Monday, February 25, 2013

Find Your Spot

Dishman Hills
Spring hiking in Dishman Hills

I remember when I lived in the shadow of the Dishman Hills in Spokane. It gave me the ability to be on the trail in just a few short minutes of walking out the door. That was the beauty of Spokane living: lots of parks in town, with great hiking and beautiful scenery. Whether its Beacon Hill or Riverside State Park, there are places to escape too without a long drive out of town. My spot was always Dishman Hills though. As a kid I used to go up there to explore with my friends. We would climb the water tower, catch frogs and snakes at one of the ponds, or play Army in the woods. I vividly remember finding an old American Flag up there. It was worn out, faded, and weather beaten, but I could still recognize the stars and stripes. I was convinced that a battle must have been fought there back in the "olden" days. 

There was about a 10 year period where I didn't step foot in the Dishman Hills. I was too busy being 20-something. I didn't hike nearly as much. I moved a lot. But when I was introduced to backpacking a few years ago, I was reintroduced to the Dishman Hills. It became my spot again. I explored the old familiar places and discovered a bunch of new ones. I hiked all the trails, bagged all the "peaks", and explored all the ravines. I explored off trail a lot too, and sometimes found myself accidentally trespassing on private property, or momentarily lost in some unfamiliar place... But it became mine again.

It's funny how when you spend time in a place... When you love a place... It starts feeling like it belongs to you. You feel responsible for it. You take ownership of it.


It started for me in Dishman Hills simply by picking up garbage. I hate seeing trash in the woods, and in the Dishman Hills its almost an epidemic. Usually this trash comes in the form of piles of beer cans and bottles of booze. I've seen it all over Dishman Hills. Illegal fire rings littered with beer cans. Or abandoned camps strewn with ruined gear, and (you guessed it) empty beer cans. The culprits are usually vagrants. In the summer the homeless will sometimes live in the nooks and cranny's of the park. Normally I wouldn't really care... I feel sorry for the homeless, and the woods can offer some shelter and privacy for them... I get it, I really do. The problem is that they have no respect for the woods. They don't just build a camp, they trash the place. I know, because I've seen it. Iv'e picked up lots of trash from vagrant camps, and I'm sure trail crews from The Dishman Hills Conservancy have as well.

Dishman HillsLast year, late in the winter, I was hiking in the Dishman Hills on a particularly cold morning. There was frost on the ground, and barely any hikers at all in the park that day. I kept hearing banging in the woods. It sounded like hammering... Like somebody working on something. I followed the sound off trail, and from a hilltop spotted a man building a lean-to. He looked to be in his mid-40's. He wore faded black slacks and a black jacket. I stood in silence watching him, trying to decide what to do. My first reaction was just to turn back and forget it, but I was pissed off because I had seen so many empty abandoned camps full of trash. This was actually the second time I had come upon a man in the woods building a shelter, but the first time I just walked away. This time would be different.

"You're not supposed to be building shelters out here you know" I said rather forcefully from about 20 feet behind him. This of course scared the hell out of him because I totally sneaked up on him without him realizing it. He finally spotted me on the hilltop.
"Who are you? The conservation police?" he replied.
Dishman Hills"No, but I care about conservation, and I care about this park." I said.
"I'm just making a good spot to have breakfast and relax in the woods" he said.
"That's fine" I said, "but you shouldn't be tearing down trees to do it." The guy seemed really nervous. His eyes kept darting back and forth from me to his backpack. I didn't believe his story for a second.
"What, are you going to call the police?" he asked. Of course I didn't want to call the police because I felt bad for this guy, and I knew that he was probably homeless.
"If you need a place to stay there is a mission downtown. I can give you a dollar for the bus." I said. He seemed offended that I suggested he was homeless.
"I'm not homeless. I have an apartment. I just like to stay in the woods sometimes. Is that a crime?" he said.
"The problem is that I see camps like this all the time around here, and thy're always full of garbage and empty beer cans." I said.
"I'll clean up after myself I promise. And I wont tear down any more trees." he replied.
I could hear the desperation in his voice, and besides, I had no authority over this man at all. I just wanted to let him know that there were people who used the park that actually cared about the park, so maybe he would think twice about leaving a mess. 
"Okay, that works for me." I said, and I walked away. 

I was compelled to speak up in that situation because Dishman Hills was my spot, and I had a stake in its condition. I couldn't just do nothing, because I felt responsible. I think that's why conservation groups try to push people to play outside so much. Because they know that if you love the place, then you might love it enough to protect it.

Dishman Hills
Firefighter putting out a brush fire I spotted off trail in Dishman Hills.

I left my spot last June when I moved to Phoenix, but I quickly found a new spot. The Phoenix Mountains Preserve is 10 minutes from my house, and I usually get out there twice a week. I don't know it like I know the Dishman Hills, but I am learning. I try a different route every time I go. I connect different trails to make a different loop every time. I climb all the peaks and explore all the out-of-the-way places. I love it. I love having a place that I know better than any other. Sure, its right in the center of town, but so what? Its outside and its in nature, and its my spot. Whats your spot?


  1. Awesomme story Mike, remember when it almost burned down? That was scary.

  2. Great post! My "spot" is 1.4 miles of AT that I maintain in Virginia. I know it well .... and I love it.