Eastern Washington

Eastern Washington

I'm sorry, but this page is far too long - I will cut it down when I get around to it!

Big, dry and hot, Eastern Washington has little in common with the green, Western side of the state: faded olive-colored sagebrush covers many acres, and massive red rocks loom over the prairies, while huge bare patches of basalt and torn-away groundcover (from centuries of Ice Age floods) give the area the unattractive geological moniker of the "channeled scablands." Further South, the lower Yakima Valley is a vast agricultural belt with miles of orchards and farms that flank the Yakima River. With over 300 sunny days a year, this region is the largest producer of apples in the world, though that claim is increasingly threatened by cheap fruit imports from the Far East. In the last 20 years, however, this has also become one of the Northwest's major wine regions. The area towns are agricultural and commercial centers, and only Spokane has any degree of cultural life. Nevertheless, some are excellent bases for winery tours or outdoor activities such as rafting, fishing, hiking, paragliding and skiing.


If you're traveling by Greyhound East of the Cascade Mountains along Interstate 90, your first major stop will be Ellensburg, a dusty little town with fetching nineteenth-century red-brick architecture, a state police training academy, a regional university, and not much else except for the Ellensburg Rodeo, one of the top 20 Rodeos in America held over Labor Day weekend. Featuring Stetson-wearing cowhands roping steers, riding bulls, and braving bucking broncos, the rodeo is a rather big deal for the area. The day starts with a display of native American dancing by the Yakama Indian Nation.

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An ongoing tradition to mark the start of the rodeo, the Yakama Indian Nation ride down Craig's Hill into the rodeo arena.

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There are then a number of processions.

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The first event is bareback riding considered the most physically demanding event in rodeo.

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Second it is Steer wrestling where the object of the Steer wrestler or buldogger is to use strength and technique to wrestle the steer to the ground as quickly as possible. A steer generally weighs twice as much as a cowboy and when they come together they are both often travelling at 30 miles per hour.

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Third it is Tie-Down Roping.

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The calf receives a head start, the horse is trained to stop as soon as the cowboy throws his loop and catches the calf. The cowboy then dismounts, sprints to the calf and throws it by hand, a maneuver known as flanking. After the calf is flanked, the roper ties any three legs together with a pigging string, a short, looped rope he clenches in his teeth during the run.

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Saddle Bronc riding comes Fourth. The cowboy must synchronise his movements with the horse for a fluid ride.

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Barrel racing is graceful and simplistic - one woman, three barrels, a horse and a stopwatch.

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Next it was stunt time. One rider on two horses jumping over a convertible car.

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Wild Cow Milking is very difficult for the cowboy duo to master and hilarious to watch. There is a roper on a horse and a mugger standing by. Once the cow is roped, the mugger races over attempting to subdue the cow while the roper tries to get a little milk into a bottle he has. If the cow gives in enough to allow the cowboy to get a bit of milk, the cowboy sprints to the judge - before the one minute time limit expires.

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The final event is Bull riding - the rider must use one hand to stay aboard for eight seconds.

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The visitors center, 801 South Ruby Street, provides maps and hotel options.

Eighty miles West of Spokane, the huge Grand Coulee Dam is the largest concrete structure in the world: 550 feet high, 450 feet thick at its base, and nearly a mile across. Almost 12 million cubic yards of concrete were used which would build a 8' wide 4" thick path around the equator. The centerpiece of the massive project of dams and canals that have "reclaimed" the Columbia Basin, the Grand Coulee Dam is one of the civil engineering wonders of the world. Built from 1933 to 1942 it was as much a political icon as it was an engineering feat.

The earlier, heroic story of power production is detailed in the visitor center on Highway 155 on the West side of the dam, which also shows a film about its construction and runs free tours of the dam and its generating plants. The dam itself is initially something of an anticlimax; because of its horizontal layout, it just doesn't look that big - a trick of the hugely scaled scenery that surrounds it. On summer nights it's lit up by a 36 minute laser show that takes place from 8.30pm to 10pm, depending on the month. Blue and green Argon and red Krypton beams are projected between 2000' and 4000' onto the spillway of the dam to form images up to 300' tall which tell the story of the Columbia River and the Grand Coulee Dam along with music from Vangelis and Neil Diamond.

Probably the most ambitious scheme of Roosevelt's New Deal, at a cost of many millions of dollars and 77 lives, this massive dam provided jobs for thousands of workers from all over the country, including folk singer Woody Guthrie, who also worked on the Bonneville Dam in the Columbia Gorge and was commissioned to write twenty songs about the Columbia project. These were originally played at local rallies, held to raise investment money and combat propaganda from private power companies that wanted to monopolize power production. The dam's unquestioned heyday, though, was during World War II, when its waterpower was harnessed into the making of aluminum that became essential to the production of war material.

Grand Coulee Dam is now the world's third largest producer of hydroelectricity, and has certainly controlled flooding lower down the Columbia. It also pumps water 280' up into Banks Lake from where it is distributed to irrigate half a million acres of rich farmland. Unfortunately, power-guzzling agricultural and industrial demands have made this dam, like others along the Columbia, a potent symbol of the decline of native salmon species, whose migration routes have largely disappeared in recent decades, thanks to the looming turbines and concrete walls in their way.

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A glass fronted elevator runs down 329' at a 45 degree angle into the Third Powerplant, added in 1975, to the massive turbines, which have a combined generating capacity of over six million kilowatts.

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There are interpretive signs about the dam and the geology of the area over the bridge just below the dam.

View of the dam from Crown Point.

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The neighboring towns of Coulee Dam, Grand Coulee and Electric City have a few motels and fairly dire restaurants. More appealingly, over thirty campgrounds are scattered around the long, spindly reservoir of Lake Roosevelt, which becomes more woody and secluded as you get further North. The more noteworthy spots include Spring Canyon Campground, located on the lake itself, and Steamboat Rock State Park, 12 miles South of Grand Coulee where a flat summit stands 800' above Banks Lake.

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The Washington Section of one of the Road Trip USA routes follows the Eastern shore of Banks Lake to Coulee City . . .

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. . . past the impressive columnar basalt forming the canyon wall.

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Just West of Coulee City, Dry Falls interpretive center explains more about the repeated ice age floods from Lake Missoula which created this massive waterfall, 3.5 miles wide with a drop of more than 400'. By comparison, Niagara is 1 mile wide and 165' high. Originally the water roared over a 800' cliff 20 miles downstream but was retreated back to this point, the eroding power of the water plucking chunks of basalt from the precipice.

These pictures from the interpretive center are of only about a third of the total width.

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A drive down into the base of the 'falls' leads to Deep Lake and a look down a further section of the 'waterfall' to the right of the pictures above.

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This massive rock standing in the base of the 'falls' was originally attached to the rocks to the right (below).

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Dry Falls Lake is below the interpretive center.

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Further South is Blue Lake, more photogenic than Soap Lake beyond.

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The Soap Lake Legend

Soap Lake contains 17 minerals and an Ichthyol like oil. The only comparable water in the World is Baden in Baden, Germany. Cowboys and settlers kearned of the health-like wualities of the bouyant water from the Native Americans who, for ages past, sent their ailing to bathe in the great spirits 'Smokiam' or 'Healing Waters'. This was a favorite campsite for Chief Joseph and his people. White men named it Soap Lake because of the soapy feel of the water and the 'suds' that formed along the shore.

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The wide-open spaces and drab little towns of Eastern Washington don't prepare you for Spokane ("spo-CAN"). A few miles from the Idaho border, it's the region's only real city, and its scattering of grandiose late-nineteenth-century buildings - built on the spoils of Idaho silver mines, such as the 1895 Spokane County Courthouse in French chateau style - sport some unexpectedly elegant touches.

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First established as a fur-trading outpost around 1810, Spokane began to grow when railroads arrived in the 1870s, and has boomed since the advent of irrigation in the 1940s. But its heyday came and went, and shades of the dreary freight town it became still haunt the modern city. It's not a place to linger long, but its pleasant parks and unusual architecture can easily fill a day.

Spokane hosted the 1974 World's Fair, for which much of the riverfront was cleared and converted to the attractive, 100-acre Riverfront Park. Designed, but never implemented, by Frederick Law Olmsted of Central Park fame a mere century earlier, the park, sprawling over two islands in the middle of the Spokane River. Bisecting the park, the river tumbles down a series of rocky shelves known as the Spokane Falls, which form a deep canyon at the center of downtown, once a fishing site for native peoples and later the home of the first pioneers.

Attractions include an ice-skating rink which shares space with the IMAX theater, the charming hand-carved Looff Carousel, and the Gondola Skyride cable cars which run above the falls from the West end of the park although they were not running in 2005.

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Most of the relics of Spokane's early grandeur can be found several blocks Southwest on West Riverside Avenue, where neoclassical facades cluster around Jefferson Street. The city's nineteenth-century highlights include the Davenport Hotel, the Clark Mansion, and the Tudor Revival Campbell House, part of the Cheney Cowles Museum at 2316 West First Avenue, a regional history museum holding an impressive collection of artifacts. The visitors center is at 201 West Main Street.

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The Spokane River runs through the Riverside State Park where one can view the unique basaltic formations in the river known as the Bowl and Pitcher.

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Fort Spokane is at the confluence of the Columbia and Spokane Rivers West of Spokane. Built in 1880 and used by the US Army until 1898, it became an Indian agency, and in 1900 an Indian boarding school. For various reasons the school declined and closed in 1914 and the buildings were then used as a tuberculosis sanitarium and Indian hospital until 1929.

Only four buildings remain including the 1892 guardhouse and 1884 Quartermaster Stable.

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Northeast of town there are panoramic views of the region from the 5883' summit of Mount Spokane.

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North of Spokane along the Pend Oreille River is Manresa Grotto, a glacially formed above ground cave used for religious ceremonies by early American Indians and missionaries.

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Further North off the Pend Oreille scenic Byway, Sullivan Lake has good reflections of Hall Mountain.

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Near Boundary Dam it is possible to walk through the trees into Canada.

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At Gardner Cave in Crawford State Park one can walk down about half of the 1055' limestone cave past various formations and rimstone pools.

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At Boundary Dam one can take a tour of the powerhouse where one of the magnets had been removed . . .

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. . . and on top of the 740' long dam, looking down at the spray deck that was transformed into 'Bridge City' in Kevin Kostner's 'The Postman.

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There is also a view point near vista house on the Eastern side of the Pend Oreille River accessed via Metaline Falls.

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Right against the Idaho border, near a round trip of around two miles through the Roosevelt Grove of 800 to 2000 year old cedar trees and accessible from Idaho are Granite Falls.

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Due West, just over the mountains or by road to the South or through Canada and East of Leadpoint, the Abercrombie Mountain Trail leads from the 4960' trailhead, 3.2 miles up to the 7240' summit of Abercrombie Mountain for 360 degree panoramic views of Kettle Crest and Pend Oreille and Columbia River Valleys.

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Southwest of Spokane there is a good view of Wanapum Lake on the Columbia River from the Wild Horses Monument.

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Nearby Ginkgo Petrified Forest State Park has two trails past petrified trees where they were found but they are surrounded by stone walls with metal grids over them.

At the visitor center a film explains how the trees became petrified and that these are the only petrified trees originally in molten lava. There are some petrified logs on display together with Indian petroglyphs which had been moved to higher ground when the Columbia River rose after the building of various dams.

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Here is a view up the Columbia.

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Due East, Potholes State Park contains depressions in sand dunes formed from the glacial flood erosion of basaltic rock which have been filled by a rising water table.

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Further South, Steptoe Butte rises more than a thousand feet above the surrounding area.

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South of Spokane, the Channeled Scablands is a massive area of scoured basalt left over after the Spokane Flood.

Further South again, in Colfax, the Codger Pole is a chainsaw sculpture depicting a local old boys football game.

To the East Kamiak Butte is not as dramatic as Steptoe Butte but rises to 3641' and from the parking lot a trail climbs about 700' to the summit for views over the Palouse (below).

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From the ridge there is also a view of Steptoe Butte.

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From the top a 3.5 mile trail loops back to the parking lot.

Agricultural picture further South.

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At Palouse Falls State Park, North of Walla Walla the Palouse River drops 198' into a canyon carved into the basalt by Lake Missoula.

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A trail leads upstream and down into the canyon above the falls to get closer to the strange rock formation to the left of the falls (below).

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But this turned out not to be the way down!

View across the Snake River and up the Palouse River at Lyons Ferry Park, South of the falls.

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Walla Walla

The name Walla Walla is of Native American origin meaning 'many waters' and is now a college and agricultural town, known best for its sweet onions, eaten raw like apples. There are a number of historic homes including this 1895 'Ritz Mansion'.

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There's little to see now, but this was the place where the missionary Dr Marcus Whitman arrived from the East Coast in 1836. Unsuccessful in his bid to convert the local Cayuse into crop-growing Christians, he turned his attention to white settlers. In 1843, Whitman helped guide the first wagon-train across the Oregon Trail, and his mission became a refuge for sick and orphaned travelers. The Cayuse eyed the ever-increasing emigrants warily, and when measles spread among the tribe, suspicions grew that they were being poisoned, particularly as Dr Whitman could help (some) whites but few of the natives - who had no natural immunity to the disease, which led to the death of half the tribe. Despite the native tradition that medicine men were liable for the deaths of their patients, Whitman continued to take on even hopeless cases. In November 1847, a band of Cayuse murdered Whitman, his wife and eleven others. Fifty more, mostly children, were taken captive, and although they were later released, angry settlers raised vigilante bands against the Cayuse. When the story hit the newspapers back East, it generated such a tide of fear about Native American uprisings that the government finally declared the Oregon land (then including Washington) a US territory, which meant the army could be sent in to protect the settlers - with drastic implications for all of the area's tribes. The visitors center is at 29 East Sumach.

Whitman Mission National Historic Site where the Whitman Mission was burned down, in a lovely little dell seven miles West of town off US-12, has simple marks on the ground to illustrate its layout; a visitor center shows a film on Whitman and exhibits the weapon thought to have polished him off.

Of more quasi-historical interest, the Fort Walla Walla Museum, 755 Myra Road, is a curious mock-up of a pioneer village, with seventeen original and replica buildings including these pioneer cabins loaded with antiques and Old West dioramas. Five large exhibit halls contain artifacts from the areas past including the Lewis and Clark expedition and 1920's farming equipment such as this life sized 33 mule team hitched to a wooden combined harvester.

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West of Walla Walla at the confluence of the Snake and Columbia Rivers is Sacajawea State Park where Yakima, Wanapum, Walla Walla, Palouse and other Native American tribes have met for thousands of years to gather fish, socialise and trade.

Explorers Lewis and Clark camped here from October 16-18, 1805 and met several tribes. Local Wanapum people have recently built these buildings.

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A little further West in Richland, the Columbia River Exhibition of History, Science and Technology shows a film about ancient Glacial Lake Missoula which broke through a glacial dam, draining its 500 cubic miles of water in about 48 hours creating deep canyons towards the Pacific Ocean and a film and exhibits relating to the top secret Hanford nuclear site where the world's first atomic bomb was developed. There are also exhibits on Lewis and Clark from a scientific standpoint.

Yakima and Toppenish.

The agricultural hub of Yakima is rather grim terrain: the railroad yard is pretty much its aesthetic high point. Though its attractions are few, it is an excellent base to visit the tasting rooms of the award-wining wineries scattered throughout the Yakima Valley (for information call the Yakima Valley Wine Growers Association.) The only appealing part of downtown is among the brightly painted railroad cars at Yakima Avenue at North First Street, where Track 29 houses a small collection of shops and food stalls. Wine-tour maps, as well as lodging and dining information, can be found at the visitor center, 10 North Eighth Street.

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Twenty miles south of Yakima, Toppenish, the main town on the Yakima Indian Reservation, has a Wild West feel enlivened by buildings with historic Western murals. The visitors center, 11 South Toppenish Avenue, supplies brochures on the murals and has a list of local accommodation.

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