EX­PLOR­ING Naches, Wash­ing­ton

4WDrive - - Contents - Story by Bryan Irons - @bryanirons Pho­tos by Bryan Irons, Derek Mont­gomery and Tyler Jones

The late Yogi Berra was likely talk­ing about a botched MLB game when he de­liv­ered this quote to the world, but it per­fectly il­lus­trates the tribu­la­tions we en­dured on our first trip to Naches, Wash­ing­ton, and we wouldn’t have it any other way.

“We made too many wrong mis­takes” -Yogi Berra

We wanted a lit­tle ad­ven­ture, and de­cided to cross the boarder to the Pa­cific Northwest’s wheel­ing mecca, be­fore sum­mer ran out — three days, four guys, two Jeeps, one race car, a bor­rowed mo­torhome, and no clue. The “crack of noon” start had us con­tribut­ing to a series of traf­fic jams as we at­tempted to leave our piece of par­adise, the Okana­gan Valley. Af­ter all, why suf­fer in 35°C heat at home, when you can have 45°C with a hor­ri­ble ex­change rate?

Yours truly was pi­lot­ing the 28' gas­fired mo­tor home we had bor­rowed in good faith from the parental units. Suck­ers. Head­ing down the high­way, haul­ing a 6000 lb parachute be­hind us known as “Stinky Jeep and trailer” re­quired a lead foot and the abil­ity to with­stand the core-of-the-earth hot en­gine block. We were barely able to pass on­com­ing traf­fic, let alone any­thing in our lane, and with such abysmal fuel econ­omy, we thought about un­load­ing the Jeep and us­ing it tow the mo­torhome… now who’s the sucker?

Af­ter toil­ing through the wind­ing canyon roads out­side of Yakima, WA, and fill­ing up on all the greasy diner food our guts could han­dle, the climb from the Naches river basin to the plateaus and off-road play­grounds above were all that stood be­tween us and a good night’s sleep. We just needed to fill up the wa­ter tank and head into the hills. Judg­ing by the lush green lawns and multiple car washes, you’d think this would be an easy propo­si­tion. The word “wa­ter” ob­vi­ously didn’t trans­late to the lo­cals as we even tried to barter our liv­ers (let's face it, we were just go­ing to abuse them) for some qual­ity H2O. No deal, but no big deal, how bad could four guys smell af­ter a sum­mer weekend in the woods?

It was late at night when we fi­nally made the half kilo­me­tre change in al­ti­tude from the river basin up into the plateaus, and the dark­ness elim­i­nated our abil­ity to ap­pre­ci­ate the land­scape. Dusty dirt roads clung to steep nar­row ledges as the pu­trid scent of re­gur­gi­tated trans­mis­sion fluid from the mo­torhome hung in the air like a bad fart in a hot sauna. “Let’s not break any­thing else, shall we?”

Dawn came early to the quaint lit­tle dust bowl we would call home for the next few days and il­lu­mi­nated our first S.N.A.F.U. — we had no knowl­edge of the area, and all the maps, know how, and an­swers to our ques­tions were down the trans­mis­sion fluid marked road at a US Ranger's sta­tion. The kindly rangers had spot­ted us ear­lier on their rounds and sent a wel­com­ing com­mit­tee like no other.

The un­canny sounds of old flat­head four cylin­der en­gines, ac­com­pa­nied by the faint squeak of leaf springs, crescen­doed to­wards our lit­tle clutch of Canucks as we un­loaded the rigs for our first out­ing. What sput­tered into camp was any­thing but or­di­nary, and we basked in the glory of a fleet of old Jeep flat fend­ers, FJ-45 Toy­otas, and other old trail iron. With

cigars blaz­ing and side irons se­cured, the kindly crew stopped in af­ter the lo­cal rangers in­formed them that some “fresh meat” had ar­rived in Naches. They were even so po­lite as to do­nate an old map of they area, and pointed up to­wards some trails we would surely en­joy. As quickly as they had come into our lives, they humbly sput­tered into the hills to en­joy a weekend of camp­ing and mous­tache wax­ing.

With a new-to-us map and a half ass plan, we were off to burn some fuel and ex­plore. The ter­rain changed dras­ti­cally from desert washes and high-speed flats, to quag­mire and sloppy mud tracks though dense for­est. Our first des­ti­na­tion was the fa­mous “Funny Rocks” and “Moon Rocks” ar­eas, which were easy to find on the marked trails and ser­vice road. This was a typ­i­cal weekend dur­ing the sum­mer, which meant there were a num­ber of oth­ers us­ing the area, but it was by no means congested. There were no line­ups for trails, or break­downs clog­ging the area. On­look­ers were abun­dant, and they en­cour­aged ev­ery­one to at­tempt ob­sta­cles and runs they may not have oth­er­wise at­tempted. You couldn’t help but grin.

The ar­ray of places to ex­plore and ob­sta­cles to con­quer were caus­ing our heads to move like Linda Blair bob­ble­heads. Af­ter much ex­plor­ing, we scur­ried over to the famed Moon Rocks area of Naches for an­other help­ing of dirt. Af­ter watch­ing the other metal ants crawl over the oddly shaped pro­tru­sions com­ing out of the earth, we de­cided to give it a try. As we rolled into a steep in­cline, 400+ horses were sum­moned from their un­der-hood sta­bles to help with the as­cent. In hind­sight, this made as much sense as ask­ing tequila to pick a life part­ner, and the re­sult­ing back tin­gling “CRACK” of an axle shaft meant our day was done and we were headed back to the trailer for re­pairs. Stupid is as stupid does.

Thanks to great friends, hill­billy en­gi­neer­ing and a late night,

our rig was ready for ac­tion by bed­time.

Day Two would to take us into the canyon bot­toms and for­est thick­ets that are also abun­dant in the area. With the trio of rigs packed, and the old map we were given the pre­vi­ous morn­ing in hand, it was time to trail trek. Only a few kilo­me­tres out of camp and we had one truck spray­ing gaso­line across its en­gine bay as a bunk fuel line con­nec­tor let go. We avoided a cat­a­strophic disas­ter via some trail­side triage. Re­mem­ber kids; all bolts go on as tight as you can get them, then an­other half turn (it’s a mill­wright thing that no­body un­der­stands).

Yes­ter­day’s dry, desert-like ter­rain and dusty trails were a stark con­trast to the deeply rut­ted tracks we were on to­day. Spring­time is winch­ing time in Naches val­leys, as told by the lac­er­a­tions left on trunks by those without a tree strap. As the hours wore on, one of the group had a fuel pump that an­nounced its dis­tress with an an­noy­ing howl. We all knew this par­tic­u­lar song, and de­cided to head back through the net­work of trails to base camp. Af­ter all, it was only an­other few kilo­me­tres, … we thought. The sunny sky closed and the rain be­gan to driz­zle gen­tly. No mat­ter, just over the next ridge was a straight shot to the main trail… right? With the fuel pump now em­u­lat­ing a cat in a blen­der, we were stopped at a Monet wor­thy view of the gorge we were at­tempt­ing to tra­verse. The rain that had been falling gen­tly was now get­ting cold and so­lid­i­fy­ing into hail as we reached the end of the trail… this would cer­tainly NOT get us back. As the re­al­iza­tion that the last few hours of trail would now have to be run in re­verse, panic started to set­tle in as we did some rudi­men­tary math. The crude equa­tion ver­i­fied that back­track­ing the day with the re­main­ing fuel was not an op­tion.

Some quick nav­i­ga­tional cal­cu­la­tions, based on prayers, guesses and self­delu­sion, had us head­ing back on an un­known route that was filled with all the splen­dor and beauty for which the area is known. The noisy fuel pump had enough of our shenani­gans and for the re­main­der of the trip could not go over ¼ throt­tle. Had we been in a proper state of mind, and not still clear­ing hail from the back of our t-shirts, this would have been a glo­ri­ous trip back. Some strate­gic si­phon­ing of fuel be­tween rigs, and ques­tion­able mo­tor ve­hi­cle oper­a­tions, had us rolling into camp on fumes some 14 hours af­ter we left “for a short trip”. To be hon­est, I coasted into camp, cold, wet, out of fuel, hun­gry, and ready for an adult bev­er­age or 12. It was a mag­nif­i­cent day!

As we all scarfed down what­ever Quickie Mart mys­tery meat we had left to eat, it was abun­dantly ob­vi­ous that we had just ex­pe­ri­enced a spec­tac­u­lar ad­ven­ture be­tween friends. At the same moment, one of the tow rigs parked on our camp out­skirts came out of gear and started to roll into a field, sans driver; fate was telling us it was time to go home.

With all the dis­as­trous oc­cur­rences and pos­si­ble near death ex­pe­ri­ences we faced in our weekend, you may think this would put a damper on fu­ture trips. Not a chance. We al­ways look for­ward to see­ing what and where our off-road ad­ven­tures may take us. Do we rec­om­mend you head to Naches and ride on the coat­tails of our ex­pe­ri­ence? Why not? But more im­por­tantly, go out and find your own ad­ven­ture wher­ever you can. But if you do head to Naches, stop in and pick up a map, you won’t re­gret it!

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