SCHIESS: The excitement of free-form desert hiking
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Topping a ridge in the high desert east of Red Road where it crosses Camas Creek there appeared to be a small lake surrounded by sagebrush hills. As I got closer the “lake” turned out to be a marsh covered with the beautiful blue camas flowers with four white ones and all unused trails were covered by miniature wild blue violets.
As my route took me through the blue field I was suddenly attacked by a pair of willets that flew straight at my head only to veer off when they got within eight to 10 feet from me. The commotion they made woke up a pair killdeer that also started cussing my intrusion. A long-billed curlew wanted no part of the fray and flew off — alone.
After a few minutes of watching and taking pictures of the agnostic attacks, birds and flowers I continued on my free-form hike. The hike did not follow a trail or a feature like a ridge or a fence, but rather a series of GPS lines.
The hike started at my truck and using my GPS I followed by a one mile trek that took me over an interesting ridge containing some lava tubes and caves. After hiking for one mile I turned west for a quarter of a mile and then headed back to my truck for a 1.3 mile final leg.
Along the route I would mark interesting features such as the lava tubes, pools of water, interesting flowers and a spot where old tin cans could indicate where a sheepherder camp may have been years ago. In one of the tubes I located a part from a bridle and some obsidian chips indicating Native American activity in it. Notes were taken on my GPS unit because I want to go back to the tube with my metal detector and see if there is anything of interest.
As I was heading back to the truck, I decided I would deviate from the route to visit the lake of flowers for some more pictures as a storm had passed and the light was getting better. As I topped a knob west of the flowers I flushed a single male sage grouse and was immediately greeted by the willets and killdeer.
After taking some pictures I sat down on a rock to finish off my liter of ice water and to have a granola bar while I enjoyed the sounds of nature around me. My thoughts went back to preparing for this sagebrush-bush-whacking free-form hike.
Critical for the hike was my GPS unit with extra batteries, two bottles of water and two energy bars. Other necessities for me were a small .22 pistol loaded with birdshot for an aggressive rattlesnake (have only used it once in years of exploring the high desert), small first aid kit, signal mirror, a very light “hunter orange” vest and a large garbage bag as an emergency rain coat. All fit nicely in my camera backpack.
If you are going out alone, you need to give someone the general area that you will be hiking and I always leave a note in my truck about the direction I am hiking and my estimated time to arrive back at the vehicle.
It is always safer to hike with someone, but some like to go solo and if you are one of those, preparation is important to help you enjoy the beauties of nature — even from fake attacks by birds.