Steptoe in the Palouse’
Growing up a U of W Husky I was brainwashed to never go to Cougarville aka Pullman, Wa. I had visited there in the spring of 1985 as a distance runner for the University of Washington track team in the Pac-10 Championship 10,000 meter run. My only memories of the trip were the long drive and long run on the track (25 laps!). I placed 3rd and was proud to be a husky.
Fast Forward 35 years, I decided to make the road trip again – this time to explore the scenic beauty of the Palouse.
The Palouse is the southeastern region of Washington state characterized by it’s expansive, gentle rolling wheat and legume fields. I was there in the springtime to experience the rolling greens that made me think I was driving onto a Giant’s golf course. It was beautiful! I had no idea that Eastern Washington had such amazing geographic features. I was so glad I had taken the drive.
My first stop was Pullman, Wa. I had always wanted to see where the notorious ‘Apple Cup’ took place. I headed straight to the WSU campus. I felt sneaky as a husky in cougar territory and made sure I did not wear purple to show where my allegiance lied. I had grown up thinking WSU was the ‘party school’ but was pleasantly surprised by how quiet and clean it was . I hiked up the ‘Cougar Climb’ (bike path on campus) to check out the stadium and bookstore and was amazed by the breathtaking view of the rolling greens of the Palouse. I envisioned golden wheat fields in the summer fall and white snow mounds in the cold winter. It was so clear, clean and quiet – I hate to admit but I liked it…
I visited Ferdinand’s Ice Cream shop where the award winning Cougar Gold cheese and ice cream are made. Every ounce of milk used in production is sourced from dairy cows living right there on the WSU farm. It was a great way to end my campus tour.
My next stop in the Palouse was Steptoe Butte State Park. Steptoe Butte is a 3600 ft. mound of quartzite rock located 30 minutes north of Pullman. A 4.1narrow, paved road leads to a parking lot at the summit where a 360 degree view of the Palouse awaits. It took me 30 minutes to ride my bike to the top where I was surprised to be the only one there – I had the whole Butte to myself -it was Awesome!
Other trip highlights :
*Palouse Falls State Park -a bit further to drive but well worth it to see one of the state’s premier waterfalls on the Snake River.
*Moscow, Idaho Saturday Farmer’s Market – a 15 minute drive from Pullman – Best local market I have ever been to.
*Kamiak Butte County Park – enjoy a 3.5 mile hike on the Pine Ridge trail for more amazing views of the Palouse.
Visit Trailcrossings.com for more adventure ideasing fishing trip on the McKenzie River with Spencer’s Outfitters (Spenceroutfitters.com) located in Walterville, Oregon a 30 min drive East of Eugene on highway 126. Try dry fly fishing in a drift boat with an experienced guide. You are guaranteed to catch a “Big one”. (Well I caught 8 small rainbow trout which equals one big one!)
Cooking fresh fish on my Coleman stove for lunch was a delicious treat. There are multiple campgrounds and rustic lodges tucked along the river to stay at. I chose Belknap Springs Lodge, built in 1933, it was a great place to relax and soak in the 2 natural hot spring pools – a perfect place to end the day.
Next on my adventure agenda was to pedal my bicycle up and over McKenzie Pass on highway 242. I had wanted to do this a very long time and was so excited to finally be there. If you don’t have time to bike the pass you can drive the historic 34 mile scenic bikeway in just under 2 hours. It is only open 3 months of the year and totally worth it!
Start your ride(drive) in Belknap Springs. Watch the scenery brilliantly change before your eyes. Climb the twisty road thru shady evergreen trees up into wildflower filled mountain meadows. As you begin to crest the pass the road levels and the green meadows turn into black, barren lava flats – the temperature rises 10 degrees. As I neared the top, I time-trialed the hot straightaway pretending I was in the Tour de France. My heart was racing as I pushed up the last incline and Voila!! I had reached the summit at 5,325 feet! The Dee Wright Observatory made of lava rocks was smack in the middle of the lava flats. I had never seen so many mountain tops from one place ( Black Butte, Mt. Washington, Mt. Hood to name a few). It was a sight to behold! It was so cool to step inside the lava dome built in the 1930’s by the Civilian Conservation Corps under the direction of Dee Wright. The views are spectacular especially on a clear day. There is a half mile interpretive trail that is well worth the twenty minute walk.
Descend the pass thru beautiful ponderosa pines and end your journey in Sisters, Oregon, a quaint little town with a western flair. I camped at Sister’s Creekside Campground – only $16 per night, close to town, and mountain bike trails galore to explore. So many fun things to see and do.
I highly recommend you hit the road soon and enjoy the journey wherever it takes you! For more adventure ideas visit Trailcrossings.com.