Exploring the Umtanum area – August 2017

My good friend bought a new Tacoma and we wanted to initiate the rig on a easy trail, with good views and with minimally challenging obstacles. We gathered together our families and headed out towards the Umtanum area to follow Observatory road and explore some of the offshoot trails.

Exploring Umptaneum (1 of 1)
Overlook above Ellensburg and Cle Elum, WA


Observatory road was rocky at first as it climbs towards the hills, but becomes a smooth ride as it follows the ridge line. The Observatory is almost always within view as one crests each minor hilltop.

Exploring Umptaneum (4 of 5)
View from one of the hills


After the Observatory, we descended the hills back down into the valley towards Wenas, WA, and back up another hill to Ridge road. The first part of this road is very easy and fun to drive as it is mostly dry and dusty with few divots or rocks.

Our ladies were enjoying the ride and the views well enough, that is until we encountered some sections of Ridge road that obviously had recently been driven over by many rigs. This section was known to be rough, but this was something else entirely. The trail was more of a rock crawl than anything else; with large exposed rocks and very little in the way of dirt between them. It was slow going as we crawled our way through field after field of exposed volcanic rock. It was as rough as Fortune Creek Trail, except much longer and in the high desert of Eastern Washington. Ridge road is a small portion of the WA Backroad Discovery Route; if a much larger number of people have been out on the WA BDR this season then the rugged trail conditions may explain how badly it has deteriorated since my last time in this area, which was earlier this summer. Perhaps, Andrew St. Pierre White of 4xOverland is correct in his view that Overlanding is a quickly expanding outdoor culture in the US. Are we already seeing a deterioration of the trails because of a larger number of people interested in experiencing the backroads? I wonder how long it will be before the trails of Washington are regulated for occupancy as much as Moab’s trails. Difficult to contemplate but worthy of consideration.

Anyway, after some slow crawling, we made it to the antennae towers at the end of Ridge road. My wife was relieved the bumpiness was behind us. There was lingering wildfire smoke from Canada that occluded the most distant views of Mt. Rainier and the Cascades but the view of Yakima and Ellensburg from this vantage was still pretty spectacular. I’ve taken my fair share of photos from this spot so I decided to instead focus on the immediate surroundings of the antennae farm this time around.




On the way towards home on Old Durr road, my wife spotted a few twisted, half-charred scrub trees on the opposite slope of the hill. They were eye catching for the untouched parts intertwined with burned portions; not sure how this could naturally occur, but it was visually pleasing to view.

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