The Devil’s Pass (Columbia Hills)

Discussions and Trip Reports for off-trail adventures and rediscovering lost trails
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bobcat
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The Devil’s Pass (Columbia Hills)

Post by bobcat » April 20th, 2016, 3:12 pm

In 1869, Peter Nelson, a Danish trader, homesteaded near Horsethief Butte and later, with his Indian wife Elizabeth, purchased more acreage for his son-in-law, Peter Jensen, another Dane. Jensen set himself up as a dairyman to supply local homesteaders and The Dalles with fresh milk.

I decided to delve into this story a little more as well as follow an old Indian trail up through the rimrock to the hills above. Setting out east from the Crawford Oaks Trailhead, I first encountered the remains of an old wagon road across Eightmile Creek at the base of Horsethief Tableland. I searched in vain for Peter Nelson’s unmarked grave, which is supposed to be across the creek from the Jensen homestead site, but the area is now covered with blackberries. Peter Jensen’s spring house, where he piped in spring water to keep his milk stores cool, is still there. It was once the oldest standing building in Klickitat County, but a construction crew for SR 14 accidentally burned the roof off. Soon, I passed the grove of locust trees which was the site of the Jensen homestead.
Mt. Hood, Crawford Oaks Trailhead.jpg
Old wagon road, Columbia Hills S.P..jpg
Mt. Hood and Horsethief Butte.jpg
Jensen spring house, Columbia Hills S.P..jpg
On the slopes across, I took note of rock corrals constructed around 1880 by a crew of Indian women for Jensen’s milk cows. Then I took a jaunt along the Fort Dalles-Fort Walla Walla Military Road, built during the Yakima Wars (1856-1858), which led east under high basalt ramparts.
Peter Jensen corrals, Columbia Hills S.P..jpg
On the Walla Walla Military Road, Columbia Hills S.P..jpg
Military road, Columbia Hills S.P..jpg
From here on, I was in a land of myth. The area features in the lore of Native Americans, but before that it was the realm of ur-beings and spirits at a time when the above-world and the underworld traded, partied, and sometimes clashed violently. Much poetic license has been taken with the stories below – they exist only in fragments and much inference is needed to make sense of them.

First, I clambered about Walak’iklaami, the Bastion of Perdition, where Chilwitwapsux, Lord of the Underworld, posted minions to look over the Great River. Above were the high, sheer rock faces of Tnan K’shpali, with a dozen dark birds wheeling on the thermals, and there were spectacular views west to a certain butte and snow-capped peak.
Mt. Hood from the Bastion of Perdition, Columbia Hills S.P..jpg
Choke cherry (Prunus virginiana), Bastion of Perdition, Columbia Hills S.P..jpg
Bastion of Perdition, Columbia Hills S.P..jpg
On the Bastion of Perdition, Columbia Hills S.P..jpg
From Walak’iklaami, I returned to the military road and soon reached Waypxt Tmish, the Vein of Life, which in those times ran powerfully and pristinely throughout the year. Waypxt Tmish took me up under shady maples to Chuush Ttmayima, the Pool of Maidens, and Chiish Lalupaa, a two-tiered waterfall splashing down the rimrock.
Pool of Maidens, Columbia Hills S.P..jpg
Hellion Falls, Columbia Hills S.P..jpg
Here, the young women from Lord Xwixwi’s kingdom would bathe while guarded discreetly by a corps of soldiers, who kept their backs turned at all times. One day, a young warrior who was infatuated with one of the maidens turned to ogle. She saw his eager gaze and displayed herself to him but the soldier, taking one step forward, found himself turned into a column of silica-rich plagioclase basalt.

I looked up, and there was the poor warrior, Waachila Inaw, still gazing with soulful desire down on the Pool of Maidens.
Pillar of Sin, Columbia Hills S.P..jpg
Cut-leaf thelypody (Thelypodium laciniatum), Pillar of Sin, Columbia Hills S.P..jpg
Mt. Hood from the Pillar of Sin, Columbia Hills S.P..jpg
Then, a determination had to be made – east or west? For somehow, I had to negotiate the sheer rimrock cliffs to reach the Kingdom of Xwixwi and its further sights.

I decided to go west first. Stopping at the base of the cliff, I examined Tanawit Tl’uya, the former opening to the Underworld, now blocked to all entry.

In times of peace, spirits from below the ground fraternized freely with Xwixwi’s people, who on feast days would pass through the opening to experience the delights below. After the Great Apocalypse [date lost in time], the tunnel collapsed and beings were stranded on one side or the other with no further trafficking between the two realms [Note: except by those impervious to physical barriers].
Cavern of Shame, Minions' Gate, Columbia Hills S.P..jpg
From the tanawit, I looked up Watik’aas Mitash, a narrow passage hidden behind a tall slab of exfoliating basalt. I made my way up and came to a narrow cleft, about one foot wide, and had to take off my backpack to squeeze through and up in a little chimney move next to a basalt column at the top of the waterfall.
Minions' Gate, Columbia Hills S.P..jpg
Watik’aas Mitash was the way to Xwixwi’s Kingdom for all those who were not warriors or the military: tradesmen, ostlers, tinkers, milkmaids, tech geeks, and other minions. Soldiers at Walak’iklaami would issue passwords (both lower and upper case letters plus at least one number and symbol) which changed daily. Where the way became very narrow, the password was asked. If it could not be given, the hapless entrant, trapped in the narrow cleft, would be unceremoniously speared and the carcass tossed over the precipice into Chiish Lalupaa’s upper grotto. The ttmayima would abstain from bathing after such an incident.
Top of Minions' Gate, Columbia Hills S.P..jpg
Now above the waterfall, I decided to descend again, crossing burbling Waypxt Tmish, to find the principal grail for the day: Pshwa Chilwitwapsux, the Devil’s Pass. There, below me, was the sad sentinel of Waachila Inaw. The Devil’s Pass is much wider than that of the minions, and is concealed behind a much more massive screen of exfoliating rock, invisible to all but those who know its presence. I descended to inspect Tnannak’it Wanaytt, some small lush springs at the base of the cliffs, and a second filmy waterfall before returning to the small valley above the pass.
The Devil's Pass, Columbia Hills S.P..jpg
Handmaiden of Satan (Sceloporus occidentalis), Devil's Pass, Columbia Hills S.P..jpg
Entrance, Devil's Pass, Columbia Hills S.P..jpg
Lucifer's apple (Marah oreganus), Devil's Pass, Columbia Hills S.P..jpg
Narrow-leaf skullcap (Scutellaria angustifolia), Devil's Pass, Columbia Hills S.P..jpg
Devil's Pass and the Pillar of Sin, Columbia Hills S.P..jpg
I trudged up the valley, scattering a few deer, and reached the Pawaatla Waxpush, an altar of sacrifice ringed with the bones of large creatures now gone from the land. The altar stands above the Maw of Golgotha (Xwish Waxpush), where more bones (well, at least a couple) attested to the carnage of appeasement.
Sacrificial altar, Columbia Hills S.P..jpg
Maw of Golgotha, Columbia Hills S.P..jpg
Citizens of Xwixwi’s Kingdom lived in fear of Waxpush, a large serpent-like dragon, who issued from the cliffs and demanded sacrifice or he would lay waste to their land. They kept Waxpush under a modicum of control by slaughtering large ungulates at the altar, lacing the carcasses with fermented hackberries so that Waxpush maintained a generally congenial, if undisciplined, demeanor.
Cushion fleabane (Eriogeron poliospermus), Columbia Hills S.P..jpg

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bobcat
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Re: The Devil’s Pass (Columbia Hills)

Post by bobcat » April 20th, 2016, 3:17 pm

From here, I exited the dream world of Xwixwi, Waxpush, and Chilwitwapsux to find the recent trail system that forms a figure of eight around the old alfalfa fields. There was much visitation on that day, with whole families striding into the balsamroot brilliance to take selfies with iPads and spread picnic blankets in the grass.
Browns Island, Columbia Hills S.P..jpg
Ninemile Creek, Columbia Hills S.P..jpg
Yakima milkvetch (Astragalus reventiformis), Columbia Hills S.P..jpg
Farm buildings, Columbia Hills S.P..jpg
Coming below the ranch buildings, I cut across to the rusty old car. Many years ago, you had to climb two gates to get here and there was no beaten path. The rusting hulk has now become a regional celebrity, however, and the park has left the gates open for the convenience of all those budding photographers.
1937 Chevrolet Town Sedan, Columbia Hills S.P..jpg
I was done with the masses after this and struck off away from the crowds, enjoying the sunshine and the blooms on a more secluded route. At one point, a turkey hen stood up in front of me and waddled off silently. I almost stepped on the tom before he, also silently, made his way over the hill. And then I joined the trail system again for the last couple of hundred yards to the car.
Rusty front end (Model T - maybe), Columbia Hills S.P..jpg
Showy phlox (Phlox speciosa), Columbia Hills S.P..jpg
The old hulk and Rattlesnake Rim, Columbia Hills S.P..jpg
Nevada peavine (Lathyrus lanszwertii), Columbia Hills S.P..jpg
View to ranch buildings, Columbia Hills S.P..jpg
Tom turkey, Columbia Hills S.P..jpg
Cistern, Dalles Mt. Ranch, Columbia Hills S.P..jpg
View to Browns Island, Columbia Hills S.P..jpg
Meadow death camas (Toxicoscordion venenosum), Columbia Hills S.P..jpg
Camas (Camassia quamash), Columbia Hills S.P..jpg
View to Horsethief Butte, Columbia Hills S.P..jpg

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Don Nelsen
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Re: The Devil’s Pass (Columbia Hills)

Post by Don Nelsen » April 20th, 2016, 4:18 pm

Wonderful photos and an excellent history lesson. Thank you for such a well written TR!

dn
"Everything works in the planning stage".

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Guy
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Re: The Devil’s Pass (Columbia Hills)

Post by Guy » April 20th, 2016, 8:16 pm

Like Don said another wonderfully written report Bobcat.

Thanks!
hiking log & photos.
Ad monte summa aut mors

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woodswalker
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Re: The Devil’s Pass (Columbia Hills)

Post by woodswalker » April 21st, 2016, 7:06 am

I really liked this! I would love to hear where you found some of the historical info. Any references you would recommend.
Plus I loved seeing a native scullcap. :D
Thanks, Woodswalker

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miah66
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Re: The Devil’s Pass (Columbia Hills)

Post by miah66 » April 21st, 2016, 7:16 am

Most people go to Crawford Oaks & DMR to see the flowers, but you found an entire world. Wonderful report.
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northridge
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Re: The Devil’s Pass (Columbia Hills)

Post by northridge » April 21st, 2016, 6:22 pm

Let me join the chorus here by saying that was an excellent report...I really enjoyed the narrative and photos.

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bobcat
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Re: The Devil’s Pass (Columbia Hills)

Post by bobcat » April 22nd, 2016, 8:25 am

Thanks, everyone, for the kind comments . . .
woodswalker wrote:I would love to hear where you found some of the historical info.
Dalles Mountain Ranch: A Museum of Natural and Cultural Heritage of the East Gorge by Darlene Highsmith Bleakney.

The Bleakneys were the last owners of the ranch and Darlene wrote this I think in the late 1980s - part of their hope that the public would come to appreciate the nature and history of the place (I've obviously taken them up on that particular challenge). It's in a couple of libraries, so you should be able to get it on interlibrary loan.

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Charley
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Re: The Devil’s Pass (Columbia Hills)

Post by Charley » April 22nd, 2016, 12:39 pm

bobcat wrote:Thanks, everyone, for the kind comments . . .
woodswalker wrote:I would love to hear where you found some of the historical info.
Dalles Mountain Ranch: A Museum of Natural and Cultural Heritage of the East Gorge by Darlene Highsmith Bleakney.

The Bleakneys were the last owners of the ranch and Darlene wrote this I think in the late 1980s - part of their hope that the public would come to appreciate the nature and history of the place (I've obviously taken them up on that particular challenge). It's in a couple of libraries, so you should be able to get it on interlibrary loan.
Wow! I was wondering where you got all that info. I found it fascinating. I'm also in awe of your plant ID abilities. I've gone from recognizing a few plants to recognizing a bunch in the last year and a half. At that rate, I might be able to equal your knowledge in about 50 more years. :)

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miah66
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Re: The Devil’s Pass (Columbia Hills)

Post by miah66 » April 22nd, 2016, 12:47 pm

Just FYI, a friend on Facebook claims that the DMR car is actually a '37 Chevrolet. Here is picture of one with the 1937 Timberline Lodge

Image
"The top...is not the top" - Mile...Mile & a Half

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