I wore my hiking shoes today instead of my hiking sandals after yesterday’s snake encounter. Although, I’m not sure they’ll be much help with the bears and mountain lions today.
An Old Railroad Trail
The Cowiche Canyon trail follows Cowiche Creek along an old railroad bed crossing the creek ten times over its three miles. It’s been a cool, wet spring. Usually, these hills are brown by now, and the day’s heat would send a lot of the wildlife undercover. I’m fortunate to venture out on a comfortable 75-degree June day.
A yellow chat calls (and calls, and calls) from the riparian cottonwood forest. They are definitely chatty and appropriately named. Their brilliant yellow stands out against the green aspens and cottonwoods. They also embody flighty, keeping just ahead of me along the trail. The Bullocks orioles are here, too, behaving in much the same manner.
Flowering sage, larkspur, lupine, and more decorate the ground around me.
A colony of swallows nests high up in the cliffs, each tucked under an overhang. I watch them come and go for a bit – soaring into their tiny homes folding in their wings at the very last moment to sail right through the front door. Wherever I look up into the rocks, I see faces. And I’m sure a mountain lion lair.
Red-tailed hawks and turkey vultures float along the ridgelines and songbirds flit along the green riverbelt.
I round a corner to find the rock walls rising straight up from the sides on my path. It’s narrow. How did a train ever pass through here? I’m reminded of native American hunters who used techniques like this to funnel wildlife into traps. I wonder what (who?) might be waiting for me on the other side.
I step out into a flat, grassy bowl with mountains surrounding me. It feels intimate, this quiet little room in the vast wilderness. A quail couple sounds their alarm at my intrusion.
Curiosity Pulls Me Forward
I keep thinking I need to turn back, but my curiosity keeps pulling me forward. I’m continually drawn to what’s around the next bend or across the next bridge. A thick tunnel of willows takes me right along the river’s edge. The stems are so thick, growing right up against the path. I can barely see through. It’s a little bit uncomfortable.
Wildlife will use this path as the most straightforward way through this thicket, just as I am. And it curves with the creek, so there are a lot of blind spots. It’s all part of the adventure, and I continue on. At the far edge of this narrow course, I step out into a wide, sandy path with views of the fruit fields in the distance. My water bottle is less than half full; I reign in my curiosity and head back.
On my Way Back
I stopped to photograph what I thought was a quail on my path. As I moved closer, it hadn’t moved at all. I thought it must be a rock and just another image for my “inanimate wildlife” folder, only to see him untuck his head and totter off the trial. It was a napping quail. On the trail.
Back near the trailhead, I hear the alarm call of a marmot chirping on my left. I stop and scan the rock face with my binoculars. Disappointed that I can’t find him, I continue. Just a few more paces and the same alarm emanates from my right. On the very top of the ridge sits the calling marmot.
I’m happy to have found him—the perfect end to the hike.
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