Interrupting coyote family time, and some local geneaology
I barged in on a family of coyotes the other day. I had to grin at the sight of the four pups, scampering away in their clumsy but endearingly cute gait.
I was reminded, except for the fur and the speed, of a toddler wobbling across a lawn.
I have had some experience of coyotes — all of a non-lethal sort — but this was the first time I’ve seen so many young together.
I saw only one adult. Being ignorant of the typical behavior of coyote parents I don’t know whether both raise their offspring or whether the mother is solely responsible.
In any case the dad might have been around too. But the sagebrush was pretty tall and thick, and the coyotes, as I think I mentioned, scurried off with some alacrity.
The site was on the north slope of Bald Mountain.
Specifically, the Bald Mountain that caps the divide between the Powder and Burnt river valleys, a few miles west of Dooley Mountain.
(Bald Mountains are rather common on the landscape, so it’s best to be specific.)
If you’ve driven south on Highway 7 through Bowen Valley, on a day without fog or heavy snow, you’ve seen this Bald Mountain. It’s the vaguely pyramidal peak that dominates the southern horizon. Its upper 500 feet or so, as befits the name, is generally bare of trees.
I had started by driving the Denny Creek Road and then taking the spur that goes up through Hervey Gulch. I parked on the ridge between the gulch and Rancheria Creek and then hiked up the road that intersects with the Skyline Road not far below Bald Mountain’s summit.
I try to get to the top every year or so.
Although the peak’s elevation, 6,683 feet, is middling by the standards of the Elkhorns and Wallowas, it stands far enough from those ranges that the view is among the more panoramic in Baker County, ranging well into Idaho and as far as Strawberry Mountain to the southwest.
My main goal on this particular day, June 11, was to see how much snow was left, and whether a person could get through to Dooley, in a rig, on the Skyline Road.
The answer is an unequivocal “no.”
From the summit you can see a half-mile or so stretch of that road, where it runs just below the spine of the divide.
The key point is that the road lies on the north side. This geographic fact has two noteworthy effects.
First, because the prevailing winter wind blows from the southeast, snow tends to accumulate on the lee, in this case north, slope.
Second, the north slope, as is the case in the Northern Hemisphere, gets considerably less direct sunlight than southern exposures, with the result that the snow, besides being deeper, is slower to melt.
2011 has been a prime example of this phenomenon. This spring has been the coolest since World War II.
From Bald Mountain’s summit I could see three snow drifts that blocked the Skyline Road. And these weren’t diminutive drifts, the kind a determined driver could shovel a path through in 15 minutes.
I’d guess it might be the last week of June before the snow has receded enough to make the road passable.
Which would put the opening at least a couple weeks later than is typical.
But it’s been a peculiar weather year, as I said.
My hike lasted just a couple of hours but the atmosphere went through all manner of permutations in that brief period. At first I first basked in balmy sunshine that prompted me to roll up my shirtsleeves. Then, just after I came upon the coyotes, I endured, in succession, rain, hail, lightning, thunder, hail again, and, as though to complete the meteorological circle, more rain.
A lot more rain.
When I got back to the car the road’s ruts had turned into a pair of parallel streams, each with sufficient flow to float a small vessel — the souvenir canoe that Stuart Little had so much trouble with, for instance.
The squall had also fouled the road’s surface with a glutinous sheen of mud that felt as though it had all the friction of an ice cube.
I was glad we decided a couple years ago to replace our pathetic stock tires with a set of knobby mudders.
Fortunately the forest mud around here is nothing like as nasty as the gumbo that predominates in the sagelands.
The difference, so far as I can tell, is that the desert soil is gravelly, which makes it both thicker and stickier.
To put it in culinary terms — helpful, I think, since few of us have degrees in soil science but we all eat — forest mud is rather like a watery gruel, and the desert mud a hearty stew.
I was lucky, too, in that it rained the whole way home, which included a dozen or so miles on the highway.
By the time I pulled into my driveway the car’s flanks were speckled rather than slathered with mud. The fender wells looked as though they’d just been hosed out.
This is altogether different from what’s happened when I’ve taken an early spring drive in, say, Virtue Flat, or down around Malheur Reservoir.
When I arrived home from those excursions I was briefly perplexed by how, exactly, I was supposed to dislodge the crud accreted to the undercarriage. It was reminiscent, in the thoroughness of its coverage, of an attic into which workers have sprayed fiberglass insulation.
I went at the muck first with the high-pressure hose at the car wash, but that had about the same effect as if I’d used my fingernail to etch my initials into a block of granite.
What I really needed was one of those huge nozzles the hydraulic miners used before they was such an entity as the Environmental Protection Agency — the kind that looked like a howitzer from World War I and could erode a good-sized hillock in an afternoon.
Eventually I learned to bring a child’s shovel. The blade was stout enough to hack away the mud, and the handle short enough that I could maneuver the thing into tight quarters.
It’s tedious work, though, and messy besides.
I much prefer a cleaner conclusion to an afternoon’s trip in the wilds.
And all the better when you get to meet some coyotes along the way.
Phyllis Badgley is a font of information about Baker City history.
She’s also one of the nicer people I’ve ever been fortunate enough to meet.
Phyllis, who graduated from Baker High School in 1942, sent me an email (unlike some of her contemporaries, Phyllis has no great fear of computers) alerting me to a family whose educational lineage dates back five generations.
Here’s what Phyllis wrote:
“Baker Schools throughout the years have offered quality education to thousands of students.
“It has come to my attention that 5 generations from the same family have graduated Baker High.
“The first graduating class to have completed 4-year study in the (new) gray stone building on Washington street was 1921.” (Phyllis is referring to what’s known today as the Central Building; most recently part of the Baker Middle School campus, it was closed a few years ago.”
Crystal Stouder (Cook) graduated in that class. 1921.
Her daughter, Carleen (Cook) Griffith graduated BHS 1948.
Son, Larry Griffith, graduated BHS 1967.
Margaret (Griffith) McDohnough graduated BHS 1991.
Helen Galiszewski. Graduated in current BHS class 2011.
Another item of interest is that Jeanette (Holloway) Jampolsky graduated BHS as Valedictorian in 1946. Sixty-five years later, her granddaughter, Ellen Jampolsky, gained honors as valedictorian of this year’s 2011 BHS graduating class.”
This lesson in genealogy is hardly unique, of course.
I suspect that most small towns in America have families with similar legacies — probably there are others right here in Baker.
Still, I appreciate Phyllis letting me know about one of our local examples.
Jayson Jacoby is editor of the Baker City Herald.