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A Few Moments at McNary

Located near the tri-cities area in Burbank Washington, McNary National Wildlife Refuge has a lot to offer.  Although the area is a refuge in itself encompassing around 15,000 acres, McNary is managed as part of a larger grouping of similar wildlife areas.  This grouping, as described by U.S. Fish and Wildlife Services is called the Mid-Columbia River National Wildlife Refuge Complex.  One main office basically has to manage 7 or 8 wildlife refuges in the region, and that is in part due to similarities between them all.  Many of these areas share similar wildlife, although McNary really gets a lot of bird activity because of the specific environment.  It is considered a bird watchers paradise by some, especially when the migratory birds are making their way through the area. 

It is a very high maintenance refuge also, as the staff members have to develop and utilize techniques to help promote natural habitat growth or recovery.  These methods have to be enhanced year to year, as seasonal weather may have an impact on which areas of the refuge need attention.  McNary does have a little help from some local farmers though, as around 700 acres of the refuge are irrigated croplands.  According to Washington State Parks this means the park and local farmers have a cooperative agreement that is mutually beneficial.  The farmers grow their crops of wheat, alfalfa, corn, etc. and then leave a portion of it for the local wildlife.  This can have a major impact during the colder winter months when natural food sources are low. 

Habitats change season to season, and right now is a great time to see the Summer animals.  Larger birds such as swans, pelicans, herons, bitterns, and others can be found in the water searching searching for food and enjoying the breeze as it blows across the water.  Eagles, Osprey, hawks, and other raptors can be found flying high in the sky looking for a good place to fish.  Deer can be found here and there, but their numbers drastically increase as the season moves into Fall.  It is not uncommon for visitors to see males competing for females as mating season goes in full swing.  The larger birds will stay around and hang tight through the fall, and even into Winter for some.  Winter becomes a very busy season for ducks, geese, etc. and there can be several thousand birds inhabiting the refuge.  As Spring rolls in, some birds will leave and head further north for a bit, while other birds that migrated further south will fly to McNary.  The cyclic nature of the land is clearly apparent in the way everything operates.  As stated by Fish & Wildlife the changing of seasons here is just a transition of birds that live on the refuge.   

McNary is a very fun and informative place to visit, especially when visiting the area.  There are a lot of animals to see, and birds to identify. Be sure to check out the McNary official Facebook page by clicking here!!!  So get out there and find some adventures!!  

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The Simple Paradise of Potholes State Park

Washington state has some really incredible state parks, and Potholes State Park is an amazing place to visit.  Sitting on close to 800 acres, it is aptly named for the geological features of the area.  Ice Age activity left a pattern of divots and channels through the area, and since the construction of the O’Sullivan Dam the landscape has a definitive series of “pothole” lakes.  These smaller pothole lakes are about 30-45 minutes away from the actual state park though, as it borders the deeper waters more suitable for boating and fishing as pointed out by the Washington State Parks  website.

Animals can be found aplenty during certain times of the year, and that includes eagles, owls, geese, and various mammals that wander through the park.  It is also nearby the Columbia National Wildlife Refuge, which can make for a nice drive while in the area.  Wildlife can be found wandering through the arid brushland, finding food or drinking from the freshwater pools.  People can camp at Potholes, and according to www.stateparks.com it features 61 tent spaces, and 60 utility spaces.  There are also a handful of cabins available to rent, and pets are allowed in certain cabins with an extra fee.

Referring back to Washington State Parks the fishing is pretty solid, and features large mouth bass, rainbow trout, crappie, and yellow perch.  Also plenty of open water for the people that simply want to get out in the boats and feel the air.  When looking to the air, visitors can expect to see a plethora of birds.  Small birds such as plovers and killdeer can be seen darting about the grass, while raptors such as owls and eagles will be seen during certain times of the year.  A wide open park area has picnic tables scattered about, and there are also 2 covered stations for people to eat if needed.  Several miles of hiking trails are great for park visitors after they have seen the immaculate waterfront.  Being a state park, visitors do need to either have a Discover Pass or purchase a day or year pass from the automated kiosk on site.

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Gardner Cave: A Walk Through Time

Gardner Cave is about as far north as you can get in Washington before going into Canada.  Low and behold there is even a hiking trail leading to the 49th parallel, and the trail takes roughly 30-40 minutes to hike both ways.  It’s a fun little side expedition while waiting for one of the guided cave tours to start.  These are the two highlight activities available in Crawford State Park, which in itself seems like a pretty average place at first glance.  Designated as a day use park Crawford does not offer camping, however campsites are available about a mile a way at Boundary Dam.  The only fees associated are the fact that visitors will need a Discover Pass as is standard for Washington State Parks.  The cave is the most common reason visitors come to see the area though, and that is for good reason.

The cave itself was first discovered by Ed Gardner while he was riding his horse.  As the tale is told Gardner’s horse stumbled into a soft spot that he would eventually discover to be the cave.  Some sources say it was found as early as 1899, but other accounts credit Gardner’s find around 1903.  The very early history of the cave is not very well known, although most agree it was used to hide Gardner’s bootlegging business.  He would later lose his land to William Crawford during a game of poker as legend has it.  Crawford would in turn donate the land to become part of the Washington State Parks system.  Holly Weiler explains that in the 1930’s the Civilian Conservation Corps installed some picnic areas.  Her publication on Out There Outdoors also shares that the cave was not updated for tourism until the 1950’s while the most recent installations happened in 1977.

The geologic history spans a much greater timeline however,  and some sources such as this report on the Washington Trails Association website date the cave at 500 million years old.  Dated that far back, the site was actually an ocean floor at the time.  The process of decomposition in the shells of sea creatures eventually produced a sort of slime that would harden into limestone through time.  As tectonic plates shifted and moved, the were times when the limestone would also shift creating gaps and cracks.  This would allow the moisture to run through the surface and down to create geologic formations.  Being the 3rd longest limestone cave in Washington, Gardner Cave has a plethora of formations.  These geologic structures as explained by Washington State Parks include stalactites, stalagmites, with some rimstone pools, and flowstone.  Gardner Cave is also home to one of the most impressive columns in the region, and researchers estimate it to weigh nearly 8 tons.  A column is formed when a stalactite meets a stalagmite, and spans from the cave floor to the ceiling.  The tour guides explain these processes and much more during the actual tour, and for me it was a very educational and valuable experience.

The place isn’t too tough to find, and driving directions from Spokane, Washington are pretty straightforward.

Follow U.S. Highway 2 North, then turn left on State Route 211 toward Usk.  Reaching highway 20 head north along the Pend O’Reille River.  Upon reaching Tiger, take SR 31 toward Metaline.  Keep an eye out for Boundary Road in Metaline and take a left turning uphill.  Simply follow the signs from there.  Google maps will also lead right to it for those with access to GPS via cell phone.

Thanks for reading!

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Lake Lenore Caves

Located in central Washington, the Lake Lenore Caves are a nice place to relax and catch some awesome views.  Hiking up the path from the parking lot, the trails are well defined and easy to follow.  Concrete stairs lead to the top of a section of basalt, and the trails splits at that point.  The easier terrain to navigate leads to the right, while also offering a more direct route to the caves.  The caves are very easy to find, as the trail leads right to them.  They are not extremely expansive by any means, but the caves are large enough for a group to sit and eat lunch or find a cool spot to rest for a bit.  Some more challenging landscapes are off to the left, and hikers should lead with caution when walking that path.  From what I understand, there are signs posted at points to show some dangerous areas that are not recommended for hiking.  Another thing hikers should keep in mind is to be on the lookout for rattlesnakes, as pointed out by the Washington Trails Association.

 

Geologically this area was formed during the last ice age, during a time of immense flooding.  Torrential waters raced through the area, and ripped away chunks of basalt creating many of the ravines that can be found in Washington state.  Since then, the natural process of water getting into crevices in the basalt then repeatedly freezing and warming have hollowed out the caves.  The caves also bear a bit of a social history also, as natives were known to utilize them close to 5,000 years ago.  It is thought the caves were seasonal shelters, in which some of the natives would live and work there gathering plants, fish, and other supplies.  Spring and Summer would have been the most active, but as the seasons changed the natives would return to the permanent villages.  As mentioned on the website Only in Your State, some of the native petroglyphs can still be found along the walls.

 

Standing on the ridgeline, visitors can catch great views of Lake Lenore below which has a bit of an interesting story as well.  As explained by Heather Carr on Insteading.com the lake was once thought to be uninhabitable.  It was thought the geology of the area created an alkaline ph in the water that wouldn’t support life, so the military actually used it for a dumping ground at one point in time.  In 1947 the War Assets Administration had to dispose of 10 tons of metallic sodium, and they couldn’t find anyone willing to risk transporting it.  So the decision was made to drop the stuff into Lake Lenore, because the reaction would destroy the sodium.  Once the metallic sodium reacted with water, it would explode and release sodium hydroxide, hydrogen gas, and a lot of heat.

Here is a link to a YouTube video showing the disposal:  The Disposal of Sodium, 1947

 

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Hiking Hog Lake

This nice little landscape will take you through various scenes along the trail.  The main looping trail here is a pretty easy hike, as the main loop is under 2 miles.  There are other pathways that explorers can use to extend this hike a bit, and some of them skirt right along the lake’s edge.  The terrain is easily manageable in most areas, but can become muddy in spots.  As hikers progress along the trail, there will be notices of private property and trail users should respect those notices.  The best time to hike through the area is early to mid Spring, as the wildflowers will be coloring the hillsides.  The Washington Trails Association points out that Arrowleaf Balsamroot will be plentiful in the Spring, and that is also the best time to see the other wildflower varieties. The waterfall will also be at it’s strongest flow during this time of year.

The lake is open in the Winter for fishing as well, as it opens the Friday after Thanksgiving as stated by the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife.  It is a relatively popular trail, and can be used by people of any skill level as suggested by AllTrails.com.  The trails out there are great for dogs but keep them on a leash and keep them away from the edge of the higher cliffs.  Hikers will also be able to potentially see a variety of songbirds and larger wildlife.  Deer have been seen in the area, and once in a while a coyote is spotted.  Smaller mammals such as squirrels, chipmunks, and other animals can be spotted along the trails as well.  Visitors should also be aware that insects and spiders will also be found as the weather warms up.  Hikers may also encounter some smaller snakes on the rocks overlooking the lake, and the vast beauty continues throughout the entire hike.

There are no fees or passes required to visit the area, which is another great reason to visit Hog Lake.  The trails are all pretty easy to identify and follow, although as mentioned on The Washington Trails Association it is possible to become confused with some of the cattle trails that scatter the hillside.  As I mentioned above however there are property boundary signs, which are private property markers for the farms surrounding the area.  That is also the reasoning for some of the gates people may encounter along their journey at Hog Lake.  A trip report on theoutbound.com mentions those same gates, but goes on to mention the incredible views to be encountered along the trails.  Also claiming that some of the best landscape photos can be taken on the ridge-lines that carry the trail along the cliff’s edge.  It is truly an experience to make time for, and one that will be sure to create a great hiking adventure.

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