The John Wayne Pioneer Trail follows the former roadbed of the Chicago-Milwaukee-St. Paul-Pacific Railroad two-thirds of the way across Washington, from the western slopes of the Cascade Mountains to the border with Idaho. ...

[from Washington State Parks]


Hike of the Week: A jewel in the desert

By Karen Sykes

Special to the Seattle Post-Intelligencer

February 21, 2002

Tired of snow? Explore Lower Crab Creek in the Columbia Basin.

You'll need an early start to visit Lower Crab Creek, but it's not as far away as it sounds. Pick a day when it's not snowing at Snoqualmie Pass and enjoy the scenic drive. From Vantage on the Columbia River it's only seven miles to Crab Creek and one of the best winter hikes we've done. You can leave your snowshoes behind, too.

If you want to carry more weight to make up for the lack of elevation gain, carry two cameras. Or stuff your pack with field guides. True, it's still too early for wild flowers, but it is scenic any time of the year.

In winter the beauty is fragile yet stubborn. At first glance, the landscape appears lifeless, but spend some time and you'll find nature hard at work, perfecting her masterpiece. The will to live is artistically displayed in the gold and silver of seedpods, and poems of lichen are written on ancient stone.

Welcome to February in Eastern Washington.

Crab Creek runs through a long valley created by prehistoric floods and glaciers. The creek flows through an awesome blend of shrub-steppe desert, farmlands, sand dunes and basalt cliffs. Prairie falcons, goldeneyes and red-tailed hawks nest in the cliffs. Geese and diving ducks nest along the creek. Badgers and coyotes call this home.

The 143-mile-long Milwaukee Road Corridor Trail follows Crab Creek and flows into the Columbia River at Beverly, the western access. The trail passes through several geographic zones -- the section we explored is composed of creek marshes, a 16-mile stretch between Beverly and Smyrna (a rail station stop that no longer exists).

The Lower Crab Creek Wildlife Area is a hop, skip and a jump from the small community of Beverly. The paved Beverly-Crab Creek Road soon becomes gravel, but you won't notice -- you'll be admiring the Saddle Mountains looming above on the right. On the left is Crab Creek and the Milwaukee Road Corridor Trail. Scattered throughout the area are small lakes, wetlands and minimountain ranges with pinnacles, columns and turrets. At first glance the Saddle Mountains resemble a loaf of gingerbread dusted with powdered sugar, but look again for the striations in the land form and imagine looking down on the Missoula floods which occurred here long, long ago.

About two miles down the road, we passed Beverly Dunes (an ORV recreational area). Several ponds are passed and at about 9 miles we passed an old building on the left that is about to collapse. At 9.2 miles we parked on the right across from a jeep road. We hiked the road a few yards to intersect the railroad grade. From the railroad grade you can hike either direction.

We turned left (west) and crossed Crab Creek on a sturdy bridge. Mileages don't matter here. This is a great winter walk as motorized vehicles are not allowed on the railroad grade.

Crab Creek (the longest creek in the United States) follows the line of the old railroad right-of-way. Most hikers will want to stick with the railroad grade, but experienced hikers can leave it and explore off-trail (be careful not to disturb plants or wildlife). If you bump into private property signs be sure to respect them. You also will need a state Department of Fish and Wildlife access stewardship permit decal.

Naturalists and photographers will find much of interest here. The creek is framed by cattails and rushes, and the twitter of birds. You will see Russian olive trees, sage, and in February the brittle skeletons of last year's flowers.

New flowers are just beginning to nudge up through the soil, but are still far from blooming. Little rocky promontories stick up here and there, splashed with lichen and moss.

This is a huge and lonesome place. Look for badger holes, coyote bones, reptiles, birds and wildlife.

The Web trail

Getaways' hikes of the week are cataloged at "Take a Hike."

Getting there

Take Interstate 90 to Vantage, cross the Columbia River and immediately take the exit to state Route 26/state Route 243 (Exit 137). Turn right and in less than a mile turn right onto Route 243. Continue 7.4 miles, pass under a railroad trestle and turn left onto Beverly/Crab Creek Road, elevation about 500 feet. Drive 9.2 miles, look for a jeep track on the left and park.

TRAIL DATA: Mileage is up to you; no appreciable elevation gain.

INFORMATION: For more information refer to "Washington's Rail-Trails" by Fred Wert (The Mountaineers, 191 pages $14.95) and "Washington Nature Weekends" by Sunny Walter and Janet O'Mara (Falcon Guide, 271 pages, $16.95). For information on obtaining a Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife access stewardship decal:

Karen Sykes is a Queen Anne resident and avid hiker who has been traveling Northwest trails for 20 years.    Copyright 2002 Seattle PI

Hiker Alan Bauer zeroes his camera in on some of the native flora along Lower Crab Creek in the stark yet beautiful Columbia Basin. Karen Sykes, Seattle PI

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