A trip to Washington’s Palouse

Each one of those wind turbines is taller than the Statue of Liberty.
Each one of those wind turbines is taller than the Statue of Liberty.

Serendipity and itchy feet. Metaphorical itchy feet, I hasten to add. Anyway, it’s spring and I was feeling the need to hit the road,
preferably to a place I’d never been before. This isn’t easy when I can only be gone overnight, after almost twenty-two years in the same county.

But I’d never been to the Palouse before, somehow. Granted,
because it’s down in the far southeastern corner of Washington state (slopping over a bit into Idaho), the Palouse (which is either where the horse breed Appaloosa gets its name or vice versa) is about as far from home as I can get without leaving the state, but still, it’s only about 250 miles one way. Not that bad.

So I packed up for an overnight, loaded the cats’ food and water dishes, and headed out.

I left I-90 where it crosses the Columbia River at the little town of Vantage, and followed the river downstream to where if you look across it, you can see the Hanford Nuclear Reservation, which was part of the Manhattan Project during WWII, where they developed the bombs our government dropped on Japan, and which is now the Superfund site to end all Superfund sites (I can only wish it would be the end of Superfund sites). From the highway, of course, you can’t see anything but barren hills, but there is a sign that tells about it.

The Hanford Nuclear Reservation sign.
The Hanford Nuclear Reservation sign.

And so on eastward, past orchards and through the little town of Othello and the hamlet of Washtucna.

Orchard along the river south of Othello.
Apple orchard in bloom along the river south of Othello.

I turned south again at Washtucna through the terrain known as the channeled scablands, which resulted from huge lava flows which were then carved when great glacial Lake Missoula flooded most of eastern Washington, leaving behind a great black jagged landscape looking about as desolate as a place can get.

But it’s a beautiful desolate, and one of the most beautiful places in it is Palouse Falls, which is also Washington state’s official state
waterfall.

190-foot Palouse Falls, Washington's state waterfall.
190-foot Palouse Falls, Washington’s state waterfall.
Looking downstream from Palouse Falls at the channeled scablands.
Looking downstream from Palouse Falls at the channeled scablands.
Marmot near Palouse Falls.
Marmot near Palouse Falls.
I thought this was camas, but it turns out to be brodiaea.
I thought this was camas, but it turns out to be brodiaea.

But no, I wasn’t in the Palouse yet. After I hiked around the falls a bit, and photographed a few wildflowers and a critter or two, I
headed on east and north, and the land changed abruptly from sharp and jagged and rocky to smooth and covered with a
patchwork of kelly green new sprouting wheat and fallow tan.

The undulating landscape of the Palouse.
The undulating landscape of the Palouse.

The Palouse proper looks like the landscape version of a Renoir nude. Not a sharp edge in sight. The soil here, wind-blown loess up to a thousand feet deep in places, flows almost like water. The roads curve and wrap themselves around and through the undulating ups and downs topped with ranks of wind turbines. Farmhouses
surrounded with windbreak trees nestle in the hollows. The sky is unutterably wide, especially to someone who’s used to spending most of her time surrounded by huge evergreens and snowcapped mountains.

It’s actually quite glorious.

The biggest town in the Palouse is the college town of Pullman.
Everything there is Washington State University Cougar red and
silver. People kept telling me I needed to go to a place called
Ferdinand’s to get ice cream, but I couldn’t find it. I did, however, find a place to spend the night, the better to get ready for more
exploration the next day.

If you enjoy my travel blog posts, you might enjoy my travel memoir, Cross-Country.