After we had been walking for a couple hours, the sagebrush was getting taller and the views broader. Riparian lushness of those Yakima and Umtanum Canyons below transformed higher up into the arid watercolor of springtime steppe but the going grew far steeper until even the sagebrush petered out, the wind was gusting so we buttoned back up and then we were climbing through wavy, flaxen bunchgrass and finally we stumbled onto a high plateau with distant views to all points of the compass and it felt eons from civilization though paradoxically it became less difficult to visualize recruits pumping dollars per bullets into berms at the Yakima Firing Range. We walked west for a time on primitive road for what appeared to be the final rise to the highest of ho-hum highs. So what’s more, imagine the horror at that distant rumbling, columnar cyclone of dust as the local gang of fifty bouncing, revving dirt bike motorcyclers headed in our direction, on the verge of overtaking us to Highpoint City.
We stepped off that rugged two-track which follows the crest of Umtanum Ridge for miles, one-by-one the motorcycles rumbled past like a funeral procession (rest in peace, quiet). Buzz cuts, camouflage-trimmed sportswear and concealed firearms, many of the riders eyed us with such disdain did I momentarily consider tying up that long, tattered Saturday hair underneath my cap so as to appear less unkempt, socialist, animal-loving or whatever but gee as Grandpa himself inexplicably packs heat for protection from, er, the rest of the gun-toting crazies, I decided there had to be one amiable soul in the bunch and sure enough a half dozen wheels before the back of the menacing train, a stubby, happier fellow, returning our wave with such an exaggerated Mickey Mouse salute as to leave us chuckling, set our hearts to less sinking but our legs continued churning because now you’ll have to imagine Adam and I veering off the two-track on motorcycle feet, determinedly cutting through grass in the quest to reach the burned-out fire lookout before the gang of noisy motorcycles attained the holy grail.
Being that he’s in the fifth grade, Adam’s more firmly in charge of such lunchroom-and-recess nonsense, I told him leave me behind for the vultures and good luck with those guys (or something like that). A hundred dusty feet later I found him at the top of the rise with a grin on his face, standing on the highest point anywhere for a million miles around and furthermore, miracle layered-upon-miracles, the motorcycle guys had vanished! Delicate birdsong replaced the ringing in our ears. On the south side of the windswept knoll was a spur track dropping off the side of the ridge into who-the-heck-knows-where (the binoculars could not reach) and so after the dust settled we relaxed at the prize USGS marker and ate lunch. Two snowy volcanoes on the horizons! A rusty old spark plug in the trash pit was dedicated to Adam because if only you could have seen him dashing through ticks on Heartbreak Hill! Nearby, a very dead coyote lay at the base of the rickety earthquake early monitoring antennae which truth be told would’ve looked at home atop Grandma and Grandpa’s trailer. Billions of broken, tiny shards of beer bottle glass glittered the ground around us. Good old boys know how to get transcendental. Scenic clouds drifted over the snowy Stuart Range, to the north.
postscript: The boys’ mother has been in the real desert (saguaro cacti and everything), this week. When the cat’s away the mice will watch baseball during dinner, not take baths and what’smore tuck themselves into bed at night with giant books that take a long time to read. This morning as Oliver and I hurried into the schoolyard before the final bell he opined wouldn’t it be a rather funny thing if instead of zits, people got barnacles? That doesn’t really have something to do with anything. On a less unrelated note, in case you’re wondering, that’s a different spool of rusty barbed wire. Didn’t want to leave the impression I went around the steppe posing barbed wire on every dilapidated fencepost to be found. Oh, don’t get me wrong…..occasionally I’ll take artistic license in the rearranging of a leaf or two. Splash some water on scenic, bank-side cobbles. Shoo a pesky fly out of the flowers……