Juniper Dunes: Day 2

After a good first day in the Juniper Dunes, we found sheltered spots from the wind and turned in for the night. Some rain rolled through overnight, but was done by the time I got up at 6:30 to enjoy the morning. With my first saunter around the area of our campsite, I found my first animal tracks of the trip — a nice coyote trail.

The ground was sandy where it wasn’t covered by grass and with the constant wind blowing it all around we hadn’t seen any tracks on Saturday. The night rainfall had moistened the sand, though, making the details clearer and longer lasting. The comparatively light nighttime winds hadn’t blown them away yet, either. It’s a nice overstep walk trail, with some good impressions. You can see the dimpled sand from the rain, too.

Coyote Tracks

The coyote’s trail paralleled ours out to the Wilderness for some more four-wheeler-free exploring. I couldn’t get a good picture, but we also saw tracks in the grass throughout the day, which was really interesting. There were never any toes showing — just a general shape — but once we started looking, it seemed fairly easy to find the series of footprints and figure out if it was a coyote or a deer. occasionally there’d be a print in a gopher mound with a little more definition so we could check ourselves.

There wasn’t any more rain after we got up, but the wind continued, picking up out of the West about 9 and blowing clouds and light through at an amazing rate. It went from cloudy to sunny and everything in between as fast as I could watch it as clouds whipped across the sky at 30 mph. If I had taken a video, it would look like one where the camera is left on the same spot all day and then played on fast forward.

It got sunny and stayed sunny after about lunch time. As we wandered, we kept hearing meadowlarks, which after this weekend I think I can reliably identify by sound. Their song sound like a DJ got a hold of a classic Disney bird sound and mixed it up on a turn table — all the notes are birdsong perfect, but it seems a bit jumbled. That may not mean much to you, but I don’t think I’m going to forget it.

We saw a pair of ravens, too, but the most exciting bird of the trip was definitely the owl we saw in its nest in this juniper tree.

Juniper Dunes Panorama

My friend pointed out that there was a large bird nest, and then as she stepped back, saw that there was something in it. We all stood for a while and watched a good-sized owl (probably a Great Horned, but possibly a large Long Eared Owl) look back at us out of its nest in the swaying tree. Pretty amazing. I feel very lucky for that to be my second owl of 2013.

Strangely enough, we saw the owl because we were looking for signs of another mystery creature in the junipers. We started noticing an unusual, irregular pellet shaped scat (yes, that means turds) underneath the juniper trees, but no other tell-tale signs like nibbled branches or distinguishable tracks. There were some vague impressions of trails and footsteps, but nothing conclusive. We started going from juniper to juniper looking for more signs, and finally we found our mystery animal in the flesh! It was a porcupine, sitting calmly on the ground amongst the low branches of the tree. It didn’t seem troubled by our presence only 15 feet from us, but if I had that many quills, I probably wouldn’t be worried by much, either.

When we walked past that sandy coyote trail later in the day, there was no more trail to be seen –the wind had washed the tracks away. It had dried us out pretty well, too, and I wasn’t too sorry to be headed home only a day and a half after we got there. When I visited the Hanford area and learned about the history of constructing the Hanford Site in the forties, I remember reading that out-of-town workers brought in for the job were driven crazy by the wind. I believe it.

I’m still very happy to have gone, though, and gotten a taste of the landscape and its inhabitants. I’m excited for my next trip to the dry side of the Cascades, scheduled for five weeks from now. Stay tuned.

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