Easter at Umtanum

We spent our Easter weekend like most people probably do – risking our lives on the road and then our cholesterol levels at the table.

DSC_0486 (This picture, while not a great shot, does show a few of the issues I’ll discuss – a tight switchback and a sheer drop)

While heading out to Eastern Washington to visit with the Mountain Man’s family, we decided to stop and take a little hike in the mountains. It was nice out, and we were near Umtanum Ridge.

We drove up Durr road, also known as Jacob Durr Wagon Road. I find the word “Road” a bit generous. It was built in the 1880s as the cut through the mountains, and the only improvement the road has seen since then is a sign we passed saying “WARNING: PRIMITIVE ROAD”.

It was an adventure, and now I wish I had taken more pictures of the road as we drove it, but I was clenching my fists and frantically trying to keep the Pie from hollering and distracting the Mountain Man while simultaneously warning the Mountain Man against tipping the truck over the drop off (which the road is immediately on) or hitting that giant rock on the road, to which he repeatedly replied “which one?”

There were a couple of terrifying switch-backs on the trail, conveniently located at places with a sheer drop of 200’-300’ – which is estimated by my bulging-eyed and locked-jaw peek over the edge. The switch back was of course so tight that we had to stop the truck mid-turn, crank the wheel, and pray. My Easter miracle? 4WD and a Mountain Man who knows these roads.

Apparently when the road was just a wagon trail, it was tolled and there were wooden turntables constructed on the switchbacks because they were too sharp to be navigable. Aside from the turntables, I would argue that the toll was highway robbery.

Once the road calmed a bit, I grabbed the camera to shoot the creek crossing the road. It was surprisingly low considering the snow had just recently melted off the hills.DSC_0487 

Finally we got to the top, and the Mountain Man convinced me that the way back down was easier, and he was 95% sure the road still went through to town.


From the top you can see the road, and it looks smooth and rolling.

I took a picture of the mountains from where we parked (I think this one is Mt. Stewart)DSC_0495 (And for reference, the cross-beam you can see just over the hood of the truck is the makeshift parking lot. Of course the Mountain Man drove past it, to get away from the crowds. (There was one car there.)

We changed the Pie’s diaper and let her air out a little in the warm, dry desert air.


Then we started off on our hike. It was quiet and calm and pretty. We were enjoying it. DSC_0521 We could just barely see big trucks reflecting sunlight on the freeway in the valley. We saw Mt. Adams in the distance and enjoyed the spring sunshine. We saw just a few signs of spring in the budding flowers. Spring is coming late this year.



DSC_0524 (This one is bitterroot, which was one of the early-spring foods for the natives living in the desert.)

And then, I saw a little glimmer of while on the ground… I picked it up. I was excited, but not quite sure if it was what I thought it was, so I asked the Mountain Man to identify this tiny rock chip I had found. “Oh yeah” he said, “petrified wood” and kept walking. Upon hearing this exciting news, I immediately stooped over and kept my eyes to the ground the rest of the hike. 

I collected and collected, trying to keep an eye on which way the Mountain Man was heading through the trail-less ridges. We found one little patch that was a wood-turned-stone goldmine. My hamstrings hurt this morning from hiking stooped over.


A little history will help you to understand my obsession. When I was a kid, I liked to collect rocks & pebbles I found. In first grade, my mom got so sick of fishing tiny pebbles out of the bottom of her washing machine that she told my teacher I was no longer allowed to bring rocks in from the playground. My teacher, to my utter humiliation, checked my pockets on the way back into the classroom every day and made me dump my treasures.

Not to be fooled by those party-pooping nincompoops, I began collecting my little treasure pebbles in my socks. I would gather my favorites from the playground, and then sit down to “tie my shoes” or “scratch my leg” or something of the sort, and sneak those little rocks into my socks. The plan was that they would populate the space around my ankles, but of course one always managed to slide under my foot causing excruciating pain with each step.

And then in college I studied archaeology – more rocks.

Back to the hike. I found a few more pieces, stuffing them in my jacket pockets. And then… the Mountain Man called me. I scanned the ground, picking up a few more pieces as I headed his way.

There, in the ground, was this:DSC_0534 

This used to be a tree!

I fell in love the the Mountain Man all over again. He found me a huge piece, and he let me come find it & pick it up. It was like our first date and the day we fell in love and our wedding day and the day we gave birth to the Pie all wrapped into one.

Ok, not quite.

But it was great. I reminded the Mountain Man how much I love it when he brings me rocks home from his hikes. I have a little collection of pieces he’s brought me. They sit on top of our wedding box.

By close to the end of the hike, my jacket was feeling kind of heavy.DSC_0544


We headed back to the truck to start back down the road. On the way I found some more. I looked up and the Mountain Man and the Pie had given up waiting for me, and had plopped down up the trail to take a break.



The Pie liked airing out her tongue in the dry desert.

We got back to the truck and I had to make a backwoods potty stop before getting back on the “road”, so I left the Mountain Man in charge of the Pie.

DSC_0563 Good news is, he got her out of the sun. And also she was uphill from the truck. Safety second.

The road back did go through, and was easier. We celebrated Easter with family and food. I gave everyone some pieces of my find. They weren’t as exited as I was about it. We drove back home through the snowy pass.

I got home and finally had some space to play with my new toys.

DSC_0724 DSC_0726 DSC_0732 DSC_0737

I guess some rough roads are worth traveling.


  1. Welcome home, Megan!

    Cool rocks and petrified wood you found. You could glue a bunch of the smaller ones all around the edge of an unfinished wood picture frame (like from Michael's) and then put a photo of Pie on this trip in the frame. (maybe not the picture of her under the car though?)

    I hate hate hate driving on scary mountain roads. You are a brave woman.


  2. oh trust me, MOV, there was little bravery involved. did you miss the part about my convulsing, clutching the dash and shouting at the Mountain Man to stay on the "road"??

    But, being a rock nerd, I now count the trip as "worth it"!

  3. also, that's what we call 'redneck babyproofing' - just making sure the baby is uphill.


Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...