Thursday, August 11, 2011

Taking A Hike On Hurricane Ridge

HURRICANE RIDGE, WASHINGTON — A cartoonishly cute furry animal the size of a morbidly obese housecat sits perched on a moss-splattered rock outcropping near the crest of Hurricane Hill in the Olympic mountains. Minutes before, we stopped on the trail to catch our breath — my bride and I both feeling the effects of thin air — and read a sign describing the cute critters. This particular species is called the Olympic marmot. It has kinfolk across the continent, including the woodchuck and even squirrels. The Olympic marmot, which is a darn fine name, is a protected species because numbers are dwindling — possibly because of an influx of coyotes.

Moments after reading the sign we spotted one in real life, as if he had been hired to hang out close to the display. He gamboled about in the prairie that improbably grows here just below the tree line. As we walked along the crest, Rocky (as I silently named him) sunned himself on the rock, nonchalantly staring at me. I walked close enough to capture a National Geographic-style photo with a telephoto lens.

About this time a very nervous deer skittered out from a grove of trees and also came close to us and the half-dozen other folks scattered on the ridge. She kept a wary eye on a small group of mountain goats grazing nearby — two pairs of adult couples, two kiddoes. The goats charmed us, until two guys from the area also up on the ridge warned us to watch out. A nearby resident and hiking aficionado was killed last fall by an aggressive mountain goat on an adjacent trail. He was gored to death. The goats are acting rather territorial, and the deer is spooked enough to get closer to us than one usually experiences. We keep our walking sticks at the ready. I am prepared to sacrifice my telephoto lens as a bludgeon if necessary. It wasn’t. The goats moved on, and the deer finally calmed down.

I have published news items at least three times in my newspaper career about folks getting trampled by deer they thought were tame. None were killed, but flying hooves in panic mode injured all. So I was watching that deer and counseling my Beautiful Mystery Companion to do the same. My words of warning rang hollow, however, when we hiked back down to the visitor’s center. A deer came out of the pasture and walked down the parking lot, ending up on the sidewalk as if it were a two-legged pedestrian. I shot a photo of this deer, maybe 30 feet away at the time, walking down the sidewalk as if it were headed to the snack bar for lunch.

The hike up to the top of Hurricane Hill and back is a bit over three miles, a distance at which initially we scoffed since we both walk that far daily here in Texas — albeit before sunrise during the dog days. But the elevation rise of 500-plus feet after starting at about a mile high sent our lungs into hyper-drive. This “hill” tops out at 5,767 feet, which in Texas would be defined as a nice-sized mountain.

Oh, the scenery. This is seriously one of the prettiest places on the planet, especially to lovers of trees, mountains, blue sky, rapidly changing cloud formations, wildlife, the smell of unsullied air. Back at the visitor’s center, we sat outside and ate homemade turkey sandwiches with chips on the side. That ranks as one of the best meals I’ve eaten in years, gazing out as my BMC sang out, the “purple mountain majesties, across the fruited plain.” She’s a nerd like me.

The lone deer skirted close, maybe looking for a handout. At the next table a ranger who specializes in educational talks, described how global warming is affecting the park: snow melt, animal behavior and their habitats. The young woman was earnest and articulate, and I hope at least a few of the dozen folks listening paid attention. She is preaching to the choir as far as we’re concerned. Anybody who doesn’t accept the fact that the earth is getting warmer is both anti-science and hasn’t stepped outside this summer.

Sorry, had to preach a bit. I have fallen in love with this place and don’t want to see it change. My affection likely will remain an occasional dalliance, but this piece of America has captured my heart. Besides, those marmots are adorable. I love those little guys.

No comments:

Post a Comment