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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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Fort Spokane: Pieces of History Still Stand

Fort Spokane is an incredibly interesting place, and the grounds hold a lot of history as well.  Most of the buildings that once stood as part of the fort have fallen and little remains.  The main reason being that the area was abandoned for many years before restorative efforts were made on the buildings that were still standing.  Factors that probably influenced the creation of Fort Spokane can probably be traced back 20 years or so prior to the actual construction.  At the time, the U.S. Government was pretty well set on appropriating land through means of forcibly moving the native populations onto reservations.  The story up here in the state of Washington was pretty much the same according to Spokane Historical, and it molded a tense relationship between natives and settlers at times.

 

This tension increased with the introduction of the railroad to the area, and more natives were forced off of the lands they thought of as “communal.”  They didn’t want to see the land basically privatized and given to settlers, because the tribes depended on the ability to freely hunt, fish, camp, and travel.  In 1880, near the confluence of the Spokane and Columbia Rivers the United States introduced Camp Spokane as a means to keep peace between natives and settlers.  Within a couple of years barracks, storage facilities, and other structures were added, and it was upgraded to the status of a military fort.  For the following several years life was probably pretty average around Fort Spokane, without much hostility between settlers and tribes.  Actually, as stated on Washington, Our Home, “one of the most interesting facts about Fort Spokane is that there was never a shot fired in anger from either the soldiers stationed at the fort or the Indians. And since there didn’t seem to be any expectation of conflict, the Army finally left the post just 18 years after its creation.”

 

At sometime during 1898-1899 the Colville Indian Agency became responsible for overseeing the grounds and facilities.  They went with the idea of utilizing it as a boarding school for natives, as to teach them the ways of the settlers.  Essentially the native children were forced to learn certain western teachings, so they could more easily acclimate into the culture brought by the settlers.  Much of the native culture was squashed, restricted, or swept under the rug, as was the case across much of the United States.  The National Park Service calls the native experience at Fort Spokane as a “microcosm” of what they endured all over the nation.  After things quieted down for the boarding school, the structures then served as a tuberculosis hospital until 1929 or so when it was disregarded and abandoned.

 

Now, we can visit the place to learn about the history and see the displays.  For families visiting, they participate in a Junior Ranger program that allows kids to learn through completing tasks around the park.  Activities involve, but are not limited to hiking the Sentinel Trail, spotting and documenting wildlife, watching one of the available demonstrations, etc.  There are numerous displays to see, and they help to describe what life was like.  One of the most interesting buildings as I experienced it is the Quartermaster Stables, as it houses a numerous amount of artifacts.  This is one of the few surviving buildings, and it is open during the spring and summer months along with the museum and visitor center.  Not to mention the fact that Fort Spokane is very close to other great areas of interest such as Hawk Creek Falls, and is part of the Lake Roosevelt National Recreation Area.  An adventure to the area can lead to a pretty unforgettable day trip that should be experienced if at all possible.

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The Beauty & Power of Palouse Falls

If you are thinking of travel in the Pacific Northwest or in Washington specifically, then Palouse Falls has got to be on your bucket list.  This powerhouse of a waterfall is incredible when the water levels are high, although it is quite majestic throughout the entire year.  The tremendous landscapes draw in large numbers of people, and on March 18, 2014 it was officially made Washington’s state waterfall according to the Washington State Parks website.

Photographers and artists alike make every effort to capture vibrant sunrises and captivating sunsets.  Palouse Falls does have a specific area with designated paths for walking, however there are a plethora of paths that lead to a multitude of incredible viewpoints, including the very edge of the waterfall looking down.

 

Warning signs are in place, because there is a pretty good risk of falling if hikers are not careful.  I went on several of the trails outside of the state park area, and found it to be quite an adventure although I recommend staying in the designated area unless well prepared.  One of the trails off by the railroad tracks had an old rope tied around a large bush and I was able to utilize that rope to rappel down the incline and reach the trails below.  That rope would serve as my only way back up the hill as well, making this trip more of an adventure than I had initially thought it would be.  This point is where I had my first interaction with some local wildlife, as I happened to spot a solitary yellow bellied marmot at the top of the hill, and another dozen or so down tucked into the rocky hillside below.  Other animals that visitors can possibly encounter are different birds of prey such as Peregrine Falcons, Golden Eagles, and Swainson’s Hawks.  These birds of course can occasionally be seen perched along the basalt cliffs or flying around scouting an area for possible food.  In the springtime, tourists to the area can expect to see some nice wildflowers growing as well.

 

The waterfall has quite an extensive history, both geologically and culturally.  According to many sources there is a tale once told by people of the Palouse Tribe, the Palouse river and waterfall were the scene of an epic battle between 4 giant brothers and a mythical creature called “Big Beaver.”  Story has it the brothers chased and attacked the creature 5 times, and each time they struck “Big Beaver” with a spear it caused a bend in the river.  The creature fought fiercely and valiantly during the fifth attack from the brothers.  The struggle tore out an enormous canyon, and this is where the river fell over the ledge and became Palouse Falls.  The canyon walls are said to show the jagged edges from “Big Beaver’s” claw marks.  Also, as mentioned on www.stateparks.com the waterfall was once called “Aputapat” meaning “falling water” or something close to that, but was later changed to honor the Palouse culture.

Geologically the canyon’s creation goes back around 13,000 years to a time of Ice Age Flooding and glacial movement, leaving Palouse Falls as one of the few remaining active waterfalls along this ancient glacial flood path.  The floods of that time were said to be extremely violent and catastrophic.  The park has plenty of information signs and a kiosk available for people to learn a bit about the floods.  These Ice Age floods left a destructive path as the ice, water, and mud ripped tons of rock and earth away to carve the canyons in parts of eastern Washington and the Columbia River Gorge on the way to the ocean at speeds possibly reaching close to 60 mph.  The state park here is also one of the more active camping areas in the region, so some pre-planning is almost essential if you want to make it in during low traffic times.

 

Campsites are available, and a lot of good information can be found by once again going to www.stateparks.com for price listings and regulations specific to Palouse Falls State Park.  A quick rundown shows that standard sites run $15, while utility sites are a bit more at $21.  Visitors can also expect to pay dump fees when using the dump station.  Campsites allow up to 8 people per site, and second vehicles can remain parked for an additional $10 per night.  Campers are allowed up to 10 consecutive days during the busy season, and they stay is extended to 20 days between October 1st and the end of March.  A Washington State Discover Pass is also required, or visitors will have to pay the park entrance fee of $10 for the day also.  Anyone visiting the park and waterfall will certainly be in awe of the massively majestic landscapes, and the crushing current that cascades nearly 200 feet into the canyon below.  Just remember to stay happy and stay safe when visiting!

Here are a few clips from my hike through the area:

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Hiking Around Hawk Creek Falls

The area around and including Hawk Creek Campground is an interesting area, and that is because of the geological landmarks, the history of the land, and because of the recreation activities available to visitors.  The water level will vary depending on when a person visits, but the waterfall itself was flowing strong during both of my visits.  Mid January of 2018 provided a nice serene snow covered landscape, which was complimented by the sound of Hawk Creek cascading over the ledge and plunging to the rocks below.  Hiking the area at that time proved pretty difficult, but the campground was easy enough to navigate.  Navigating to the campground is easy enough with good directions, and the most accurate coordinates I could find are 47.816 N, 118.325 W according to Google Maps.

The wildlife in the area is probably what most folks would expect to see.  Deer, beavers, and probably the occasional elk or moose can be found wandering across the hills.  Waterfowl are typically floating around while birds of prey such as eagles dominate the skies.  Along with watching wildlife people can find quite a few activities to pass the time, such as biking, hiking, boating, kayaking, fishing, and swimming in the designated areas.

A couple things to consider when planning a visit are road conditions and the water level.  Most hikers seem to agree that the area is best to hike when the water is low, because you can follow a fisherman’s trail through the pines, around a couple bends, and down to the beach for a nice stroll.  As the water level increases through the year, beach access decreases.  If you happen to hike during the later part of the year, there are always some trails that lead up the hills to the rocky ridge line.  Along that ridge is where some caves can be found, although I am not sure exactly how many are up there.  Some great information about the 4.5-5 mile hike and the geology of the area can be found on this Washington Trails Association info page.

I happened to spot a massive cave from the parking area near the boat ramp, but visitors need to turn and look up the hillside through some trees.  The hike from there is not a super long hike, and there are a few game trails to follow.  However, the trek is a relatively steep grade, and there are some loose rocks along the path.  Once hikers reach the cave the view is pretty spectacular.

People can keep trekking along the ridge for an amazing view, and at certain times folks might be able to even make it out to the Columbia.  About 5 to 6 miles north is the confluence of the Spokane and Columbia Rivers, which is an area people may be able to visit in the same day if planned accordingly.  Planning also means packing appropriately, and this Outbound Collective report by Rose Freeman reminds people to pack all of the essentials with some extra food and water.  Plus the hiking needs will include comfortable and sturdy boots or shoes, some trekking poles, and of course a camera to capture some of the marvelous landscapes around.  It is also a good idea to take some camping gear if using one of the 21 provided camping spots.  Just remember to pay the small fee at the station.  All of those things considered, it should make for a great day trip for anyone wanting to visit the area.