Friday, December 21, 2012

Juniper Dunes - An Update

From the entry in my Clothing-Optional map at:

Desert sand with rare Juniper trees and other low vegetation. 19,860 acres with 3,920 open, 8,620 limited to designated roads and trails (area of critical environmental concern), and 7,140 acres permanently closed. The topography is characterized by flat or rolling relief caused by wind deposited sands and silts. Vegetation in the area is comprised of a mosaic of habitat type ranging from those dominated by sagebrush and rabbit brush to open grassland with scattered Juniper trees. Land use includes hiking, camping, hunting, & horseback riding. Summer temperatures can reach well over 100 degrees F and can plummet to near zero degrees or below in winter.

Impressions: Inside the fenced region (around fifty to a hundred square miles), the chance of encountering another person is extremely remote. I have never had it happen. The sign-in sheet gives an indication of the presence of any others. Usually, you will find that you are the only person(s) there. The dune area outside the fence often contains a handful of dirt-bike riders, which can be heard at a distance. This means that carrying a cover-up is not necessary. On nice days one can simply tank up on food and water, then head in with nothing more than a pair of sunglasses for the day and maybe some sandals if your feet are soft. Some care is prudent when entering the fenced area, however. Remember, you are on your own! There is no water available and there are no developed trails. Campfires are not permitted; only portable campstoves. Think WILDERNESS. If you're the sort with no sense of direction, it would not be at all difficult to get lost. The terrain consists generally of rolling hills for as far as the eye can see, with no towering landmarks to act as reference. Attention to detail is important, though you technophiles could instead tote a GPS receiver or a trusty compass. The best time to visit is in the spring, ideally soon after a rainshower. You'll find many plant varieties in bloom, giving the terrain a splash of color. Moisture makes the ground more firm for easier travel, especially on the roads. Second best visiting time is in autumn. The temperatures are moderate and there are a few plant varieties that bloom then. As in the spring, the air is filled with distinct scents. Summer temperatures can easily climb well over one hundred degrees F. The humidity is quite low, so it's not that uncomfortable as long as you have plenty of water. As in most desert climates, the temperatures can get significantly cooler at night -- dropping from a hundred-plus down to mid-seventies. One summer nuisance to be aware of are the invader species of plantlife. The cheatgrass is growing in areas, particularly widespread around the perimeter. This grass dies in early summer, leaving pointed seeds that work their way into everything. If you wear socks or closed shoes, you won't penetrate very far before being turned back. It's best to wear open sandals or thongs -- spring is about the only time one can travel barefoot, while the grass is still green. Just watch for the occasional patch of prickly pear cactus. Fortunately, the tumbleweeds and tackweed haven't established themselves too well yet in this area.

No water and no facilities, so bring everything you need.

Call the BLM office in Spokane before going out to be sure you can get access: 509-536-1200

Since that posting, access to Juniper Dunes has been problematical at best.  The traditional route into the wilderness had been via Peterson Road, a private road about five miles along the Pasco-Kahlotus Highway from I-12.  The owners of that road had cut off access on and off for years, sometimes threatening, sometimes bulldozing a berm across the road to prevent access to the wilderness beyond their properties. That was the quickest and easiest access that got you to the southern edge of the Juniper Dunes Wilderness.

The large, yellow mailbox that is the landmark to Peterson Road
Serious, "Keep Out" signage just inside Peterson Road

A Better Route Into the Wilderness

On my recent, job-mandated road trip to Montana and Wyoming I found myself driving back along I-82 near Pasco and on a lark (and overnighting in Pasco) decided to see if I could find a new way into the Juniper Dunes Wilderness area that did not illegally cross any private property.  Spending a few hours going over Google Maps of the area I came up with a feasible alternative  that seemed to show a trailhead parking area real close to the northern boundary of the wilderness.  I set off the next morning to see if sat. images matched reality.

The route:
Drive 23.8 miles from I-12 east on the Pasco-Kahlotus Road to the Snake River Road.
Take a left.
After 3.5 miles on the Snake River Road, take a left onto
Blackman Ridge Road, a well maintained gravel road.
At 2.4 miles, take a left onto Joy Road and follow it all the way down to the end.

The Juniper Dunes Ranch is about half a mile down Joy Road.
The property owner has allowed access over a short section of
land at the end of  that road.
How could I not resist getting a picture of myself nude at the rules sign?
However, I respected the property owners wishes which were ...
... access only during March, April and May.  The wilderness area starts
just beyond the cultivated area with the first set of dunes.
Since this route only leads to the Wilderness Area and not to the OTV parts of Juniper Dunes, many of the problems that caused disputes and closure of the southern access route (trail bikes, OTVs, noise, speeding dust, etc.) are ameliorated.  You can only go into the Wilderness on foot from the northern boundary.  The one and only time I have been into the Juniper Dunes Wilderness I never saw another human being for the entire day.  I look forward to getting back down there this coming spring after March 1st.

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