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.
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 🙂
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.
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:
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.
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:
We were blown away as we entered the “Million Dollar Mile“:
Next up: A western-themed small town