Green Dot Roads May 2020

….aka – “Is that a Whiskey Dick Wildlife Area in your map pocket – or are you just happy to see me wheeling?”
There is an area of what’s known as “Green Dot Roads” in eastern WA – this run’s particular area between the west side of the Columbia north of I-90 and the Wild Horse Wind Farm located between Vantage and Kittitas. The wind farm is a Puget Sound Energy installation – which has a wonderful visitor’s center – in other than COVID times – open to visitors between April to October. (Currently closed to the general public due to health concerns.) You can stand right up against the base of a wind turbine hearing the big WHOOSH – WHOOSH – WHOOSH of the 60 foot long turbine blades spinning at their optimum 16 RPM. You can even take a tour inside the base of one of the turbine pylons. How do I know this?

Last September – on the way home from a work trip – I stopped by the wind farm to be a tourist – and quite by accident – stumbled upon an entry to the Green Dot Road system just east of the wind farm visitor center access. I got about 5 minutes into a green dot road with my company all-wheel drive Equinox – when the thought screaming into my mind quickly became a combination of “Company Car – not a wheeler – don’t go out alone – don’t have to explain to your boss the reason for you being stupid…” For once being more of an adult than a wheeler – I did quickly do my own personal TTT (Timber Tamer Turnaround) and vowed to invite some Tamers to go explore at some point in the future.

The destination this time around? What is known as the “Whiskey Dick Wildlife Area” so named supposedly due to a historical reference to a moonshiner from the 20’s who hid out in the area manufacturing his product. I was expecting the “wheeling” to be more like what more recently has come to be known as “overlanding” – than the technical larger obstacle trail running we do in places like Walker, Elbe, Reiter, Evans Creek, Liberty or Taneum areas.

Farther north from this area – is also the old Colockum Pass – which is an old stagecoach road initially of 1880’s vintage – somewhat like the Naches between Enumclaw and Whistlin’ Jacks – except it is the old road between Ellensburg/Kittitas and Wenatchee and not so much technical trail running. The Colockum Pass is a little over 5,300 feet in elevation – so I had no expectation we’d cross that this time around – it’s probably still in snow. (If you are a student of history – more interesting factoids about the old “highway” here – .)

The area has a stark beauty. Sagebrush and spring flowers, with the smell of sage on the wind. Any Tamers of vintage 1997 through about 2002 would know similar terrain from our days of wheeling around the Rimrock land area kinda between Palisades (south of East Wenatchee) southeast of Waterville and west of Ephrata. (Not to be confused with Rimrock Meadows along Rt. 410 near the Naches.) Site of places like Cowshit Falls – an old dry falls that filled up with water and cow droppings at the base of it – that was good for some stinky wheeling – sometimes night runs – for anyone who wanted to go play in the mud – and whatever else was in it. Also the area of the infamous “God Willin’ and the River Don’t Rise” run – where upon hearing an odd noise while in a dry creek bed – a flash flood wall of water was seen to be coming down the wash – and the last rig to jump out before the flood came got its tail wet while scrambling up away from the roiling waters. There was also one road up to the top of a ridge I recall we called “Top of the World” – where you could look east to see quite a lot of the rest of eastern WA rolling away in its pure and stark scablands and wheatfield beauty. (A side note – these above referenced areas I believe no longer available to explore by rig. If I remember correctly – I think the area got sold to the Nature Conservancy – which of course is not a friend of motorized recreation.)

Anyway – that’s what I expected to see – and reality did not disappoint my memories.

Back to the present. As I mentioned – the seed for this trip was planted in my brain last year – right about when the same time Tamers had already more runs and events than they could shake a stick at. I also didn’t know if I could generate much interest in an area that was a bit of a trip to get to in the first place – and might be too easy wheeling once we got there.

But hey – you lock Tamers’ up at home for a number of months due to the unexpected pandemic – you probably will have some folks would do a run driving around the block over a speed bump just to get out – let alone exploring new (to them) wheeling ground in a far point in their “back yard.” I’ll apologize up front for the quiet and limited way in which the run was announced – if anyone is feeling left out. Plans in my mind started to solidify in early May – while – there were still clear stay at home directives – there were also recreation areas opening up. The Green Dot Roads are under jurisdiction of DNR and WA Fish and Wildlife – and with recreation access having been opened up by the state on May 5th – seemed like we could socially distance, impact the local economy and populace minimally with 1 gas stop, bring our own supplies – and just get outdoors for a bit. Early in May – I didn’t want to have it look like the club was openly advertising a run for anyone in disregard of the then applicable governor’s stay at home directives. So – my thanks to Curt – who did reach out quietly on Facebook to offer the run out to Tamers.

Saturday at 8 AM in the lot of the North Bend Safeway was the appointed meeting time and spot. Weather was rainy and threatening with thunderstorms hammering the area. Just as we pulled in – a real gully-washer blew through with lighting, ice pellets and “cow-peeing-on-a-flat-rock” downpour blasting us. We eventually ended up with 11 rigs. I know I’ve wheeled with everyone there – but my apologies – I don’t know all of your names. Who I do recall – Curt, Wendy, Emily; Cheryl and Ryan; Cindy and some youngsters; Rick – in the majority being the usual JK’s, 1 CJ-7, 1 TJ (Joe’s Mallkrawler), Rock Doc John in his stylin’ Dodge Durango (he reports “BTW It’s a Hemi!” and his Jeep still being on the mend) Chris, Ashley and the kids in their Xterra – and the newest member of both Mary and my Jeep stable as well as the Tamer family – our hypergreen Jeep Renegade named “Dipsy.” (So named for the green teletubby.) It’s in Trailhawk trim – and I wanted to see with some mild wheeling – if it would live up to its “Trail Rated” badge Jeep slapped on the side of it. At least it has tow hooks if recovery was needed – and I had more recovery gear inside of it than I EVER carry in our other rigs – just in case. As generally is so – if you come prepared – its rare you need the gear – which ended up being the case this time.
The downpour let up just a tad – and we had a brief appropriately socially distanced driver’s meeting in the parking lot – mainly to establish where we were going (Vantage) what the top speed should be (65 MPH) where the gas stop would be (Ellensburg Canyon Road Conoco.) Before saddling up – I did see only one instance of gratuitous hugging – but no tongues were exchanged, no citizen’s arrests were made – and being Tamers – it was more like the greeting between 2 family members you know have both been hiding out individually and isolated under their respective rocks for the last 3 months. Off we went.
It was supposed to be an unusually mixed weather day – with a cold front to be pushing in sometime in the afternoon. The odd weather was already in evidence as we left North Bend in the mid-50’s. By the rest stop at Indian John hill – 70 degrees with a 25 MPH gusty wind had picked up – and was blowing so much pollen off the pine trees – it look like a dust storm throughout the entire area.

The gas stop was a slight cluster – in that there were people ahead of us – who after getting gas – then parked their vehicles – right in front of the gas pumps where they had left them. There was one Land Rover that was empty when we pulled in – sitting in front of a pump. I pulled in behind the car, filled up, had to back out of the pump. Another Tamer pulled in behind – was filling up – finally notices a guy with a sandwich approaching it – and watches him get into the passenger side. The guy gets in and starts eating – the car still just sitting in front of the pump, apparently oblivious to the line of vehicles waiting to fill up.. In a few minutes – he gets back out – notices with a start – a line of Jeeps waiting behind him – and then gets into the driver’s side – and finally moves his rig away from the pump – by this time had been at the pump almost 15 minutes. Really?

Anyway – by about 10:30 – we get to the Green Dot Road entrance off the Vantage Highway – and air down. It was a new experience for me to only go from 40 to 20 lbs in the stock 215/65×17’s that come on the Trailhawk – but it did smooth the ride out quite a lot. (A little different than the 10 lbs I usually run the 36” tires I have on Moosenstein.) And with me in the lead and Joe running tail gunner – off we went.

The next 5 hours was a fun bit of running up hill climbs and down, through grass lined washes and dry creek beds, up on the spines of ridges. Most of the roads were broken up basalt, dust washes, a few muddy areas where springs came out of the hillsides, 1 small creek crossing, tall enough sagebrush to get a little PNW trail pinstriping. The two rigs with lesser ground clearance (our Renegade, John’s Durango) had to do added work on tire placement and picking the best line to keep the rocks off the underside of our rigs and we were only somewhat successful in that endeavor. The wheeling was relatively easy – the views wonderful and expansive. The sun was out in force by then – and temps had risen to about 90. Between the hard maps I had printed off, and Curt’s Gaia nav – we were looking for some roads that would take us north – but also angle over east to the Columbia River. A guide at the Wild Horse Wind Farm had last year told me about an area where you could actually get all the way down to the river and we were hoping to get to that beach for a nice place to stop for lunch. We never got there. The going was probably slower than we expected – and there were some roads showing on both hard and nav maps – that simply either weren’t there – or were long out of use. What looks like where we were hoping to go – was a place called Quilomene Bay on the river – and that was a ways farther north. I had the spider sense going off in the back of my head – that by 2:30 or so – not knowing exactly where we were going forwards – we probably needed just to turn around and start heading back. While the sun was still out – we were hearing reports of thunderstorms approaching with the possibility of larger hail. Cindy had gotten a warning on her phone to watch for flash flooding – and we had a few currently at least previously dry creek beds to cross to get back. I’ve historically been on more than a few long day hours summer Tamer runs – where after a good day wheeling – someone enthusiastically and only slightly teasingly says – “just one more trail!” instead of just enjoying the day to that point and going back to camp. And that one more trail has many time been the trail too far, or the mechanical problem too massive – or something that culminates in an hours long trail repair heading into the dark – even ending in a vehicle rescue that finally returns back to camp around midnight. No thanks – with the limited clearance of at least 2 rigs – slippery mud hillclimbs and sidehills would make it hard to stay on top of the ruts or get back to civilization. We did our TTT (2nd of the day) and headed back to the entry area.

I’ll digress a few moments to say – whatever magic sauce Jeep put into its Renegade Trailhawk (which had started life as a Fiat 500X platform with a different body on it) – IT WORKS! Given the ground clearance limitations – otherwise – with the correct switches switched and buttons pushed – it wheeled like a champ. Did things a little differently than our other rigs. I spent most of the day with the rig in 4WD low, “rock” setting, with the hill descent switch left on and the traction control off. The rig doesn’t have a low range like a geared transfer case that provides and whole other bit of gear reduction The rig as an automatic (I think the only trans you can get with the Trailhawk) has a 9 speed gearbox – so there appears to be enough gears to go slow on the trail, while still getting 25 MPG on the highway. But you lift a tire – the system will still apply brakes just to the spinning wheel – so its kinda like having a real locker – I did lift a wheel a few times – but never that I lifted a wheel and got stuck. The brake on the spinning wheel would just clamp down and I’d walked out of whatever I was driving through. Coming down steep hill climbs – my other rigs are geared low enough just to lower down on engine compression alone. The hill descent in the Renegade engages brakes – once you get to a certain steepness of terrain. It worked wonderfully – although after 1 particularly long steep descent (maybe 10 minutes picking my way downhill) – I was smelling hot brake pads by the time I got all the way to the bottom.

By the time we were approaching about 4:30 PM – the last climb out of a gully showed the sky to the south and west getting quite threatening and dark – with the temp decreasing and the smell of rain in the wind. Getting to be an old fart pantywaist wheeler – I was just hoping to get to the parking lot long enough before the storm to air up without getting soaked. As we clambered down the last descent – there were massive and repeated forks of lightning – not too far off in the distance. Just as we got to the parking lot – the first half-dollar sized splotches of rain started to hit the windshields – but still spotty and spitty. The downpour was sparing us for just a few more minutes. I’m used to airing up big tires with a York belt driven compressor on an air tank under the hood – which usually goes reasonably quickly. This trip was the first I got to break out my Smittybilt 5.65 CFM portable compressor. Man – you got little stock sized tires – that thing will fill them up pretty quick. I think I got all 4 tires filled in about 5 minutes – just as the sky darkened further, a large red-yellow bolt of lightning hit on the adjacent hillside, and the rain started to fall upon us all in a most convincing manner. Everyone packed up and headed west to Kittitas to make for home.

I have to tell you – something about this run felt SO GOOD to get out and see Tamers again. Maybe it’s the last 3 months working from home, maybe just that we’ve been under direction to stay put – certainly it’s been wanting to put a new rig through its paces – but it was great to reunite with other club members and explore an area we haven’t wheeled before. There is still a lot more exploring to do – both to Quilomene Bay on the Columbia, or over the top to Wenatchee through the Colockum Pass. Now that we can get out, and take care to keep hands washed and germs to ourselves – there is future wheeling to be had on the Green Dot Roads.

Click this link for Green Dot Map Information

Whiskey Dick and Quilomene Wildlife Areas

Colockum Area

Hope you are all well. See you on the trail soon.
Thanks for readin’
And Keep On Wheelin’!