I got the message when I lurched nose-first into a sticky spider web on the shade-darkened Sinks Trail:
Perk up, dagnabbit!
When I pulled at the gluey filament, a long-legged gray spider bustled across the back of my hand and fell from view like Batman swinging away with a utility-belt line.
A minute later, a black plop of bear scat shone among the green heartleaf arnica leaves beside the trail.
Then I really perked up.
Nora the Schnauzer, however, sniffed and moved on.
I followed tentatively, squinting into the dark shadows for hulking dark forms and scanning above the trail for lurking gray spiders.
As I said, we trekked along Sinks Trail, south of Jubilee Lake on the Umatilla National Forest. We skirted Big Sink, traveling north and northwest. The path leaves Forest Road 63 and rejoins it after 4.33 miles. It reeks of poignant forest solitude, tranquility and mystery.
First, however, we traveled two hours from home, including a stop at the upper Sinks Trailhead where we walked a quarter mile and crossed Motet Creek. Then, alas, an enormous pile of deadfall blocked our way.
So, I drove to the lower Sinks trailhead. When we padded off at 11:30 a.m., I toted a daypack with water and treats, a camera with a zoom lens and one with a macro lens.
The sun hammered us for an uphill mile or so. I stopped twice to give Nora water, once to snap black-and-gold cone flowers. Twice I flopped on my belly to photograph pipsissewa blossoms.
Pipsissewa (Chimaphila umbellate) has other names, including dragon tongue, spotted wintergreen and rheumatism weed.
By the time we reached a more shaded portion of the trail, sweat soaked my shirtsleeves, waist and underwear. Flopping left red dirt and pine needles clinging to my pants and shirt.
Pine tar spotted my elbows.
After 90 minutes, we peered down a sharp 50-foot slant to Big Sink's floor.
By then I had eschewed efforts to connect with satellites for an accurate GPS reading. Tall trees (or mysterious forces?) prevented contact. My cell phone rang once, however, but no one answered when I said "Hello."
As "GORP" says: "When one looks closely, (Big Sink) is an interesting geological formation that looks as though a large piece of the earth simply sank into the ground. It is an area of curiosity and puzzlement and has been the source of rumors and stories for years, including many local Indian legends. To enhance the mystery, compasses do not always work correctly in the area, causing much consternation to hikers and hunters passing through the Wilderness (Google: The Big Sink, Umatilla National Forest)."
Anyway, within 20 yards the trail turned southwest, west, north and west, or so my compass said.
We eventually moved deep into afternoon shadows, and the hard heat slackened some. The trail slanted gently upwards. The camera clock said 14:02.
"Let's give it another hour to the upper trailhead," I said.
After that I nosed into the spider web, saw the bear scat. When the trail dropped into a swale, a gray squirrel chirped and scampered onto a long ghostly gray log. Then a cacophony of screeches and squawks rattled the stillness.
When a large bird swooped through the shadows, I thought "piliated woodpecker."
I peered into the trees for several minutes before a goshawk fluttered onto a perch. They dislike intruders. Years ago, one had swooped at me in the Eagle Cap Wilderness.
Seeing its shady silhouette, I inched sideways for a clear view with the zoom lens. Maybe the lens could see in the dark woods?
Twenty minutes later the trail slanted downward and a soft swoosh of a tumbling mountain stream rose to greet us.
"Motet Creek," I mumbled.
And it was.
We emerged from the woods near the huge pile of woody debris that separated us from the stream. FR 63 would be across the stream and up the hill.
I pondered briefly. The camera said 14:58, so we turned back.
My nape hairs rose as we passed the bear scat. I stopped to photograph a single fading lady slipper and a familiar-looking spider web, with a spider.
As I moved closer, the resident arachnid scurried up the web and scooted westward along the top line. It stopped and, with the proficiency of an Alaskan trawler, gathered in its net.
I moved the camera close, and it glared at me and gripped two lines of its web with its arms (er, make that "its legs"). I moved the lens closer. The spider remained steadfast, holding its web tight as I snapped.
"Imposing," I told Nora.
We seldom stopped in the fading light after that, but I snapped shots of a female red-naped sapsucker and a western tanager.
In the last half-mile, thunder and lightening made me duck twice. Nora looked up twice.
Ten yards from the truck, a deluge soaked us. Fog swathed the inside windows as I rubbed Nora with a towel.
Finally, at 5:12 p.m., with defroster and windshield wipers on high, we pulled onto the dark forest road for the two-hour drive home.
Contact Don Davis at email@example.com. More of Don's photos can be found online at www.tripper.smugmug.com
If You Go
The marked trailhead to Sinks Trail (Big Sink) is 54.2 miles from the stop light at Chestnut and Second streets in Walla Walla. Drive to Milton-Freewater and take Highway 11 south to Winn Road (15.7 miles) and to Highway 204. Drive up the mountain and turn left onto Forest Road 64 (37.1). Drive toward Jubilee Lake and turn right on FR 63 (47.4). Note a Sinks Trail 1 mile sign on left (48.8). Pass unmarked upper Sinks Trail spur (49.8). Continue downhill to junction (53.1). Turn left to marked Sinks Trailhead (54.2). For a map of the trail, Google: Sinks Trail, Umatilla National Forest or visit redtrail.com for Trails Co-Op, The Digital Trails Library that lists Motet/Sinks Trail No. 3233 at 4.33 miles with a map.