Wednesday, April 30, 2014

Feeling Good at Federation Forest State Park

FEDERATION FOREST STATE PARK (A Washington State Park) The siren of high country trails may be calling but beware - there’s still snow at higher elevations. Fortunately there are trails where you can hike without getting into snow. Federation Forest State Park is a good example. In fact, any time of the year is good to visit the park, the Catherine Montgomery Interpretive Center and/or a picnic overlooking the White River. In late April it still felt chilly but trilliums know its spring and have populated the park accordingly. This is also one of our favorite parks because it can be enjoyed year-round and trails are well-signed for first-time visitors. Come back in the fall for colorful displays of vine maple (we’ve even enjoyed a picnic in December). In August you’ll appreciate the parks shady trails. We started out on the Fred Cleator Interpretive Trail that meanders through the forest and leads to more options for loops and/or further exploration. The trails are named to honor Fred W. Cleator, an early conservationist and forester. The West Loop is about a mile, the East Loop (1/2 mile) that parallels the White River. Starting from the parking area we started out on the Fred Cleator trail, hiking west and took our time along the West Loop trail. This is not a place to get into shape but rather a place to contemplate, taking time to read interpretive signs describing the medley of evergreens as well as a rich under story of native shrubs and woodland flowers. On our April visit with a friend the first thing that caught our attention was the trilliums, swirls of false-lily-of-the-valley and ferns unfurling to fill in the blank space between the trees. Though the trails are easy they can be muddy with standing water in spring so sturdy boots are suggested. Later this spring you’ll also see vanilla leaf, bleeding hearts, Canadian dogwood and bead lily. Though the main trail junctions are well-signed secondary trails bisect the main ones; unless you continue heading west or cross SR 410 to check out the White River trail all trails lead back to the Catherine Montgomery Interpretive Center, the White River or Highway 410. There are approximately 12 miles of trails, including a stretch of the historical Naches Trail. That segment dates back to 1853 as the Naches Wagon Road when the Naches Trail connected Puget Sound to Eastern Washington. The park provides picnic shelters, picnic tables, a covered shelter, restrooms with running water, drinking fountain and an ADA-compliant restroom. The lower picnic area (a little east of the Visitor Center) beside the White River is a appealing place to hang around and watch the changing light on the White River as it surges downstream (in spring the river is brown with silt). In summer graze on an abundant supply of thimbleberries. Gardens at the Catherine Montgomery Interpretive Center highlight edible and poisonous native plants from different regions of Washington. Montgomery was considered a pioneer in education with a passion for conservation. Inside the interpretive center are interpretive displays that elaborate on the differences in ecosystems ranging from the east side to the west side of the mountains. When is the interpretive center open? Upon doing some research we learned that the park was originally called Big Tree Park and was situated near Snoqualmie Pass’ by the 1930s logging, wind-storms and fire had damaged the forest to the extent that park advocates sought a better location to protect old-growth forest. They rightly anticipated a future in which few old-growth trees would remain outside of national parks; hence the park was relocated along the White River and dedicated in 1949. With the support of the General Federation of Women’s Clubs of Washington (GFWC-WS) and with the cooperation of state legislature, State Parks was able to purchase land for the park in 1941. Much of the parks development took place when Montgomery willed a generous sum to the Washington State Federation of Women’s Clubs (her bequest was used to build the interpretive center). As we headed west we came upon skunk cabbage (swamp lanterns) and puncheon that was damp and slippery. Wire has been nailed down over the worst of it but the heavy rains of late have left stretches of standing water on the trail. Today there are over 600 acres of forest within the park with some 18,000 feet of shoreline along the White River. The park has something for all visitors ranging from history buffs to families with children. Looking for the Hobbit House? A kiosk near the Upper Picnic Area displays the trail system, including where to find the Hobbit Trail though it does not show on the park’s handout – when the Interpretive Center is open you can borrow a more extensive trail guide. Whether 6 or 60; you’ll be delighted if you find Hobbit House (or it finds you) with its arrangement of thumbnail-sized mailboxes (complete with flag), gardens, fences and wee figurines tucked away in the nooks and crannies of stumps, trees and rocks. Sometimes we find it, sometimes we don’t. Having found Hobbit House only twice in several visits, we’ve come to the conclusion that finding it may be more to serendipity than skill. If it finds you consider it a gift. No matter - whether or not you find Hobbit House, the beauty of the forest is guaranteed to put a spell on you. All the trails within the park are enchanted. To get there: From Enumclaw travel east on SR 410 about 18 miles, at milepost 41 find well-signed Federation Forest State Park on the right-hand side of the highway. Stats: Mileage is variable as is elevation (no significant elevation gain) Additional Information: Camping is not allowed, dogs must be on leash and under physical control. Fires are only allowed in fire rings in designated picnic areas. Bicycles are allowed on paved roads only. The park is open from 8 a.m. to dusk (year round). For additional information on this park, including closures, rules and regulations, visit Washington State Parks online at: For photos go to Flickr, click on the first album: Karen Sykes

Thursday, April 3, 2014

Road Walk to the Manastash Ridge Observatory

A Hike to the Manastash Ridge Observatory It might take a bit of conniving to find the road we walked and/or familiarity with the Green Dot Road system managed by the Department of Natural Resources. However, once you solve the riddle of how to get to the road the rest of the hike is direct and well worth the effort to find it. We went with friends more familiar with the snarl of dirt roads in the L.T. Murray State Wildlife Recreational Area (MRO) and parked at the gated road which is easily spotted. It is only 5.2 miles from the Umtanum Falls trailhead on Umtanum Road. Note the abundance of bird-boxes along the roads. There’s plenty of room for hikers to bypass the gate to hike the road, part of the Green Dot Road system. Just so you know, roads with Green Dots are posted and are open to vehicles during certain times of the year. You can get these maps from the Department of Natural Resources but they are large and a bit cumbersome. You don’t need the map unless you are a “maphead” and are intrigued by the intricacy of complex maps and lesser-hiked roads. It was a sunny day but cool enough that we started out wearing several layers. As the day wore on we began shedding layers like trees shedding leaves. The road is dirt and in a couple of weeks from now will be bordered with wildflowers. Some early season flowers are just beginning to emerge – lomatiums, yellow bells, and sagebrush buttercups. In another couple of weeks this hike to the MRO will be a flower walk There are a few magnificent pine trees to admire, their lower branches neon-green with moss, the earth around their trunks scattered with fallen pine cones. The trees were especially beautiful silhouetted against blue skies and white, puffy clouds. You’ll pass a couple of watering troughs for stock and elk. There are secondary roads that branch off so follow the main road. This is open country with rolling hills, sagebrush, wildflowers, and occasional seasonal streams from snow-runoff. It’s Big Country at its best, especially on a sunny day as we were graced with. This area is a mixture of open range, private property and the L T Murray State Wildlife Area. With about 1,000 of elevation gain it’s just enough exercise to “count” so be sure to carry plenty of water as most of the hike is in the sun. Be on the alert for ticks - it’s also getting to be that time of year again. Check clothing from time to time, wear long pants and shirts with long sleeves. Check yourself (and others) as well as packs and clothing before leaving the trailhead. Ticks will wander around for a few hours before they find a place to set up shop, often on the back of neck near the hairline. They go through three life stages; at first they are too small to easily spot – by their second/third stage they are visible but still hard to detect because they have been designed to inject a painkiller into skin so animals and humans won’t know they have made you a target. Ticks can carry diseases, including Lyme’s disease. If not diagnosed in time (after you discover a tick has embedded itself) you may have a bulls-eye rash around the site, a definite sign you’ll need antibiotics. There are various methods of removing them before they begin to feed, too many to mention here. Ticks are annoying and present a definite “ick” factor but don’t let them keep you away from the grandeur of the east side. About half-way to our destination we were rewarded with the sight of a large elk herd crossing the road ahead of us. There were at least 100 running single file across the road and onto a game trail to parts known only to them. There are two feeding stations in the L.T. Murray State Wildlife Recreation Area; one is in the Oak Creek Wildlife Area (near Naches) and another somewhere else within the Wildlife Recreation Area. We stopped just to watch, enthralled - there’s simply no other way to react. After they disappeared we continued hiking the road as it continued to climb at a moderate grade. Depending on where you are there are views of the Stuart Range before you get to the MRO. As we gained elevation and approached the MRO Mount Rainier came into view but the mountain was a little too hazy to photograph. The MRO is closed to the public and inside a chain-link fence topped with barbed wire. You can still get good views of the observatory. I found a large old log nearby where I could stand a little higher for a better view but still couldn’t get the shot I wanted. It is certainly understandable why the Observatory needs to be kept off-limits to the public. The MRO is managed by the University of Washington (Astronomy Department). It houses a computer controlled 30” Boller and Chivens telescope – under-graduates from the University of Washington are the primary users. The MRO was built in 1972 – the site was chosen because of the dry environment and dark sky conditions on the east side of the Cascades. The MRO was built at the initiative of George Wallerstein, a Professor of Astronomy at the University of Washington. We hiked back the way we came and may be doing this hike again when more flowers are out. For solitude go now; for wildflower displays go in a couple of weeks. To get there: From Seattle take I-90 east to Exit 109, Canyon Road. At the bottom of the exit turn right towards Ellensburg. Turn left at the second stop light, Umtanum Road, aka Dammon Road. In 1.6 miles pass the Dammon School, Watch the speed limit here, the sheriff does. In five miles you will be at the top of Shushkin Canyon where the pavement ends and the dirt and gravel begins. The road is often narrow so use caution. There are scattered homes in the area. At 15 miles from Ellensburg the turnoff for Observatory Road is found (unsigned). Here is the GPS waypoint: N 46-59-43 W 121-53-29 There is a small parking area here. Do not block the gate and any gates you do open please close again. If the gate is open check to see if any closure hours are in effect. It's a long walk back to town. Four wheel drive vehicles are recommended for beyond the gate when the road is open to vehicles. It is a Green Dot Road so there may be traffic in season. The road is closed to motorized vehicles from December 1 through May 1 for critical wildlife protection. A Discover Pass is required. Stats: 9.8 miles round trip with 1,000 feet of elevation gain. For additional visitor information/history on the MRO refer to their website below: Manastash Ridge Observatory Homepage . For photos click on the first set at Flickr: Karen Sykes