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

1 comment:

sealboy said...

Another way to get there is to take the Westberg Trail up to the top of the ridge and then traverse across to the observatory. More altitude gain though.