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Boulder Creek Trail near Salmon La Sac.

For me, there’s nothing better than taking a trip into the mountains. Living in the beautiful state of Washington allows that opportunity in spades. We have two fantastic, major mountain ranges: the Cascades and the Olympics; plus we have some smaller ones to boot. Having grown up in Yakima, Washington, near the Cascades, or at least near their foothills, the Cascades are my favorite mountains.

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There is a beautiful area in the Cascades which lies above the town of Roslyn, the little hamlet made famous by the TV show, Northern Exposure. The area is called Salmon La Sac. In French, it means the Salmon bag. Hmmm. — Interesting to think that French explorers or settlers were once in the area….

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Sally Jo on Boulder Creek.

Sally Jo, my late wife, was a schoolteacher. One year, she had a student teacher assigned to her, whose name was Jackie Cooper. Jackie and Sally Jo got on really well. Sally Jo helped get Jackie’s career off to a good start. Jackie is an accomplished teacher now, with many years of teaching under her belt. But back when this story took place, Jackie’s career was just getting underway. As a way of thanking Sally Jo for her help, Jackie offered us the occasional use of her family’s little A-frame cabin, which was located up in Salmon La Sac.

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Sally Jo relaxing on the porch of Jackie Cooper’s A-frame.

The cabin was situated right next to a creek, and nestled among beautiful native pines, Doug firs and hemlocks. The trees were so awesome. They were more than beautiful. They served as a windbreak for the cabin, which was built on a hill. They offered a home to the birds, squirrels and insects. – The trees pretty much made the place what it was. I felt very protected and safe among those giants of the Cascades.

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Boulder Creek.

One mid-summer weekend, when Jackie’s family didn’t need it, Sally Jo and I were using the A-Frame. We were so glad to be back in what had become our favorite vacation spot. We were all set to enjoy a quiet, secluded weekend. When we stayed up there, we were the only ones present. We could skinny-dip in the little creek next to the cabin. We could play our acoustic guitars and sing as loudly as we wanted, knowing that, excepting for us, the place was deserted. For such an attractive place, it was very short on visitors.

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On the Boulder Creek Trail.

There was a fine hiking trail located right by the cabin. On one particular day, we decided to take the hike. So, slipping on our trusty boots, equipped with the ten essentials, we went hiking on the Boulder Creek Trail, which started right behind Jackie’s cabin. We’d been hiking for about three-quarters of a mile, enjoying the solitude and the quiet, when we suddenly encountered a couple of young people who appeared to be somewhere around college age. SJ and I were hovering around 40, so we weren’t ancient; but we were probably twice the age of these folks, who were descending the trail, as we were ascending.

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Boulder Creek Trail; one of the coolest trees I ever saw on a hike.

We never before saw anyone on the Boulder Creek Trail. It was almost like the cabin’s private hiking trail. And a fine one it was. It slowly gained elevation, it had varied scenery and terrain – it was a nice little hike. There was a rockslide made of soapstone, a large sandstone face, and a talus slope where little pikas lived (they’re sort of like a chinchilla, although, luckily for them, no one wants their coats – they’re pretty small). They’re very shy creatures. If you see them, then congratulations: you must be a quiet hiker!

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Gopher Snake.

I remember the time I found the most beautiful, nearly tame snake on the trail. Thinking back very hard, I recall it was a Pacific gopher snake. — I had to work at remembering that. Because, I haven’t hiked nearly at all in the last 17 years. Sally Jo is gone, and I don’t drive a car, because I don’t see so well any more….

hikers

These two young folks — a young man and woman — stopped and said hello to us. They seemed friendly and mellow. Like us, they were out enjoying a beautiful day on the trail. Sally Jo said to the pair, “Gosh, we never see anyone on this hike. We’re staying at our friend Jackie’s cabin”. They said, “Oh, yeah, the Cooper cabin. The one we’re staying in is right across the creek from you. We’re with a bunch of our friends. We’ve come here from WSU, to enjoy the weekend. – Hope we don’t get too noisy for you. We’re gonna have a campfire tonight, and we’ll probably sing some songs and drink a little beer.” We told them not to worry. We’d be fine. With that, we four went our separate ways – Sally Jo and I went up the trail, while they went down, on their way back to their cabin.

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Foxglove, seen from the Boulder Creek Trail.

Sally Jo and I had a really good hike. Hiking can wear you out, but it can also refresh and revive you. Our trips to the Cooper cabin always left us feeling renewed, invigorated, and above all blessed. Blessed for the opportunity to have some time in the mountains and woods, nesting in the little A-frame next to Boulder Creek. And, we always made sure to enjoy at least one hike during our stay.

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Calypso Orchid.

We looked forward to seeing some birds, perhaps blue jays. Or squirrels, or of course, another snake. Also, I had previously found some tiny Calypso orchids on that hike – the only ones I had ever found; so I hoped to see more. — Six years earlier, I had seen their photo in an Audubon wildflower book. I had heard that they were fairly rare. And I guess they were. Because SJ and I hiked all over the state, and the Salmon La Sac area was the location where I found the beautiful, fragrant Calypso. If you put your nose up next to the tiny orchid, it smells like a fruit salad! I love them.

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After our refreshing, picturesque hike, we returned to the trailhead, and on to Jackie’s cabin, where we extricated ourselves from our dusty hiking boots, and relaxed by playing our guitars on the front porch, and doing a little folk-singing. After a few minutes, the two young people we had met on the trail jumped across the creek and approached us. They introduced themselves as Smitty and Jill. Jill said, “Gosh, we could hear you singing and playing. Would you please come over for the campfire tonight and lead everyone in some songs?” Well, that was, as is said, music to our ears. Sally Jo and I had our own folk duo, Spirit Ridge, for 10 years. There was nothing we’d rather do than sing for and with people. So we said we’d be glad to. Smitty said, “Well, as soon as it starts to get dark, we’ll get the fire going. Why don’t you come over then, and we’ll sing a bunch of songs. We’ll have some kegs of good beer.” We had to let them know that we didn’t drink; but Sally Jo said, “I’d take a puff off a pipe, if one happened to come my way”. Smitty grinned, and said, “You know what, I’m sure that’s going to happen.”

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Yakima, Washington.

Sally Jo then changed the subject, mentioning that, although she hadn’t attended WSU, she had taught school in Yakima. And I was from Yakima – raised and schooled there. Jill said, “Great! Half the kids coming tonight are from Yakima. We’ll see you at dusk!”

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The fabulous wood-fired cookstove in the cabin. Your left: author, with his old friend, Jerry O’Connor, a professional chef who had a ball cooking on the old stove.

Sally Jo and I had brought our big songbook with us on our trip. We always took it with us. You’d be surprised how many times, while traveling for pleasure, we’d be asked to give an impromptu concert. So, after making dinner on the cabin’s amazing, huge, wood-burning kitchen stove, and dining al fresco on the cabin’s little porch, out in the mountain air, we went through the songbook and picked out some of our best sing-along numbers, writing down a list. After cleaning up our dinner dishes and relaxing for a few more minutes, we crossed over the bubbling, rambling Boulder Creek, to have some fun with our new young friends.

campfire

Jill and Smitty introduced us around, telling everyone that they were in for a treat. We were a real folk duo, and we were going to lead them all in a good, old-fashioned fireside sing. Well, we played a bunch of music. And, Sally Jo, the school teacher, smoked some weed. She was getting high, getting goofy. That was always fun for me to see. She hadn’t partaken for most of the time I’d known her. She’d only relaxed her standards in recent years, coincidentally or not, after the Grateful Dead lost their leader, Jerry Garcia. — I had given up all kinds of get-highs, whether alcohol or funny tobacco; but when this burley, long-haired, bearded fellow offered me a hit off his joint, with a sincere look of kindness in his eyes, I just couldn’t say no. I took one hit, and waited for it to take effect. Because I never did need much. Especially after abstaining for a couple of years. Yep, about the time I quit, was when Sally Jo started!

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My young benefactor introduced himself. “I’m Griff”, he said. “I’m staying the night. We’re gonna have a really good time. I love being in the mountains at night. I sleep extra well. But right now, it’s time to party!” I handed his joint back to him, he took a huge hit, and blew a cloud of smoke back in my direction, laughing and coughing at the same time. And Sally Jo and I just kept pulling songs out of our “bag”, inviting the kids to sing along, and once in a while, inviting them to listen, while we did one of our originals, or a tune which they didn’t know.

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Of course, they started requesting Beatle songs. I haven’t met a young person yet, who doesn’t start requesting Beatle songs when I’m playing somewhere. Even if they claim to be punks, or Goths, or strictly hip-hop fans, after enjoying some alcohol or a little weed, they revert back to the days when they were little, and their Moms and Dads were playing their favorite Beatles tunes for them. I mean, how many generations have grown up on Beatles songs? Three? Four?

Well, after a couple of hours, the fire was beginning to die down. It was getting a little late, a little chilly (it does that at night in the mountains, even in the summer), and the party started to wind down a little. But just a little. We were still leading the sing-along, people were still working on draining the kegs; weed was still being smoked. We were all making plenty of noise, because our group was the only one in the area. — But I noticed when Griff got off of the old craggy log he’d been sitting on, and proceeded to make the rounds to say goodnight to everyone. – He obviously knew the whole bunch; and I could tell he was well-liked. He was big, but gentle, and obviously kind. He went around to people saying, “Well, I just want to say goodnight, because I’m going to bed now. I’m gonna go turn in.” He’d walk up to another group, and say, “OK, I’m gonna go. I’m gonna hit the hay. But I’ll see you in the morning, OK? See you then”. When we were between songs, Griff approached SJ and me, and wished us a fine evening. “I’m gonna get some serious shuteye now. I’m gonna go turn in. It’s time for some peace and quiet. Thanks for all the good music. If I don’t see you in the morning, well, thanks again, and good night”.

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Would you try to sleep on those roots? Maybe between them….

I expected Griff to turn and walk into the cabin, where I assumed he was staying. I figured the cabin either belonged to his family, or at least, he was invited to bunk down in it. It was a good three times bigger than the Cooper’s A-frame, which could sleep six, as long as no one needed too much privacy. I figured “his” cabin could hold 15-20 folks.

But Griff didn’t turn and walk into the cabin. Instead, he walked about 2 feet away from our noisy crowd, to where a large, old hemlock was reaching up out of the ground. He took his coat off, threw it on top of the tree roots, flopped down right there, stretched out, and was out like a light. Getting some serious shut-eye!

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Bonus Coverage:

Unique, rare or extra-special things we’ve encountered in the Salmon LaSac area while hiking include a rubber boa. This was the coolest snake I ever saw in my life – it was playing dead in the middle of the trail. I actually thought it was a dead night crawler worm, until a little tiny pink tongue shot out of its head, and it very slowly slithered off the trail. Other fabulous things we’ve seen: a lizard which detached its tail when I picked it up (the tail writhed wildly; I set in on the picnic table for Sally Jo to see, to insure that she was totally disgusted by it). Over the years, we spied a total of three gopher snakes, a solitary bull elk, a deer, a porcupine (it’s one thing to see porcupine on rural roads; but to see one in the forest seems rare. That was our one and only!) We saw an adult bald eagle which put on quite an aerial show for us, a Rufus hummingbird, and to quote Sally Jo, “little sweet birds of all kinds”.

Rare or exceptionally beautiful wildflowers we’ve seen in addition to the Calypso Lily include Shooting Star, Skyrocket, Pipsisewa, Wintergreen, Avalanche and Glacier Lilies, Anemone, Bog Orchid, Columbia Tiger Lily, Trillium, Bluebells, Red and Yellow Indian Paintbrush, Elephant Head and Birdshead Lousewort, Queens Cup, Nootka Rose, Wax Current, Purple Fleabane, Oregon Grape, Bistort, Foxglove, Phlox, Yellow Violets and Heather. Tasty blueberries also grow in the area, as do wild strawberries, salmonberries, thimbleberries, and salal (which makes a nice jelly).

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The hike affords views of the Boulder Gorge, and snow-capped mountain peaks. We once saw bobcat tracks in the snow, which is historically late in melting on the Boulder Creek trail. We’ve often been stopped by impassable snow. We rarely made it all the way to the end of the trail, due to that pesky snow staying around for so long. We could have tried a little harder to traverse it, but it is much better to be safe than sorry. Sometimes, you will see a snow bridge, think it’s safe to cross, and not realize how fragile it is. Sometimes an area will be covered with snow; but there is actually only a thin crust of snow on the ground; underneath it could lie a big hollow space you could fall into! And sometime there are large boulders to fall onto. I’ve almost done it, so I’ve learned to be more prudent when encountering snow. On one early-April hike, I actually saw an icesickle-studded river. It was beautiful.

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