02-Jun-2001 -- This confluence lies south of Mabton, Washington on the broad south-sloping plateau known as the Horse Heaven Hills. The Horse Heavens are an eastward extension of the Cascade foothills, bounded on the north by a steep slope dropping to the floor of the Yakima Valley, and on the east and south by the Columbia River where it turns westward to form the boundary between Washington and Oregon.
From Mabton, the road starts south and rises sharply up into the hills towards Bickleton, a tiny farming and ranching town whose very existence was threatened a few summers ago by a huge forest and range fire that drew national news coverage. Alderdale road branches off to the south and my map shows it approaching to within about 3 miles of the confluence. Even though I circle the confluence on the county roads at distances ranging from 2.6 to 9 miles I cannot find any sideroads or trails that promise closer approach. Finally I return to the vicinity of my closest point of approach and stop at Ron Raschko's wheat ranch. Ron graciously listens to my story and gives directions to where I can best start my hike.
After parking, I begin the 2.1 mile walk to the confluence directly into a stiff southwesterly wind. The country is open and fairly flat, sloping gently to the south and carved by a few steep, rocky canyons. Most of the area is dryland wheat, with patches of undisturbed sage-steppe vegetation. Some of the more marginal wheat land has been idled under the Conservation Reserve Program (CRP) and replanted with native grasses to reduce soil erosion and provide wildlife habitat. However, only a mile or two east and south of my starting point are lush orchards and vineyards irrigated with water supplied by pumping stations 10 miles away on the Columbia.
Initially I follow a fenceline west with wheat on one side and CRP grassland on the other, crossing first a small ravine and then a larger one named Dead Canyon. There is no surface water in the canyons this time of year, but the bottoms show good growth of brushy species and giant wild rye grass, indicating water available in the subsoil. With about three quarters of a mile to go, I track off into a wheatfield and over a broad rise, cross one more canyon and arrive at the confluence spot (picture 1). About 70 miles to the east the Blue Mountains are low on the horizon. Low the south near the Columbia River (picture 2) is Canoe Ridge, location of vineyards producing some of the world's best red wines. Near there is a huge new winery owned by Stimson-Lane, parent company of Chateau Ste Michelle. To the west and north (picture 3) the land slopes up and on to the horizon. The elevation is 1516 feet (picture 4).
I begin my march back. Like much of the American west, the land is vast and intimidating, yet full of surprises and great beauty. Crossing the first canyon, I discovered one of those beauties, the incomparable Mariposa Lilly (picture 5). Though the dry spring and 100 degree temperatures a week ago have finished off nearly all the other wildflowers, this jewel is making it’s appearance right on schedule. Dozens of specimens are to be found in the undisturbed soils of the canyons (picture 6).