Blazing Across Eastern Washington

Exiting Oregon, we crossed into eastern Washington on a new-to-us route.  We loved the COE (Corps of Engineers) Plymouth Park even as we were setting up camp.  It’s well managed and maintained, spacious and quiet with level sites – nice!  The folks at the gate were so friendly that we had a chat with them each time we passed through.  They suggested some things to do in Washington, but also pointed across the Columbia River with advice about places to visit back in Oregon.

Plymouth, WA

This is why we liked site #12 at Plymouth Park

We didn’t have to drive for entertainment, since our front yard resembled a small bird sanctuary!  Each afternoon we sat outside watching the noisy, demanding baby Western Kingbirds squawk for food.  They’re insectivores, and it was fascinating to see mama bird fly down to snatch a flying insect and then return to the kids with their eager little beaks wide open.  Ah, life’s little pleasures 🙂

Me too, me too, me too!

The winery and vineyards of the ubiquitous Columbia Crest Winery were only 12 miles from the campground, so we went for a taste.  It’s a huge place, and we were able to try their higher-end wines which were pretty good but pricey.  Aside from the winery there wasn’t much to do near Plymouth since we’re not into fishing, so we ended up crossing the river back into Oregon several times for most of our outings.

Boardman, OR

We visited the Sustainable Agriculture and Energy (SAGE) Center, which showcased the agriculture and industry of eastern Oregon.  Recommended by those nice people at the campground entry gate, we walked in with no expectations but left very impressed and full of knowledge about the diversity of industry (farming, food processing, hydropower, wind energy and biofuel production) in eastern Oregon.  It really impacts not only the region, but a good chunk of the world!  We learned from the excellent exhibits and interactive displays about the evolution of modern farming, hi-tech irrigation, how farmers plant seeds and much more.  We could now identify the types of irrigation systems we saw as we drove around the area:

It was an excellent and informative visit, and we’d recommend stopping by if you’re ever near Port Morrow – even if you’ve never milked a cow 🙂

As usual we were looking for a nearby trail, and we ended up walking the Lewis and Clark Commemorative Trail in Umatilla, Oregon.  It was a mostly level and unshaded 14-mile out and back walk along the Columbia River, with the turnaround at Hat Rock State Park.  The sun was beating down on us at the end, so we rewarded ourselves with a couple of beers at Hermiston Brewery:

Just an okay Hefeweizen and Nuthouse Stout, but perfect for quenching our thirst!

Ephrata, WA

Moving on through eastern Washington, our next stop at Ephrata was showing us vast agricultural fields growing a variety of crops.  Our home base at this stop was at Oasis RV Park and Golf Course, our jumping-off point for two excursions; a hike at Ancient Lakes and a quick dip in the healing mineral-rich waters of Soap Lake.

An example of center-point irrigation systems that create the crop circles which can be seen from the air

We completed a nice 6-mile hike at Ancient Lakes, crossing a desert plain ringed with towering basalt cliffs formed by ancient lava flows and ice-age flooding.  It was another no-shade hike along flood-scoured scablands that dropped steeply from the upper cataract to the coulee floor.  Once in the canyon, we walked around Ancient Lake and took a break at a nice waterfall.  Then we trekked back up the talus slope to the middle cataract and continued back to the top of the mesa.

The next day we drove to the small town of Soap Lake, which hugs the southern slope of a renowned mineral lake.  I washed my legs with the soapy-feeling water; check out the bubbles in the picture below that gave the lake its name.  The verdict is that the skin rashes I sometimes get on my legs seemed to have gone away temporarily – no kidding!  I haven’t had a breakout in the past two weeks!

The Coulee Corridor National Scenic Byway

On the way to our next stop at Winthrop, we went out of our way to take the Coulee Corridor National Scenic Byway (Highway 17N and Highway 155N) for 120 miles.  This scenic route featured the geological wonder known as the Grand Coulee – a huge canyon cut from solid rock by Ice Age Floods.  We gawked at amazing canyons and rock formations, and several beautiful lakes.

There were some overlooks along the way that were big enough for Betsy (and my hubby) to take a break as we savored the stunning views.  We tried to imagine the scope and power of the floodwaters that had carved out this massive coulee:

Cruising along the Columbia River on Highway 17N
We would have loved to camp here at Sun Lakes State Park to enjoy the amazing geology
Dry Falls is the skeleton of what was the world’s largest waterfall some 17,000 years ago

Eroded Dry Falls Canyon is 3.5 miles wide and the lake seen here is 400′ below the rim

We were blown away as we entered the “Million Dollar Mile“:

Highway 155N winds along basalt walls on the Million Dollar Mile
Betsy’s photo op as we paused to soak in the beauty
Steamboat Rock rises 800′ and spans 600 acres, carved by ice age flooding
We took a tour of Grand Coulee Dam in 2016, it’s the largest hydroelectric power station in the U.S.
No birdies allowed!
A glimpse of North Cascades National Park, our next adventure…



  1. Gorgeous route…I think when I grow up, I want to travel with you guys ! I so love your adventures and excitement for everything ! gay

  2. Yum, Tillamook cheese!

    Now you’re in our old stomping grounds! We loved our trip to Sun Lakes/Dry Falls, especially since it was in the off season and had no crowds. It was where we saw our first rattlesnake ever, though. I’m glad the healing waters of Soap Lake seem to have soothed your legs. Are you still reaping the benefits?

    Looking forward to reading about your North Cascades adventures. It’s such a beautiful place!

  3. We LOVE Plymouth COE campground and stay there whenever we have the good luck to pass through that area. Next time we’ll be sure to check out the wineries and that fabulous looking Million Dollar Mile! Soap Lake looked like quite an experience….did Steve join you in sudsing up? Loved the feeding birds….a big job for such little guys. Great photos, once again.

  4. We haven’t been to a COE campground in a while now and man, you’re making me miss them! They are always so beautiful and spacious and it looks like this one is a real gem. I’m definitely adding it to our campgrounds list.

    The landscapes in this region are so cool – and quite unexpected! Steamboat Rock, the Million Dollar Mile, the irrigation fed waterfall… so many neat things to look at and explore! Speaking of which – I am really looking forward to your write ups about the Cascades. Ever since I started reading blogs and seeing photos of them, they’ve been high on my list of places I want to see with my own eyes. I can’t wait to hear all about your trip!

  5. We’ve enjoyed our explorations along the Columbia River, too—there’s a unique beauty to that desolate area, and you captured it well in your photos. Plymouth Park COE looks fantastic. I’m going to remember that one. 🙂 We’ve stayed at a COE park on the Oregon side a bit further west and also had a nest of baby kingbirds in our campsite. So much fun seeing your photo essay of the little ones being fed!

  6. This gives us some interesting and new places to think about when we plan our trip north to Winthrop. I love having plans made for us in advance…haha! I know whose beer was whose!!!

  7. Wonderful pictures of the birds. I can’t wait to read about North Cascades, we were just there but I haven’t had a chance to post about it yet.

  8. We stayed at Plymouth COE last year. The park was nice, but our pedestal did not work correctly, so we had a few problems with it. We were also inundated with spiders! Very creepy! We were also planning to go to Grand Coulee, but the smoke from the fires in Canada forced us to go back to the Oregon coast.

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