Commemorative Trail.



Nora peers from the prow of Shiprock toward Hat Rock State Park.


Lewis and Clark noted Hat Rock in their Corps of Discovery journals.


Hundreds of snow geese take flight near Government Beach.


A section of the Lewis and Clark Commemorative Trail begins at Government Beach.


Deer often watch travelers along the LCCT.

I heard geese honking.

Nora the Schnauzer and I had trekked west from Government Beach on the Lewis and Clark Commemorative Trail for about five minutes.

The geese honked in jarring, wrap-around sound.

I surveyed the sky. Clear, icy blue.

A perfect penultimate November day.

Then, half a mile to the north on the icy blue Columbia River, a long white line stretched east and west.

Snow geese, by golly. Hundreds.

A boat approached. The geese rose in a cacophonous cloud, turned in a wide circle north-to-east and settled farther upstream.

Nora pushed her nose among the dry, yard-tall grass and rabbit bushes. She missed the geese.

"Nora," I said. "Let's go."

She looked up. Dirt clung to her moist schnoz and chin whiskers. She blinked in the slanting winter sunlight.

We left home late that day, at 9:17 a.m.

An hour later, I parked at the trailhead nine miles east of Umatilla and slipped on a daypack with water and snacks. I fastened the GPS to a shoulder strap, and we started downstream at 10:35 a.m.

Hiking the LCCT at mid-day can be brutal in July-August and pleasant in the November-December.

The crisp air chilled my cheeks. Nora scooted around in circles. Invigorating.

We took the narrow, meandering footpath, off to the right of the arrow-straight main trail, along a bank and across a ravine.

Nora, circling in the sage, startled four cackling hen pheasants. They bolted inches from her nose, and she raced for 20 yards in their wake.

She dashed back, skittered among the sage to vacuum for more clues of the birds.

"Good dog," I said. "You flushed them."

Pure luck, I thought, although she later flushed a covey of quail.

The trail led to a four-tiered plateau. We climbed to the first level, thick with rustling yellow star-thistle and cheat grass, and turned upstream (east). We walked to the edge of the plateau with a distant view of Wallula Gap beyond the gaggle of snow geese.

We turned westward again, on the north edge of the plateau. We climbed to the plateau's second level to overlook a Hat Rock area boat basin.

From there we climbed a steep bank to the third level and a clear view of Hat Rock a half-mile to the west and Shiprock a few hundred yards to the south.

Four mule deer bounced up from sunning in the sage, scrutinized me and trotted around Shiprock's stern.

We followed a faint trail to a path up the 10-12-foot-high cliffs forming Shiprock's starboard side.

We gawked awhile from Shiprock's prow. Then I dropped the pack, gave Nora water and Lean Treats before we climbed down the way we had come.

We circled around the prow of the rock, followed a trail down through green Hat Rock Park and to the historic landmark.

Someone had crunched a hole in the plaque at the base of the fenced-off rock, probably with a rock.

Jaws clinched and grimacing, I followed Nora along the gravel path downhill to a pond and the boat-launch area. We turned back to the park and a two-track trail toward Government Beach.

After half-a-mile, when the track turned south and left us faced with a wide patch of star thistle, we detoured to the north. We climbed a foot-wide, steep trail back to the third level of the plateau.

Rolling sagebrush, with knolls and ravines, and impressive basalt formations spread all the way to Highway 730 us as we trekked along the south rim.

We reached the truck as daylight faded. I put away the gear and checked the GPS. We had walked 5.21 miles in 5 hours, 39 minutes, including a stopping time of 1 hours, 32 minutes.


I turned the GPS off, gave Nora water and Lean Treats. I started the engine as she curled up for a nap.

"We can be home for dinner in an hour or so," I said and headed east.

As we passed Sand Station in the semi-light, a line of white gleamed on the Columbia River.

"Snow geese," I said and glanced at Nora.

She didn't look up.

She never saw the geese.

Contact Don Davis at dondavis@wwub.com. More of Don's photos can be found online at www.tripper.smugmug.com .


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