Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Hiking the Horse Heaven Hills

I climbed the Horse Heaven Hills today. The elevation gain is only 1000 ft., and the climb was gradual. I’d spotted some antennas on top and wanted to investigate. I carried my camera, 2 jugs of water, some trail mix, and my cell phone (I was expecting a call from my banker reassuring me that despite the market collapse my money was safe – the call never came). It took me only 20 minutes to reach the top. I found some odd stuff up there, like the erratic in this photo that someone felt it necessary to protect from graffiti artists by erecting a triangular wire cage around the rock. Not to be denied their canvas, the artists tore the front of the wire fence out and had their way with the rock.

But really, what looks worse, the cage or the graffiti?

I’m not a geologist, but the rock is probably a glacial erratic. I know that some 15,000 years ago glacial ice blocked what is now the Clark Fork River and water level rose to some 2000 ft. When the ice dam broke, the resultant flood was catastrophic and literally moved mountains and shaped what you can see in this photo of the Columbia Basin. That’s Rabbitbrush in the foreground. Botanists call it Chrysothamnus Nauseous and it is apparently a member of the Aster or Sunflower family. I’ve read that the nauseous adjunct comes from the plant’s aroma, which smells like cloying room freshener, cooked broccoli, and formaldehyde. The hills are part of the area’s shrub-steppe, and are covered in sagebrush, bitterbrush, wheatgrass, Indian Rice Grass, and Idaho fescue, among other things. I was careful to stay on the trail (a road, really), but stepped to the side to see the crust of algae, lichens, liverworts, and mosses that cover the soil and is a critical component of native grasslands and shrub-steppe communities.

I stumbled across this small grave up there on that windswept hill. I stood there looking down at the handcrafted cross wondering...

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