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The Spokesman-Review Newspaper
Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883

Scabland trails: Smell of sage lures hikers, bikers in March

Great horned owlettes are hatching, coyotes are denning and rattlesnakes are still groggy – all signals that it’s prime time to hike, bike or ride a horse through the sagebrush country of Eastern Washington. Wildflowers are just beginning to bloom if you need more incentive, and songful meadowlarks are back.

With snow still blocking the high country, savvy pedalers are taking their mountain bikes to the prairie. They’ll find plenty of challenges in these channeled scablands, as they’re called because of the way the Ice Age Floods scoured the soil to expose basalt outcroppings.

Visitors might find a few active ticks before the heat bears down in summer. But the occasional hungry arachnid can’t suck away the desire that flows in March to get on a trail.

The welcome mat is out throughout the shrub-steppe lands between Spokane and the Cascades as frosty mornings thaw into pleasant afternoons.

In April, these areas will be green and lit up with showy yellow and green floral arrangements of arrowleaf balsamroot.

Trails wind through public lands managed by a wide range of agencies. Some of the most inviting of these areas for spring hikes include:

• Turnbull National Wildlife Refuge managed by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Services south of Cheney.

• Ancient Lakes in the Quincy Wildlife Area, managed by the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife south of Quincy.

• Steamboat State Park, managed by Washington State Parks north of Coulee City.

The U.S. Bureau of Land management is another big player in scablands recreation with 446,000 acres in Eastern Washington including some blocks exceeding 12,000 acres to quench scablands wanderlust.

One of the longest and most varied of these trails runs 13 miles from the Lincoln County farming town of Odessa north through BLM land to Pacific Lake.

If you’re one of the anglers who enjoyed the excellent trout fishing in Pacific Lake three decades ago, don’t get your hopes up. The lake has gone dry, apparently a victim of deep-well irrigation that’s lowered the region’s water table.

Officially known as the Odessa-Lake Creek Trail, the route runs the length of the 13,000-acre Lakeview Ranch Recreation Area.

Lake Creek is dry, too. So are Bobs Lakes.

But the spring near the bridge at the south end of the alkaline-dusty Bobs Lakes bottomland still flows into a stock tank that brims with clear water – a welcome sight for horse riders and a reminder that this has been range land for more than a century.

Most people who hike or mountain bike the entire trail leave a vehicle at Odessa and arrange a shuttle 8 miles north to start at the Lakeview Ranch near Pacific Lake.

If you don’t have a driver, finding one in Odessa might be as easy as buying breakfast for a local at Chiefs Bar and Grill.

From the map sign at the Lakeview Ranch trailhead parking area, hikers and mountain bikers can head west from the corrals on an old jeep track and follow the sign posts BLM has installed to mark the route.

The trail markers sometimes are missing where a trail user might want to see one. Having a map helps.

The craters marked on maps of this area were created by the scouring waters of the Ice Age Floods.

The most scenic portion of the trail is around midway as the single track drops through columnar basalt cliffs into Lake Creek Canyon.

Delzer Falls is easy to spot up the canyon on private land to the north even if there hasn’t been a big runoff event to generate a flow. White mineral encrusted cliffs mark the impressive site.

The trail drops to the bottom and loops around the outer edge of lower Bobs Lakes. The route was marked when this area was much more prone to being wet.

Head east at the south end of Bobs Lakes at the old earthen dike marked by a wooden bridge. From the bridge, the route bends north past the flowing spring and then up through a rocky draw to the top of the canyon’s east rim.

From these open highlands, the route offers sweeping views of the Lake Creek-Crab Creek drainages. Single track becomes double track and eventually links into a powerline road.

The last short segment of sweet sage-lined single track drops quickly to the Odessa trailhead.

One of the most attractive features of this route is the wildlife. Visitors may not see the actual critters on every trip, but allow time to study the scats and tracks and imagine all of the mule deer, coyotes, porcupines, quail, rabbits and other critters that broke trail.