Juniper Dunes Hike

Yesterday, I headed into the Juniper Dunes Wilderness with the intent to spend the night. I want to test out the modifications I’ve made to my 1-person tent (dropped 13 ounces from its weight), and I really want to sleep outside.

Quick version: I didn’t spend the night, but I had a good hike in the land of the Yakama Nation and Palouse Nation. Read on if you’re curious about the rest of the day.

Juniper Dunes has no naturally-occurring water source. Thus, visitors must bring in all that they will need. There’s an entrance at the north, but that entrance is accessed through private land, and the landowner only allows day-use access, and only March, April, and May. (This is BS, because the law doesn’t allow for a land-locked parcel. The owner of the Juniper Dunes Wilderness – the US government – has an automatic right-of-way over property to access the Dunes. Alas, the feds have always played nice with this landowner and allowed them to dictate when & how the public is allowed to use the land. It’s infuriating.)

For overnight use, the hiker must come in through the Juniper Dunes ORV area. That’s less than ideal, but it adds just a couple of miles to one’s trek. (I could have driven further in my truck, but I wanted to be sure I’d have an area to park that wasn’t blocking any trails, and I didn’t want to risk being stuck in the sand.) And while it’s “just a couple of miles,” those miles are on sand. It can be slow going.

Having to carry all the water I’d use made meal planning different that the usual hiking trip. The reason we usually carry dehydrated or freeze-dried food is that it’s lighter weight than fresh food. For this trip, there’s no advantage to carrying dried food as the water needed to prepare it is in the pack along with the food itself. It took me forever to decide what to bring, and I made my final decisions as I was packing the morning of the hike. (I’m the neurotic over-planner type; leaving something so critical as food to the last minute would normally leave me a panicked state.)

I brought along my alcohol stove for the chance to test it on the trail – rather than on my patio – but also knowing that I wouldn’t be able to use it if the evening was windy. (Evenings are frequently windy in the Tri-Cities in the spring.) Thus, dinner was a packet of ramen, as that could be cold-soaked if it was too windy to cook. I brought along a few packets of tuna and bread, nut butter packets, and some bananas for sandwiches, some snacks, and a breakfast that can either be cold-soaked or prepared with hot water. I also carried about six liters of water. While my food bag was very light, my pack was plenty heavy with all that water and a tent that weighs in at almost four pounds.

My initial intent was to leave the truck around 8 a.m. As mentioned above, I was fairly scatter-brained, and I didn’t leave the house until after nine. I had a hard time getting myself out the door. I didn’t want to go. It wasn’t a sense of foreboding — I just didn’t feel like going, and I had to force myself out the door. While I was glad I did, I suspect this attitude impacted the trip overall.

Into the “wilderness” I go…

There was a small group of folks on ORVs at the gate to the wilderness when I arrived. Once one enters, there are few identifiable trails, and it’s easy to escape the sound of the engines. I’d already decided I’d head toward the southeast corner of the wilderness area, as I don’t believe I’ve ever been there. And wander I did …

There are bigger dunes of loose sand toward the northern end. The area I explored on this trip is more rolling hills and a fair amount of what appears to be cryptobiotic soil. That soil is very fragile; I’m glad it’s being preserved in this wilderness area. The trees seem more spread out, too.

These two dead trees were clearly struck by lightning. In this arid climate, the destruction wreaked by a lightning bolt has been preserved. It’s easy to see how the tree was blown apart by the strike. That’s one consequence of being the lone high point in an area with few trees. I encountered several clumps of these cacti. They’re low to the ground – no more than 6″ high – and while some of the clumps were a square meter their 2″ spines make it unlikely they’ll be trod upon by the same beast twice. It appears they may be close to blooming; I’m sorry I didn’t get to see them in bloom.

I found several good campsites. That can be difficult, as the plants here are so fragile that it would terrible to place one’s tent where there’s plant life. (With the exception of the invasive cheat grass. I’d be more than happy to crush it.) The sandy spots are usually not flat enough for a tent. I found one near where I stoppped for lunch.

It was while I was eating lunch that I decided I’d not spend the night. I’d been hiking for a few hours, and I decided I really didn’t want to spend the next 5-6 hours wandering around just to have an excuse to camp, and I didn’t want to camp so early in the day. I hoisted my pack, laden with a 4-pound tent and now five liters of water, back onto my back & resumed my roam.

The USGS 7.5 map shows a well near the south fence. While I did not anticipate there would be water, I decided to see I could find it. It turned out to be easy to find because it was quite the contraption.

There was no water in the well, as expected. The well was filled with tumbleweeds … and crickets. Parts of the well were a writhing mass of crickets. There are so many crickets in the Juniper Dunes that the well could easily be nightmare fuel. Thus, no picture of the inside of the well. The cricket in the picture is one that I found on my trekking pole as I prepared to leave my lunch spot. She moved along with relatively little encouragement.

Last weekend, we saw a lot of skinks and a few snakes (bull snakes). Yesterday, all I saw was crickets. At one point, several of them got up inside my trouser legs. I was unpleased.

By the time I got back to my vehicle, I was weary. I still had water easily accessible, but I didn’t drink enough. Because the ground on which I was walking was very dusty, my lower legs were filthy – another reason I was glad I wasn’t spending the night. Upon my arrival home, I discovered that, just as with last week’s hike in the Juniper Dunes, my lower legs were covered in some kind of rash. It’s a mystery, but I believe the most logical assumption is that I’m allergic to something that’s out there — even though I’ve hiked there numerous other times and not been similarly afflicted.

As I write this on Sunday, I’m tired. Yesterday was a good workout, and I intend to put a few liters of water in a backpack & hike one of our local hills on a regular basis in anticipation of hiking Section K in August. I’ll have to make another opportunity to try out my modified tent. I’m excited to get more hiking in, too.


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