WASHINGTON STATE ROAD TRIP July 6-25, 2012
I left Castlegar at the confluence of the Kootenay and Colombia Rivers and drove along one of the few free-flowing sections of the Columbia to Trail. I entered the US at the Waneta border crossing just past where the Pend Oreille River enters the Columbia. The Waneta Dam, right at the end of the Pend Oreille, supplies all the power for Teck Cominco, the largest lead zinc smelter in the world at Trail.
Lake Roosevelt, when at high water, starts at the Canada/US border and continues 150 miles to Grand Coulee Dam. Just past Northport, Lake Roosevelt National Recreation Area begins and highway 25 follows the lake. There are at least 15 campgrounds along the lake. Each has a great map of the recreation area showing all the boat launches, ferries, and campgrounds. I continued on 25 through Kettle Falls. The namesake waterfall is now submerged under the lake. It had the third highest volume of any waterfall in the world. Passing through the tiny towns of Rice, Gifford, and Hunters, I reached Fort Spokane. The Spokane River here is a very popular camping and boating area. Just past the fort, I took the Miles-Creston turnoff. Wilbur is the largest town so far and has reasonable shopping. Past Wilbur take highway 174 to the Grand Coulee Dam. This country is entirely of volcanic origin with evidence of multiple lava flows on the cliff walls. In the rain shadow of the Cascades, the whole area east of the Cascades is semi-desert with sage bush and grass – trees disappear.
Started in 1933 and finished in 1942, Grand Coulee Dam (6,809MW) is the biggest dam in North America and the 5th largest in the world by instantaneous hydroelectric generating capacity (after Three Gorges in China (25,500MW) , Itapu in Paraguay (14,000MW) – one of the 7 engineering wonders of the world, Guri in Venezuela (11,200 MW), and Tucurui in Brazil (8,370MW). Dam size can be measured by either volume of structure, reservoir size, height or generating capacity. The lake is used for recreation, supplies electricity to a huge amount of the NW US, and provides water for irrigating much of Washington. Water is pumped 280 feet up into Banks Lake from where it is redistributed by thousands of miles of irrigation ditches. The free dam tour takes you to the pump station for Banks Lake (water can be reversed to flow back down to Lake Roosevelt and used to generate power for peak demand periods). The tour goes over the dam which is closed for security to normal traffic. One gets out to look down the huge spillway. At 10 every night there is a marvelous laser show on the surface of the dam, most shown on the huge spillway. The visitor’s center has good displays about the dam and its construction. The Colville Confederated Tribes have a worthwhile museum.
After Grand Coulee, I took highway 155 along Banks Lake. It goes through stunning country as Banks Lake is closed in by high volcanic cliffs. Steamboat Rock State Park has a huge 314 site camp ground that is full most of the summer. Everybody is chock-a-block next to each other. After Coulee City, I crossed Dry Falls Dam (which helps form Banks Lake) and stopped at Dry Falls State Park to understand the incredible geology. At least 77 separate lava flows 20 million years ago formed 6,000 foot deep lava. The weight of the lava formed a depression over 100,000 square miles of south central Washington State, western Idaho and NW Oregon. Between 15,000 and 13,000 years ago, the area experienced about 85 separate massive floods when the huge Lake Missoula in western Montana broke through ice age glacier dams on the Clark Fork River (a tributary of the Pend Oreille). It scoured through the lava beds emptying the glacial lake in 48 hours. The flood was turned south down Banks Lake by another glacier dam and went over Dry Falls. The lip of the falls slowly moved back 20 miles with the many floods. At the State Park, Dry Falls was 3½ miles wide and 400 feet high, the largest waterfall of all time. The canyon is now filled with multiple lakes forming great recreation areas. It was 42 C on this day.
I continued through Soap Lake and Ephrata eventually rejoining the Columbia River, now a huge gorge with a great viewpoint. The Columbia forms the border between Washington and Oregon and I stayed on the Washington side. My goal is to explore the Columbia River Gorge, one of the premier wind and kite surfing areas of the world. Initially the river valley is flat but hills eventually rise on both sides. It is these hills that funnel the wind down the valley. Forest starts to reappear as one approaches the Cascade Mountains.
Stonehenge: Finished in 1929 by Samuel Hill, a Quaker, he thought the original Stonehenge commemorated Druid sacrifices. Thus his Stonehenge was constructed as a memorial to the 12 soldiers from Klickitat County, WA who died in WW l. Built of concrete, no stones are missing unlike the original. When discovered that the original Stonehenge was probably astronomical in purpose, this reproduction, even though 400 miles south of the original, was still very accurate in predicting solstices. From the outside in, it consists of a circle of 30 Sarsen stones joined by lintels, 30 smaller Bluestone stones in a circle, 10 Trilathon stones in a horseshoe, 15 Bluestones in a horseshoe, and an altar stone at the base of the horseshoe. The open end of the horseshoe points to a heel stone outside of the main structure used to do the predictions. A memorial to all the other Klickitat residents who died in WW ll, Korea, Vietnam and Iraq is nearby. It is a popular tourist site.
Columbia Gorge. This is one of the windiest places on earth with the consistent west wind funneling down the river canyon. It attracts a huge wind surfer/kite surfer crowd. My old friend from Rossland, Pierre Roussel has come here all summer, every summer for years (he is a teacher). A great place to watch is at the Event Beach right in the town of Hood River. Cross the river and downstream a few miles is a fish hatchery where the wind blows harder and more consistently. Trick kiting with flips and jumps is easier here. I hung around for a few days and read two great books: In The Path Of An Avalanche (a true story about 6 Kootenay young people who died in an avalanche at Silver Spray in Kokanee Provincial Park near Nelson), and Born To Run (a captivating read about running and Tarhumara, the indigenous Indians of the Copper Canyon in Mexico, some of the best runners in the world).
The Oregon side of the gorge past Hood River is characterized by a steep basalt cliff over which plummet 77 waterfalls. These are best seen from historic Route 30 which parallels Interstate 84. The first is Horsetail Falls right on the highway. An easy trail leads to Upper Horsetail Falls behind which the trail goes and Oneonte Falls, 1.1 miles from the trail head. I continued on the gorge trail coming back to the road and a back to my camper. Multnomah Falls, with 2 drops of 542 and 62 feet, makes it the second highest waterfall in the US (after Yosemite Falls at 1750 feet – I have climbed to the top of it). The trail to the top of the Multnomah crosses a classic bridge framing the falls. One could detour here to the Oregon coast and Cannon Beach with its iconic sea stacks.
Mt. St. Helens National Volcanic Monument. In 1979, a 5.1 earthquake caused the collapse of the north face in a massive rock debris avalanche. 230 square miles of forest was blown down or buried beneath volcanic deposits. A mushroom-shaped column of ash rose thousands of feet drifting downwind with ash falling over eastern Washington and beyond. In Medicine Hat, Alberta, it obscured the ball when golfing. There are 3 access points to the monument – from south to north: 1.Hwy 503 off I-5 accesses the south side of the park and the only easy way to climb to the crater rim. Climbing requires a permit (100/day) only available online by a lottery that opens April 1. The trail climbs 4,500 feet to the crater rim at 8,365’, taking 7-12 hours. When I arrived in mid July, there were no permits available for the entire month. A helmet, dust mask, and goggles are required equipment. This entrance also accesses Ape Cave, a large lava tube, and several low-level trails. 2.Hwy 504 and 505 off I-5 accesses the NW side of the monument, going to Johnson Ridge Observatory. It is 36 miles to the crater rim trail. 3. I-5→Hwy 12→Hwy 13→Hwy 25 accessing Windy Ridge and Spirit Lake on the NE side of the mountain, the main area devastated by the eruption.
Mt Rainier NP. Accessed off I-5→Hwy 12→Hwy 7 north then 706 to Paradise Meadows and the main center of he park. I climbed Rainier in 1980 with Rainier Mountaineering. Although it is the 5th highest peak in the continental US, the others are less than 100’ higher, and Rainier is certainly the most technical with large sections on glacier. I drove over Chinook Pass on Hwy 410 where the snow was still over 10 feet deep. The views of Rainier were classic. I continued on to Yakima, and then north to Leavenworth. The terrain changed from semi-desert in Yakima to irrigated farmland around Ellensburg and then forest in the Cascades as you approach Leavenworth. This touristy place has a Bavarian theme and is very pretty. Beer, German sausage and live bands reign here.
Continuing north in the Okanogan Valley, I turned east towards the rustic town of Republic, then north to cross the border at Danville, south of Grand Forks. There I spent 2 days with friends who run a large honey operation. They are also heavily involved with UBC doing research on the Virola mite. In the sauna like bee suit, I only got two stings. It was a fascinating experience. Back in Castlegar, I had 9 days to get ready for the Kootenay Mountaineering Club Hiking Camp, this year at Carnovan Lake in the Rockies north of Elkford, BC.