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Dear Methow Gardener

A gardener rides the mountains

Indian paintbrush and fragrant white bog orchids were plentiful.

I escaped! For one glorious week I escaped the garden weeding and irrigation chores, not to mention the chickens and mules, to ride with my girlfriends up into the Pasayten Wilderness. A year should not go by without some such adventure. Life is too too short. But getting the place ready during the hot time is a challenge.

We rode into Horseshoe Basin. The Basin is northwest out of Loomis and sits on the east end of the Pasayten up hard against the Canadian border. It is high, wide and still open, even given the encroaching small trees due to the end of regular sheep grazing. Many of the old trees have succumbed to beetle and budworm infestations and stand as dead dry ghosts. Others were burned in the Tiffany-Tripod fire. It was good to see some white-bark pines are still alive.

The wildflowers continue to astound. It has been my belief that the wildflowers were benefited by the sheep grazing down competing grasses and sedges. By opening up the soil the sheep gave wildflower seeds a space, a niche to get started. Seeds falling on heavy vegetation cannot germinate. If grazing is heavy though, the ground, waterways, and vegetation can be harmed. The ideal is munch, step, munch, step. The key is to keep those grazers on the move. No more sheep up there though, that time in history is gone.

A not-so-common flower: bronze bells.

We enjoyed the carpets of lupine, screamingly bright bunches of paintbrush and the fragrant sweeps of white bog orchids. I found one new-to-me interesting flower, bronze bells, stenanthium occidentale. It is a lily found infrequently at mid to alpine elevations and in moist forests and openings in Canada. The bells are limey green with purplish edging. Very classy and reputedly poisonous. A singleton sat just off the trail maybe a half mile short of the border and had I not taken a bit of time off the Darwood mule I would have missed the slender bloom stalk entirely.

As wonderful as the flowers were, we really enjoyed our packers - Jess Darwood, Claude Miller pinch-hitting for Steve Darwood out on injuries and Gayle Brown. The horses and mules were terrific, the food healthy and delicious, but it was the first visit to the Basin for Jess and memory lane for Claude. Watching great men love our wilderness is a real pleasure. Joy is contagious and it went both directions in our group.

Claude shared stories of miners and rum runners. For such a seemingly desolate place it was once kinda busy. We searched out an old cabin, old roads, the border, and rode up to the base of Teapot Dome for lunch and rode within 50 feet of the summit of Windy Peak. Never found the old "Tin Lizzie". Claude's impeccable sense of direction kept us safe and sound even when "off roading".

Windy Peak dominated the view.

The mountaineers that hiked up Windy Peak could not believe we parked our mules and horses just short of the summit. Claude had never been up Windy Peak and we had a devil of a time getting him to head back to camp. Just like a big kid - he wanted to see over the next hill, and the next. Finally, when the trail hit the "Hard to Follow" section on the map we finally headed back to camp.

Horseshoe Basin is a great place to hike or ride for us not-so-young folk if we can stay warm at night. The shortest trail in is pretty easy, although the Iron Gate trailhead is too rough for trailers. The longer route in from Fourteen Mile was a great ride of mixed terrain. Hoary marmots were notably absent as in so many places in the Pasayten but we saw a few deer, hummers, one bald eagle, lots of camp robbers and the ubiquitous ground squirrels. Less wildlife than back in our own backyards.

Home is always nice after such an adventure but mostly for the warm flat bed and bug free living indoors. Sure missed Gayle's cooking in a hurry! A memory to treasure always.

Thanks for reading,