Last weekend I took a little tour in my modified 1977 Jeep Cherokee in the Naches, Washington area. My destination was to be Clemen Mountain and the canyons to the north. I intended to cross over to the Wenas Valley and take the highway back from Selah, Yakima and Naches. At about two miles up the Naches River from the junction of US 12 and SR 410 the Mud Lake Road winds uphill and out of sight as it climbs behind rocky sagebrush covered hills.
The sign at the entrance explained that the "Green Dot" system was in effect. That means you are welcome to use any road marked with a green dot. Unmarked roads are off limits to vehicular travel during certain times, usually during animal migration and breeding. The lower portion of the road crosses state Department of Natural Resources land, specifically the Oak Creek Wildlife Area. I had not driven in this area before so the green dot system was fine with me.actually it was a benefit since I had left home without my maps.
I followed the road up to some view points at the tops of the lower hills. There was a great view of the Horseshoe Bend area where the Naches River cuts sharply between two mountains. The Mud Lake road was in fair condition, but a pretty rough ride. At a little over a mile I came to the lake which is nothing more than a large pond formed by a basalt dish holding runoff water. The lake is surrounded by sagebrush and small dust covered bushes. There were a few fishermen on the lake, but it didn't look appealing to me.
As I continued up the road from the lake the road turned rougher. Some base rock was sticking through and the crushed rock base was heavier. The clevises welded to my steel bumpers were flopping and clanging, sounding like a fabricating shop working overtime. I should have stopped to air-down the tires for a smoother ride, but decided not to take the time. Other than the noise the old Jeep was doing just fine.
The road climbed into the trees and reached a fairly level meadow where it turned a little smoother, but still jarring. Several dirt roads turned off the main road and with the exception of two, were blocked and posted with "No Motor Vehicle" signs. As I drove along I saw deer everywhere. I started counting them, but there were so many I lost track.
Soon I saw the old Forest Service lookout and a tall radio antenna looming on top of the mountain above me. With a last short, steep, switchback climb I entered the Wenatchee National Forest and came out on the Cleman Ridge Road.
I drove to the lookout with the intention of climbing it for the view. When I got out of the truck the wind was blowing so hard that it was just plain uncomfortable. The lookout tower was posted "Entry By Permission Only" and that didn't hurt my feelings one bit considering the wind. The view from Cleman Mountain is fantastic. You can see Mt. Adams, Mt. Rainier and all the southern Cascade Range as well as the Rattlesnake Creek drainage and the Naches River Valley.
I had accomplished part of my goal in reaching the top of Clemen Mountain. The rest of my objective was to drive as many of the canyon roads to the north of the mountain as time would allow. Let me explain. Clemen Mountain is a high ridge, about ten miles long with mostly a vertical drop on the south side, the side I had just come up, and multiple creeks and canyons sloping to the north. There is a road in every canyon, about a dozen of them.
I had no idea of what to expect for road conditions. I was at over 4,500 feet at the tower and there were only small patches of snow and so far none on the road. Of course most of the climb had a sunny, southwesterly exposure. My unexplored canyon roads were on the north and shady side of the mountain.
I followed the green dots like they were beckoning me. The green dots assured me that I was on a main road. What a deal for a guy without a map! Just past the lookout I came to an intersection with three green dot roads. Two were snow covered and since I was alone and didn't relish getting stuck my choice was easy. I took the open one marked with a crude wood sign as the Jones Canyon Road. I hit a few snow patches and mud holes on the way down the canyon and soon left the snow behind. The forest consisted of thick pines and several grassy meadows. I came upon a large herd of elk that paid me little attention. The road passed through state and federal land as it continued down hill.
As the road started to bottom out there was a direction arrow indicating that the road entered private land and a locked gate. The green dots directed me around the outside perimeter of a huge ranch surrounded by an eight foot tall wire mesh fence. I could see several farm houses and buildings in the valley below. I never did find out what that place was for sure, but I imagine it was another one of those private hunting preserves.
I was soon back into the sage brush and the Wenas Valley. So far I had not needed 4-wheel drive and virtually any car with high ground clearance could have made the trip if a little dragging was acceptable.
I continued following my friendly green dots that eventually led me to an orange Detour sign and a thicket of brush and trees where I crossed a narrow wooden bridge just a few yards from the highway. I remember thinking that my wife would be happy that I returned home early, just as I came to a locked gate! Just past the gate was a Wildlife Area facility with a hay barn, tractors, etc. Then another locked gate next to the road! "This must be a mistake", I thought. I backed over the narrow bridge, turned around and went back to the detour sign. "They must have forgotten to take it down."
I continued on the main road until it crossed the same creek and came to an abrupt stop at another locked gate next to the Wenas Highway. So much for the "friendly" green dots! I took another canyon road heading parallel with the Wenas Road in hopes that it would take me to civilization. Wrong! I drove the dusty, brush scratching Hardy Canyon Road for about two miles over heavy crushed rock as well as several fallen rocks. This road was definitely not a green dot road and is for high ground clearance vehicles only.
Oh well, it would not be the first time I had to backtrack, nor the last. As it turned out I had to drive almost all the way to the top of Clemen Mountain before I found a road that linked to the next canyon over. I drove down that canyon, seeing more deer and several posted side roads. In the valley the road came out in a dry camp where there were several horsemen having some sort of get together. I followed the green dots again and came to another gate. This one was unlocked and thinking I knew where I was, I hit the trail hard.
I still had daylight, but my wife and I were planning on going out for dinner that evening. I had about two hours to get home before dinner plans would be ruined. I decided to do one more canyon road to the top of Clemen Mountain. I took the Box Spring Canyon road and came to the only place on my tour where I needed 4-wheel drive.
I was almost to the top of the mountain when I came to a snow drift across the road. It was about 30 feet across and about a foot-and-a-half deep. I plowed into it in 2-wheel drive as far as I could go, backed out, engaged 4-wheel drive and plowed into it again. This time I went through, into a mud bog on the other side. My big mud tires were spinning and I wasn't moving. I have a locked rear differential and can engage a locker in the front unit if needed.
I backed up, locked the differential and sloshed through the mud until I hit solid ground. I really hate doing that because it chews up the road for those who come along after the mud dries. I checked to see what damage was done, but it looked ok. The mud was sloshing back into the tracks and should dry fairly smooth.
I reached the top of the mountain just north of the lookout tower and drove the ridge road about five miles north to Canteen Flats and FR1701, the main road down to Hwy 410. Luckily I made it home in time to spray the muck off the underside of the Cherokee and even gave it a fast wash job. Unfortunately the old Jeep leaks dust like crazy. The burgundy colored upholstery was dusty tan. I suppose I will have to unload the 500 pounds of retrieval gear, spare parts and supplies and start plugging holes. Anybody want to help?
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