Saddle Mountain Management Area
Saddle Mountain is an abrupt bump on the grassy plains of central Washington. It's a wild, isolated spot, with little recreation facilities. But it's a powerful place, powerful in the way that only worn down mountains can be. Perhaps not a destination to drive across the country for, but don't overlook it if you're in the area. And if you hang glide or just enjoy watching hang gliders it's an especially marvelous spot.
The Saddle Mountains receive extensive and generally dispersed recreational use year round, and more is predicted for the future. Primary recreational activities include: rock collecting, hang gliding, paragliding, OHV riding, horseback riding, hiking, camping and hunting. The largest group of people known to have visited the area numbered from 2,000 to 3,000 participants and spectators. These large groups were associated with competitive OHV events such as the Mattawa 100 Motorcycle Race that was last run in 1982. There have not been any groups approaching this magnitude since which is a good thing. Besides being loud and annoying, disturbance by OHVs have caused denudation, opening the way for erosion and invasion by non-native species, especially knapweed.
The Saddle Mountains area is also becoming known for its hang gliding and paragliding. Visitors come from all over Washington to take advantage of the consistent updrafts that are prevalent along the northern slope.
Rockhounders regularly come from as far away as British Columbia and the Oregon coast as well as other parts of the U.S. to converge on the Saddle Mountains in search of petrified wood that is abundant at several locations on the mountains.
Lay of the Land
Elevations within the Saddle Mountains Management Area range from a low of 486 feet at the Columbia River on the recreation area's west side, to approximately 2,700 feet at Wahatis Peak on the eastern side. The main plateau consists of a rather sharp ridge rising about 1,600 feet higher than the surrounding plain. These mountains were subject to considerable faulting in the geologic past. Southern slopes are gentle in comparison to the precipitously bold relief of the north facing cliffs.
Sand dunes on the western toe slopes are a natural phenomenon partly caused by strong winds in this area.
The Columbia River flows along the west boundary of the Saddle Mountains. This portion of the river contains slack water behind Priest Rapids Dam. Lower Crab Creek flows westerly near the northern boundary of the area. The natural flow of this creek has been supplemented through drainage of irrigation water. There are several ephemeral streams/drainages on Saddle Mountains the most notable is Rock Creek located near the west end.
Fish and Wildlife
The shrub steppe habitats, rock outcrops and cliffs of the Saddle Mountains support a variety of wildlife which are adapted to live in this relatively open and arid area. Mule deer and coyotes are the largest mammals consistently observed within the recreation area. Small mammals, which are abundant in the area, include black-tailed jackrabbits, Nuttall's cottontails, bushy-tailed woodrats, striped skunks, badgers and a great number and variety of mice, shrews, and bats.
Upland birds within the Saddle Mountains Management Area include chukars, ring-necked pheasants and mourning doves. Sage grouse once inhabited the area but have not been seen since the early 1980s. During the spring and summer, deeper-soiled portions of the shrub steppe support abundant populations of Brewer's vesper, lark, and sage sparrows.
Bunchgrass habitats on the east end support grasshopper sparrows and long-billed curlews. The long-billed curlews nest and feed in areas dominated by cheatgrass.
Except for limited riparian habitat in the Rock Creek Canyon, there is extremely little wetland habitat within the Saddle Mountains Management Area. Waterfowl use adjacent riparian areas along the Columbia River, Crab Creek and their associated wetlands for breeding, and as resting and feeding areas during migration.
Raptors that inhabit the area year round or seasonally include ravens; burrowing owls; red-tailed, Swainson's, ferruginous, and rough-legged hawks; prairie falcons; American kestrels; and bald and golden eagles. Two of these are special status species. The ferruginous hawk is a federal candidate for listing and is state threatened, and the bald eagle is both federally and state threatened. The west and north cliffs are important nest sites for many of these birds.
Some reptiles and amphibians found in the recreation area include short-horned and sagebrush lizards, gopher snakes, western rattlesnakes and Great Basin spadefoot toads.
The Saddle Mountains are dominated by big sagebrush (Artemisia tridentada) and bluebunch wheatgrass (Agropyron spicatum). Bluebunch wheatgrass dominates the grass community at the higher elevations, and cheatgrass dominates the lower levels.
Several sensitive plant species have been identified within the recreation area boundary.
Lomatium tuberosum Federal Candidate
Arennaria Franklinii var. thompsonii Federal Candidate
Oxytropis campestris var. wanapum Federal Candidate
Cryptantha interrupta State Sensitive
Cryptantha leucophaea State Sensitive
Arennaria nuttallii State Sensitive
Penstemon sp. Undocumented/new species
Lesquerella sp. Undocumented/new species
Poisonous plants such as low larkspur, death camas, loco weed and lupine grow in small quantities throughout the area.
In recent years, the density of diffuse knapweed (a noxious weed) has increased in the Saddle Mountains. Knapweed has been observed near or adjacent to disturbed areas such as roads, the base of power lines, and on trails from OHV or livestock use. Because of this increase, the infested areas on BLM administered land have been included in the Spokane District's Noxious Weed Control program. This program involves treatment of noxious weeds through a variety of methods including biological, chemical or mechanical methods.
The Saddle Mountains are accessible from three state highways (Highways 243, 24 and 26) and two county roads. State Highway 243, which parallels the Columbia River, provides physical access to the western portion of the area. The southwestern portion of the Saddle Mountains can be accessed from Highway 24 via"R" Road, one mile east of the town of Mattawa and County right of way via O road, 4 miles east of Mattawa. The eastern portion can be accessed from Highway 24 via Corfu Road located at the entrance to the Wahluke Wildlife Recreation Area (about 20 miles east of Mattawa). This road crosses the mountain and eventually intersects Highway 26 at Corfu, Washington.
Roads and trails on the public lands on the Saddle Mountains total about 80 miles and are located mostly on the western end. These roads were constructed for various access purposes, such as access to the communication sites for maintenance to the four power/transmission lines that traverse the mountains; and management of the grazing leases. Some roads are county roads or rights-of-way that were established years ago. These roads are open to mountain bikes.
The Saddle Mountains are in a semiarid climatic zone. The annual precipitation ranges between 5 and 9 inches, with the most received between late fall and early spring. Temperatures range from an average minimum of about 20 degrees Fahrenheit in January to an average maximum of about 91 degrees Fahrenheit in July.
Details mentioned in this article were accurate at the time of publication