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2006 SE Washington Backcountry Llama Rendezvous

In July 2005, Noel & Georgia McRae of Backcountry Llama (BCL) and their son Robin, an avid backpacker, met with Rex, Scott and I for an overnight get together at Godman Springs in the Blue Mountains of Eastern Washington to look it over as a possible venue for a BCL rendezvous. We took a couple of llamas up for training and Rex brought one of his along to help with training and just have some walking time. It was a wonderful weekend with lots of food and visiting. Noel wanted to discuss a new gathering program that would bring the Rendezvousí to the people instead of a single time/location gathering in the Spring. Rex, Diane, Scott and I decided we could contribute to this and began the year of planning. Without each of the contributors the rendezvous would not have been possible. A great big thanks go out to all who helped. By working together we made it possible to have a great event.

One of the things we decided was that the event should be fun and informative while promoting the working llama, so activities should be varied, flexible, and doable in the location that was chosen. Godman Springs is on the edge of the Wenaha-Tucannon Wilderness. It is a suitable site because it has water, a place for camping, horse feeders, a cabin, vault toilet and a gazebo with picnic tables to use in case of bad weather. In January (not before) we had to rent the cabin for the weekend that we needed it, so we had to pick a weekend that wouldnít conflict with other events and we also wanted to work around a Native American gathering that takes place every year at Godman Springs, which occupies the whole camp ground. Last year we met them and had a great time learning much about the area and itís history for the Native Americans and how the site fits into their culture. After much consideration we chose the 16-18 of June and the planning and preparation went into high gear. First we had to let all clubs and online groups know about the activities that were being planned. We wanted to coordinate schedules so that there wouldnít be many conflicts, then let everyone know where to find the information needed so they could plan on attending. Scott made up a neat poster and wrote a article about the area in which we chose to have the rendezvous. The web site then needed to be posted and the link sent out to start advertising. Rex planned on the trails and put together the poker run. Diane made signs and organized. Scott had talked with the rangers to make sure we could use the campsite and let them know that we would be attending. They were happy to have us there as not many people with llamas have ever visited the district before. Scott and I have ventured there for the last three years with llamas and we had a blast taking in the trails and enjoying what Eastern Washingtonís mountains had to offer. The wild flowers and wildlife always amaze us. This year was no exception.

Jo and Dick Sheehan agreed to conduct the PLTA pack trials. Barb Brady (Llama Hardware) was contacted to be a PLTA Pack Trial co-steward, which she graciously accepted, and offered INLA (Inland Northwest Llama Association) as an event sponsor, extending insurance for the trial. We were so glad as this made things easier for us. Now we could actively solicit gifts or other items from companies. Scott wrote about the several organizations who donated items to make this event better. Borrowing an idea from the Montana gathering (inadvertently) held during the same weekend we invited two 4-H groups Llamas-R-Us and Barb Keith of Moses Lake to provide donation breakfasts. This worked out great and I was very glad that they wanted to do this as a fundraiser to support their activities. A GPS seminar and treasure hunt was planned for. Nat Schadinger found out about it and was really looking forward to attending until he discovered he was teaching it. As usual he gave an unsurpassed presentation.

About two weeks before the event I called the forest service to check the road conditions and confirm the camp site was open. They stated that the roads were officially open, but snow and deadfall still had them blocked in places, though crews were being sent in to clear the deadfall and open the vault toilet in preparation for our arrival. After a discussion with Rex and Diana it was decided that Rex would go up and check things out during the following week. His report was the roads were clear on two of the three routes and a large fallen tree was across the main campsite but other than that everything was looking good for the rendezvous. The Saturday before the event we left our home and headed to camp. The day was sunny and cool, and by the time we arrived at camp it was warm and overcast, which was pretty nice since we had to cut the tree out of the way, set up the trailer and campsite and generally clean up the grounds. Rex and Scott gathered firewood, Heather Gibbons and I swept, walked around and picked up litter, nails and other left over garbage from the winter users. We all enjoyed a very nice evening gathered around the campfire. The next day found Rex and Scott walking the trails. I believe they walked about twelve miles that day, broken up by meal breaks. They marked the trails for the pack trial and poker run, checked out obstacles and generally enjoyed the day. Heather and I stayed in camp and cleaned up the sites and around the cabin. All and all another beautiful day. After the guys left Heather and I stayed in camp for the rest of the week. The weather changed and became very unstable. Sunday night we had clouds, early Monday morning we were awakened by lightning, thunder, hail, and lots of rain and wind. Being safe in the trailer, the elements didnít bother us to much. We worked on ideas for the kids, craft ideas, planning activities that would help keep everyone happy and busy. We made a trip into Dayton for breakfast and then to Pomeroy to visit the rangers. We were greeted at the ranger district office and given coloring books and other items to help make our gathering more interesting. A drive through Pomeroy was needed since I had never been there before, and what a nice surprise as this is a town to visit again. Back to Dayton driving through light rain we saw deer and other animals on the way. The country side was beautiful, clean and fresh looking, the hills banded by rivers of brown, gold and green as the wheat was nearing harvest. Windmills were gently turning on the hills above the highway.

Tuesday, Heather and I decided to take a couple of short hikes in between rain showers. The first was to look for wild flowers and mushrooms. We took one of the trails that was scouted out for the pack trial and poker run. Heather and I had so much fun looking for and identifying mushrooms. We found many edible wax caps, and some dog ear type that were two small for picking, some puff balls, cauliflower, and lots of wild flowers. We even found a couple of snow brain mushrooms which if dried make a great substitute for salt and pepper seasonings. The hike was breathtaking. When we reached the top of the hill and looked over the surrounding hills and mountains we watched the clouds dance from the ground to the sky, swaying, twirling and dipping to the changing air temperatures and gentle breeze. Light to pale gray against a dark green background. In the distance the mountains of the snow capped Eagle Cap Wilderness were peaking above the misty gray horizon. Around our feet were wild flowers of many different hues of reds, yellow, blues, and white gently swaying in the breeze. We spotted a golden eagleís nest, deer/elk trails on the surrounding hills, the Blue Mountain ski slope, the Native American medicine wheel, and gnarled trees and stumps that looked like prickly pear cactus. What a really nice day. Storm clouds came in during the night and we had more rain and storm.

By Wednesday, Scott, having updated the web page with the latest information and gathered supplies joined us again and brought Pepper Corn (llama) with him. It was nice to have him back. Dinner was prepared and we were busy until bedtime. The Sheehanís property had flooded and they had to cancel. The Boy Scout troop that planned to attend and assist cancelled. Many of their dadís are hay farmers and were having fits with the weather.

Thursday morning was a cloudy day and everything was very soggy. We dried out all we could and prepared to have our friends join us. By the time Barb Brady, Nat Shadinger, Rex and Diana McMullen joined us in the mid-afternoon the sun had helped dry us out, and in the early evening Ann and Merle Foss arrived by taking the route though Bluewood and had to clear some dead fall from the road using their truck and trailer. Rex and Diana put signs up to help guide travelers to the campsite as they came up the road. We had a great time visiting that night around the campfire. Final plans were put into place and all was made ready for the rendezvous to begin. We were all hoping for good weather and we werenít disappointed.

Friday the sky cleared off, it warmed up, and people started to arrive in numbers by early afternoon. The port-a-pots were dropped off and we were told that some of the signs were misplaced, sending people off on a wild goose chase. They had been moved by some incoming ATVíers. Rex and I traveling in two different vehicles went to place the signs back and look for lost people. Scott directed folks to campsites. A black bear was spotted by Ann, Merle, Lisi and Jeff not more then a few hundred feet from the campgrounds and seemed to be scared away by all the commotion around the site. More people showed up and dinner was placed on the tables and boy was there a lot of food. Our meal was delicious and the selections varied Ė I donít think anyone left hungry. An opening social was planned and executed with welcome, introductions, schedule, thanks, house keeping, rules to the wilderness area and safety tips. In all the event drew about 50 people and 40 llamas.

Saturday was the busy day for activities. After breakfast the pack trial folks ventured out, followed later by the poker run participants on part of the pack trial basic course. The younger kids took a hike on the forest roads to find the ski slope, deer/elk tracks, and tree stumps that looked like prickly cactus, then made foam place mats and visors. Coloring books and crayons were supplied to help with their unique designs. Gifts were given just for the kids so they didnít feel left out. Ann, Kelly, Heather, and Lisi went driving and Merle and Jeff went into Dayton to see the old car show that is held there every year. Those who went on the poker run and basic level pack trial arrived around noon and a barbeque lunch was served with hamburgers and hotdogs along with leftovers from the night before. During this time about 40 visitors, including a large group of Audubon Society folks, came in from Dayton and the surrounding area. Lots of questions were asked and photos taken. Later, a group of spinners arrived from Dayton to learn how to felt llama fiber, offered by our new friends in the Happy Hummers 4-H group from Burns, Oregon. Some really nice felted pieces were made by first time felters.

Saturday night was another fun and exciting meal with lots of good food to enjoy and share. A black bear was spotted again near the campsite but didnít bother anyone Ė not even the llamas. Heather put together a fun get-to-know-you activity and candy was given out to many attendees that participated. Prizes were awarded for the poker run such as first aid packs, pack string leads, cooking utensils, wind-up flashlights, emergency blankets, grass pellets, llama supplement, etc., to name just a few of the prizes. We gathered around the campfire and Scott presented the "Ranger Dusty" award. Wes Holmquist was the recipient this year. Congratulations to Wes. Homemade root beer and ice cream floats were served that night for those who wanted them. As the evening wound down people went back to their camp sites for the night. It was a beautiful night, with stars and planets twinkling and the milky way painting a brilliant swath across the clear, deep black sky. A few satellites were spotted and as they traveled above us the night creatures such as owls and bats stirred and played among the trees and earth. Nighttime in the mountains are just so special. And speaking of bats, there were virtually no mosquitoes or flies to worry about.

Sunday dawned as bright as ever. The sun gradually warmed the earth and air around us into the 70's again, following chilly nighttime temps of 39F degrees. As the snow continued to melt in the warmth of the sun the people gathered for breakfast prepared and served by Barb Keith and her 4-H group. The pack trial folks gathered their gear and llamas were again weighed and off they went with their guides for the day. Rex and Scott, armed with walkie talkies at both the front and back end of the group left for another day of hiking along the trails of the Blue Mountains. The rest of us played games and cleaned up the site. Fond farewells were bid during the day to those that had to travel many miles to get home, and plans were made to attend next year. A barbeque lunch was served for those who wanted to eat before they left. More llama driving was enjoyed, along with a water game played with llamas. Several youth played the "tea cup" race with water and plastic cups. Prizes and candy were given out to all who participated. Linda Bushaw took pictures and a video of the games. Watching them having fun was priceless. And boy was it a blast. As the day progressed the hikers and games slowed down, many packed up and pulled out and the few who stayed behind relaxed and waited by the campfire for the night. As evening approached it was time to say goodbye to our home away from home.

As for me, after a full week of camping, beginning with cloudy rain filled skies, watching the ground turn white with hail the size of large peas, lightning slashing across the dark cloudy sky, thunder that made you jump as it boomed through the mountain valleys, and finally the sun warming the clear blue daylight skies and deep blue/black nights lit by the stars and reflection of sunlight from below the horizon, I think how wonderful it was to spend this time with good friends and family. What a great way to start the season off. As a very famous commercial states: PRICELESS and it was. Next year here we come......

Gayle-Marie Noga

Rattlesnake Ridge Ranch

Pasco, WA

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Last modified: 15 May 2012