Palouse Road Trip

Palouse Road Trip

Why I wanted to photograph the Palouse

The Palouse is the most serene and pastoral of the seven wonders of Washington State. It is a region in south-eastern Washington characterized by gentle rolling hills covered with wheat fields. The hills were formed over tens of thousands of years from wind-blown dust and silt, called “loess”, from dry regions to the south-west. Seen from the summit of 3,612 foot high Steptoe Butte, they look like giant sand dunes because they were formed in much the same way. In the spring they are lush shades of green when the wheat and barley are young, and in the summer they are dry shades of brown when the crops are ready for harvest. The Palouse hills are not only a landscape unique in the world, but they are beautiful to behold, making them my favorite of the seven wonders of Washington State.

Day 1

I originally was going to leave for the Palouse (southeast Washington) on Saturday, but I didn’t really have any client work and was antsy, so I left Seattle on Thursday afternoon. And, since I left later in the day, I didn’t want to try to drive the whole way there and arrive after dark. So, I opted to camp overnight at Wanapum State Park near Vantage, WA.

Wild Horses Monument

I got to Wanapum early evening and set up my tent, then hopped back in the car and drove up to the Wild Horses Monument. I thought I was going to hike up to the monument, but half way up, I realized that my Keen sandals weren’t going to cut it. The dirt and stones were too dry and loose, causing me to slip with each step. I decided that I best hike back down instead of chancing it and risk injuring myself. Oh well, another time.

View over the Columbia River

I stayed there until sunset, really enjoying the scenery with the beautiful sky above.

Back at camp, I made a dinner of soba noodles, mushrooms, seaweed, edamame and seasonings (really yummy).

That night, I barely got any sleep. The wind had really picked up and it sounded like a freight train all night. I was snug and warm in my tent, but the constant howl of the wind kept me from falling into a deep sleep.

Day 2

I got up around 5:30 am, giving up on getting more sleep. By this time, the wind had died down. I packed up everything, then headed to the showers and purchased some tokens so that I had hot water. Well, that didn’t go as planned…I put the tokens in, but nothing happened! The water was really cold, so I didn’t want to get completely wet, but I did splash enough on my face and bottom to not feel completely grimy.

I headed in the direction of Othello, where I stopped for breakfast at McDonald’s. Not my favorite breakfast choice, but my options were limited that early in the morning in a tiny town.

One of my first stops was at Steptoe Butte…and, I have to tell you, it was quite scary driving up a narrow road without guard rails and a steep drop-off! I prayed that nobody would be heading down as I went up (which meant I would be even closer to the edge). I was surprised to see a lone deer so high up when there was nothing but miles and miles of fields surrounding the butte.

I had plans to camp at the Steptoe Butte RV Park, but when I got there and saw that it was a shit hole, I changed my mind. The only other place I could find to camp was much further south along the Snake River. I was glad I made the choice…the campground was lovely, clean, and very scenic.

After checking in and setting up my tent, I hopped in the car and went driving the dirt roads of the Palouse. I had created a Google map from some hand-drawn PDFs I had purchased years ago, so I knew where to go to get good photos. One location is the Artisan Barn in Uniontown.

Besides taking photos of the famous fence at the Artisan Barn, I took a look inside at the artist studios. There were so many exception art pieces…I wish I had the money to buy a lot (but, then I’d have to figure out where to display them in my already full house).

I wasn’t ready to go back to camp yet, but I was tired of driving, so I found a movie theater and finally got to see Avengers: Infinity Wars

That evening, I was really tired from not much sleep the night before, so I was asleep by 9:30 pm (in spite of the very noisy people who were camping with family before graduating college the next day).

Day 3

I got such a good sleep and was up by 6:30 am. It was nice to have a warm shower before breakfast.

I just couldn’t bear camp food for breakfast, so I drive the 23 miles to Pullman and ate at the European Restaurant. Talk about huge portions of food! I had German potato pancakes (that had sausage in them) and what they called goulash (eggs, potatoes, onions, peppers & cheese). I could have split this with two other people and still have felt full!

My timing for the restaurant was good…it was empty when I arrived, but five minutes after I ordered, the place was packed with more waiting for a table (everyone trying to eat before commencement, I imagine).

After breakfast, I explored more dirt roads, mainly on the other side of the Snake River (which meant crossing a dam after showing my I.D. I found an old grange and an old schoolhouse along my travels. I also saw so much wild life! Lots of deer, coyotes, ring-neck pheasants, quail, partridge, and white pelicans.

Dinner that night was Thai food in Pullman…very good Thai food, too!

After dinner and back at camp, I walked along the snake river, enjoying the peacefulness and sunset sky. I actually got 3.5 miles of walking in that day, in spite of being in a car a log.

Again, I was asleep early (for me)…around 10 pm. I expected the college students to really party that night, but they were all worn out, too, so my night was very quiet.

Day 4

I got up around 7:30 am, packed up my car before heading to the showers. I ended up taking a very icy one, because the hot water never came on after I paid my quarters! Afterward, I stopped in the camp office for breakfast. They offered bagels/cream cheese, coffee, cereal, and fruit drinks. I ended up eating two bagels and drank two cups of coffee before heading out.

I did a little bit of driving around before heading to Colfax. A group of us were meeting earlier than planned due to a storm moving in. We met at the Best Western (where I was spending my last night) and drove to Steptoe Butte. The sky was getting really dark and I could see lots of dust devils swirling along the plowed fields. I was driving by one when it jumped the field into the road and hit my car. Dirt and grass were swirling all around my car and I was thankful that it wasn’t stronger! Steven’s friend, Ann, snapped a photo of my car getting hit.

Photo by Steve Johnson of me with my camera and bundled up in my hoodie.

Up at the top of the butte, it was really windy….too windy to use a tripod. I was glad I had a hood on my sweatshirt and pulled it tight over my head. I was hoping to see lightning strikes, but wasn’t that lucky. After two hours, I was done and so, it seemed, were everyone else.

We all headed back into Colfax and planned to have dinner together at the Mexican restaurant, one of the only ones open on a Sunday (unless you counted Subway). The food was good and we had a grand time, sharing photos off our cameras and talking about where we all went while in the Palouse.

Day 5

After waking up around 6 am, I had breakfast at the hotel, then headed for home. One the way, I took a slight detour and stopped at Palouse Falls. Wouldn’t you know it…I arrive right when the sun was above the falls, making picture-taking a terrible idea. Instead, I had fun taking photos of a marmot family.

I spent about an hour at Palouse Falls before continuing home. I was making good time, however, there was an accident right before the Snoqualmie Pass, backing up traffic for miles. Ugh….there’s just no avoiding traffic in the western portion of the state!

I got home around 3:45 pm after putting 1,133 miles on my car since I left on my road trip. It’s been a long time since I drove that far….and I’ll be driving even further when I do my Oregon road trip in June!

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