Winter hiking in SE Washington is limited to say the least. We are fortunate to have a few low elevation opportunities that are typically snow free. One such location is the Wenaha River which flows into the Grande Ronde River at the tiny town of Troy, Oregon. This is a remote and wildlife rich area offering great solitude and canyon views.
Jason and I hiked up the Wenaha River on an exceptionally mild January day. Our guest for the day was Michelle, a student employee of mine at Washington State University who has also become a dear friend. If I had a daughter, I like to think that she would be just like Michelle.
I had two simple goals for the day: see some wildlife and hike comfortably in short sleeves.
Goal number one was achieved almost immediately. Just a few feet into the hike, we stirred up a couple deer just off the trail. At two miles in, I spotted two bighorn sheep far up on the hillside.
By about three miles into the hike, goal number two was achieved. Temperatures were warm enough that I was able to strip to short sleeves. The sun felt fantastic. It was the perfect winter hiking day… and it was about to get even better.
Just shy of the five mile mark, I rounded a bend in the trail and spotted two bighorn rams straight ahead on the cliffs.
As I quickly began shooting photos of the two magnificent rams, Jason and Michelle spotted a group of three ewes sunning themselves a short ways up the river canyon.
Bighorn sheep are a real thrill to see in the wild. Typically they are found high on cliff walls where they escape the clutches of their primary predator the mountain lion. Perched high on their fortress walls, they exude confidence. As I’ve seen many other times, these two rams came out from behind the rocks and stood there as if posing for the silly photographer down on the trail.
Just as I was putting my tripod away, the larger of the two rams came down the cliffs toward us, perched himself atop an outcropping and stared straight down at us. Even Michelle noted, “he looks like he is posing for you!”
We had a beautiful hike back in full afternoon sun. It really was remarkable how beautiful the weather was for January. The sun and blue skies sure were a cure for the wintertime blues.
beautifully rugged Wenaha River canyon
Our wildlife viewing did not end upon our return to the trailhead. On the drive along the Grande Ronde River between Troy, Oregon and the bottom of Rattlesnake Grade, we spotted a large flock of turkey, a bald eagle, and roughly 75 deer. We ended the day by taking Michelle to Effie’s in Lewiston where the three of us split one of their burgers. Life is good.