$n$ A trip hunting for herons ends at Palouse Falls

A search for great blue herons at Lyons Ferry turns into a trip to the scablands of Palouse Falls.

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On the first of March, half-a-dozen great blue herons surrounded nests in tall trees near Rooks Park and Whitman Mission.

That means, according to the rules of inductive reasoning, that herons all around the area have succumbed to the nesting urge.

If true, dozens of the tall herons would be forming a massive rookery on the train-trestle spanning the Snake River near Lyons Ferry Marina as in years past.

I felt the urge to prove it and convinced Darlene and Nora the Schnauzer to go along, despite a chilly all-night rain.

They waited patiently as I lugged the big lens, the tri-pod, rain gear and coffee cup to the pickup.

As we pulled away from the curb, I reminded them about the time, two or three years ago, that we had spent hours watching the herons nesting there.

Surely they would be there again.

Or, maybe.

We fetched blueberry scones and coffee and left.

Barely out of town, we saw a heron poised to strike about 60 yards away.

Normally, they fly if I stop so close.

This one, fixated on a warm breakfast, ignored us.

I lowered the window.

Darlene handed me the camera.

I focused as the heron struck.

I pressed the release as it pulled back with a mouse stuck on its beak. The heron shook it, hit the ground with it, turned it just right and swallowed it.

When I checked the digital LCD window, magnified, it looked like the mouse made a futile grasp at the heron's beak with a front paw.

A sad moment, but one reflecting "the laws of nature," as the philosophers say.

From there, we drove on winding roads to Starbuck. The roads remained clear, but two inches of snow covered some hilltops.

At Starbuck, we turned left on Highway 261 and left again at Lyons Ferry Road. At the railroad, we followed a trail downstream beside the tracks and toward the trestle.

We passed a pond on the left and the marina on the right.

Alas, beyond the pond a rockslide blocked the road well before the trestle.

Darlene squelched any talk of strolling since we could not leave the truck.

So, I backed up for a cramped five-point turn, and we modified our plans.

"I didn't see a single heron down there, anyway," Darlene said.

Neither did I, and a perfectly good theory bit the dust.

"Well, now what?" I muttered.

"How about Palouse Falls?" Darlene said.

Ah ha! Answering a question with a question does work.

"Sure," I said. "We may see marmots."

We skipped the marina and the gated Lyons Ferry Park. Three miles later, we turned right toward the falls. Water-filled potholes pocked the road, and some appeared to be 10-feet deep.

One tent occupied a site at the park, along with a trailer for a park host. I parked facing the flat above the falls.

"Look, a marmot over there," Darlene said as I opened my door.

A marmot chirped behind me, and I lifted a camera and snapped Nora to her leash. She jumped down and pulled me toward the chirp.

The marmot, however, disappeared beyond the fence.

I leaned on the fence and snapped several photos of the falls, with ice clinging to the cliffs and spray rising from the plummeting water.

I read once again the informative plaques about the ancient geologic events and shot the dramatic downstream view of the scabland created by repeated massive floods over the millennia.

As we reached Highway 261 again, I asked, "What now?"

"Whatever," Darlene said.

Stumped, we headed home.

Well, first we stopped at Lyons Ferry Park overlook, half a mile up the service road across from the Lyons Ferry Hatchery Road.

Then we detoured the eight miles to Little Goose Dam.

We saw six anglers directly above the dam and several cottontail rabbits in the grassy area near the toilets below the dam. I had seen two there once before.

"You know," I said. "Speaking inductively, in five years or so we could be overrun by rabbits here."

Contact Don Davis at dondavis@wwub.com.

If You Go

For the most direct way to Starbuck, Little Goose Dam, Lyons Ferry and the Palouse Falls area, take Highway 12 from Walla Walla for about 12 miles past Dayton.

Turn left onto Highway 261 to Starbuck.

Once past Starbuck, look for a signed right turn to Little Goose Dam. Continue past that road to the Lyons Ferry Marina, the bridge over the Snake River and Lyons Ferry Park and the hatchery.

Continue three miles up the hill to the turnoff to the Palouse Falls Road, perhaps 65 miles from Walla Walla.

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