Moses Lake Apr 2022

Its quite possible you’ve never even thought about it – but after a few times with the Tamers going “to the dunes” it makes one wonder – “What the heck are sand dunes doing in the middle of the desert in Washington State?”

Well – please indulge me in a little factual non-speculation – from our friends at (no less than) the NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory of the California Institute of technology:

Moses Lake Dunes
The Moses Lake dune field is covers 40 km2 in the Quincy Basin of central Washington southwest of Moses Lake, making up the largest basaltic aeolian sand accumulation on Earth [Petrone, 1970; Edgett and Lancaster, 1993; Bandfield et al., 2002]. The dunes, which are composed of 55% basaltic lithic fragments with lesser amounts of quartz, are thought to originate as sediment deposited in the basin during the floods that forms the channeled scablands [Petrone, 1970] . East and northeast paleo-winds have reworked sands, from the eastern banks of the Columbia River into the current dune forms, which include transverse, parabolic and barchan dunes. West of the Potholes Reservoir the dunes are wet and vegetated, but on the east side of the reservoir the dunes remain active and advance at approximately 3 m/yr [Petrone, 1970] .

Holy Moly! In L’il Ol’ Moses Lake – THE LARGEST basaltic aeolian sand accumulation ON EARTH! (although by aeolian – I don’t think they mean it would also make a great sauce to spread on your calamari…) Geologists tell us that between 12,000 to 17,000 years ago – an ice dam in western Montana held back a massive lake. When the dam broke (and it is supposed to have happened a number of times) the flood washed across from Montana to Idaho across Washington, scouring out the scablands of the middle 3rd of the state – and depositing the sands before running down what is now the Columbia River bed and gorge.

Just so we could go wheeling on it. Ah – such mundane mortal tasks springing from such IMMENSE beginnings!

But speaking of immense beginnings – last Saturday was an almost too early looking to be gorgeous type of Saturday that have been too rare this spring – greeting 4 stalwart Tamers intent to head east. You may (or may not) recall that it was last February – when we were still COVID-bound and meeting on-line – that I thought to myself – “A BRILLIANT IDEA!” (Yes – that’s what I needed – a brilliant idea…) And the brilliant idea became to once again re-enact at least some portion of a hallowed Tamer tradition – which was at least some portion of a camp out, fun in the sand, dunes cleanup in the third weekend of April at Moses Lake. My first dunes visit was in the late 90’s when some Tamers owned property at a place called Rimrock Meadows in Moses Coulee a ways east of Wenatchee. Over time – that moveable feast moved more directly into the dunes – when we had some members with Class A motorhomes form a windbreak with their rigs on a Friday – and Tamers would dribble in all weeeknd being able to utilize the behemoths for base camp, windbreak, and all around hanging out, telling tales and just being Tamers.

But I gotta tell you – the dunes are WONDERFUL when the wind is slight and the sun is out. It the worlds biggest sandbox for kids of all ages and all kinds of toys. But you know – times and situations change – and I think a number of years of cold, cloudy weather and rain, or 30+mph winds – kind of dampened the enthusiasm of even the most ardent sand lovers – and more often than not – staying home became a thing. It was my memories of years climbing up dunes, or waffling down a really steep dune, or even learning to run bowls (that will make you grab onto your big brass reproductive organs the first few times you do it) that gave me cause to last February proclaim that I would lead the April Sand Dune run to Moses Lake!

Dune wheeling at Moses Lake is fun, mostly benign, and a great place for new wheelers with stock-ish rigs to romp with wild abandon with little chance of serious consequence or trail rash to be had. Like used to be said in the ads “Educational – AND fun!” So – I had to readjust my glee slightly once 7:15 AM rolled around – and off went 4 experienced wheelers for the road trip east. The JK contingent included our ever-loving pres John (Rock Doc) Vandergrift, and techie video wizard Curt Brady, and his friend Nate (sorry Nate – don’t remember your last name) – who also had by his side – canine companion Nanna – to join with me hauling 1972 Commando (and trailer queen) “Moosenstein” behind the ‘Burb. The sun rose and shone brightly as we got over to Moses, making good time getting to the dunes in a skosh under 3 hours.

Driving out on Sand Dune Road – and getting past the third set of restrooms – which was the rumored meeting point for any PNW clubs involved in the clean up – we were about to pull in when someone up ahead started waving at us to keep on coming. A few of the guys from I think it was the Columbia Basin Sand Commandos were staffing the sign up table. (The local Moses Lake PNW clubs are them and the “Hurtin’ Units”) From what I could tell from the sign in book – looked like us 4 Tamers and maybe another 6 from the other clubs. And besides us 4WD types – the MAJORITY of the crowds (and I do mean crowds) looked to be mostly side-by-sides and quads and some bikes. My – how times and tastes do change.

Things were pretty frenetic in a camp full of folks we didn’t know driving vehicles we didn’t use – and things were starting to very quickly feel a little “Christmasy” in camp. (A pejorative term Mary uses for the feeling she always gets when shopping at the mall around Christmas in the good old days – just frantic energy that does not calm the soul.) And BTW – that’s kind of a dichotomy of terms anyway – finding Mary at malls on the holidays is a total hard no in her book! It was high time to head south to the wide open spaces.

Curt and I had experience in the sand. You’d never know John had not been to the dunes ever before. And Nate was a bit of a newbie – but figured things out pretty quickly. We needed to get some separation from camp by disappearing over the first 3 dunes – which of course provided all kinds of opportunities to stop, get out, pick up bottles, cans, bags, plastic, etc. Nothing interesting like the coyote skulls I’ve found in the past or even the half-a-bra I stumbled upon a few years ago (still as a trophy adorning the front tow hook of Moosnestein…) I would like to have been the lizard on the sagebrush seeing how THAT happened…..

It usually takes me a few minutes to remember that Moosenstein likes low range and gears 2 and 3 mostly for romping up the dunes and general cruising. The suspension is pretty soft, and still with a dana 30 (even given its trussed) up front – I really don’t want to slam down on the bumps and the base of dunes too quickly – that’s a little too much aggression going on. But – Curt (and I) did immensely enjoy the AMC 304 singing through the dual flowmasters. Heading a little more south and west over towards the lake – we started finding our way to even more solitude and a dune-top view.

Not that there wasn’t still trash to grab – but just not as much of it. We were kind of past the worst of the garbage-zone – and it was closing in on lunch time. Curt was schooling Nate on both climbing a dune (videos attached somewhere either with the report or also Curt has them on youtube) but also the best of the best – dropping off over the face of a dune – where when you do it – most everything in the back of your rig not tied down joins you against the floorboards and firewall up front – and you can only see the ground through your windshield as if you are hurtling to Earth in a terrible act of slow motion. It is SO fun to see a reaction out of the first timer doing this – and Nate did not disappointment. It feels SO steep and seems SO wrong – that it is a leap of faith, but then fun to figure out you won’t go over. Its all going to be okay. And you can probably stop anytime as long as you’re going slow enough.

After a little play came lunch – and Nanna got to come out to play, beg for food, and get sand all over her white chocolate milk bone snack. Nate readily admitted with pride she is one spoiled puppy. Lunch called for telling of tales (I think Curt wants me to gas on so he can keep count and tell me the next time how many times he’s heard my same stories) and catch up on everyone’s joint knowledge of Tamer history, other runs, other wheeling news. We talked some of Moab – former and current runs and the possibility of closure to motorized recreation. Old Tamer stories – since as the old gaffer I guess I’m a quasi-historian for the group. John contributed tech tips and tricks from his many past builds. And – Curt even sported bravery by throwing in a modicum of politics – from which there were opinions expressed, no punches thrown, no lawsuit filed – and we all stayed friends. (What a concept!)

As you can see – it was a good day, Tater!

(Sorry Curt – I appear not to have gotten a pic of you smiling by your rig…)

But – check the videos (as soon as I can figure out how to do it) – we were on the search for a bowl to run – when I was sitting on top of a dune and from my seat – I heard and saw Curt not quite getting to the top of the dune. I caught the giggles – because all I could see was just his headlights just barely peeping up over the lip of the dune – then disappearing again. It was like whales just coming up for a breath of air. I did catch it once.

And another of Jon making the same dune – doing his reenactment of the mid-60’s TV show “Rat Patrol” intro – just cresting up over the dune and making it!

Curt’s youtube video did capture (among other things) a small bowl we found – but we never did find the big one that is usually somewhere in the south end of the area. The first time I tried it – I was a bit timid and never got out of 3rd. I got hallway up the face and felt myself falling off it – so quick ran back down to the bottom of it. Under the heading, “Sometimes you just gotta commit” – I went back around, got on the dune a little earlier – and jumped on 3rd and hit 4th – and corkscrewed upwards to the top. Ahhh – I still got it!

It was heading towards 3 PM – and this was indeed a day trip – so we headed back to the road – for Curt, John and Nate to see if they could find one more downhill closer to the power lines – and drop some trash in the dumpster, and for me to tie Moosenstein down to the trailer.

We headed back west – deciding the stop in Cle Elum for a little dinner. Before the weekend – I’d had to pull off a half yard of 5/8 minus crushed gravel off the trailer which was wet in order to load Moosenstein, and some of that had stuck to the trailer deck surface. I didn’t realize that as the gravel dried – it was blowing off and pelting Curt who was following behind me. As he moved ahead of me – I promised him that next time I had a rig on a trailer in front of him – I’d plan to do landscaping instead and only have fluffy bark mulch on the trailer to pelt him with.

Dinner at the Sunset Café was pretty good – especially given they get their meat from Owen’s Meats – just a block away – some of the primo meats to be had from in town. It was good company, good times, a good day – and Nanna ended up with the doggie bag!

Here’s a youtube recap of the day, courtesy Curt.

Moses Lake Rum Timber Tamers April 2022 – YouTube

We had a perfect group and a perfect day who shared a perfect meal. Wish you all could have joined us.

Thanks for reading – And Keep On Wheelin’!