Palouse Road Trip (May 22-24, 2009)

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palouse_coverConditions: Day Hikes
Gear: nothing special
Map: USGS Palouse Falls, USGS Albion, USGS Steptoe, USGS Asotin, USGA Clarkston
Area: Southeastern WA, Western Idaho

I may need to make this an annual event. A solo road trip. I did my first last year this time because issues (read knees) and the same thing happened this year. I wanted to keep the car time reasonable and the elevation gain minimal. I think I succeeded.

I left town Friday morning and headed over Snoqualmie Pass to what I knew would be hot weather. Quark's TR to the area provided reasonable inspiration for my trip. I was aiming to make Kamiak Butte by later afternoon. I rolled into the Kamiak Butte State Park GC around 2:30pm and was surprised to find that I was the first camper for the weekend. I got my choice of sites and picked the one closest to the sunset trail. After setting up camp and paying ($15/night) I took a clockwise stroll on the vista trail. What a freakish trail. I've never seen such a combination of ecosystems. The trail starts out on the shaded north side of the butte and looks more like something out the Glacier Peak area than far eastern WA. Once atop the butte (only about 600') it looks more like the expected desert of eastern WA. I took my good old time on the trail and got back to camp to find that two other sites besides mine would be occupied. Not bad. It would be a quiet night.

On Saturday I awoke to a the sounds of hundreds of birds welcoming sunrise. I was on the road by 7am and was headed south (27>195>95>Spiral Highway>12>129>1st St>Snake River Rd) to Hells Canyon along the Snake River and eventually the Grande Ronde River. It was too danged hot to get out and hike in prime snake territory (it was about 90F) so I took my time driving at Sunday Drive pace. Wow this is gorgeous territory. The basalt coulee walls, the rush of the rivers, the sounds of the birds hiding pretty darned hard in the bushy cover along the river. I spent hours along the rivers and could have spent more. Instead, I had a wacky idea of heading back north and trying to tuck in Steptoe Butte before I ran out of time (Kamiak Butte CG shuts the gate at dusk) so I retraced my track back north (Snake River Rd>1st St>129>12>Spiral Hwy>95>195>Old State Hwy>Hume Rd) before making the left into Steptoe State Park. I tucked in two spiral roads for the day! The road to the top of this butte spirals its way to the radio towers at the top. The views of the Palouse from the top are spectacular! The interesting thing about Steptoe Butte and Kamiak Butte is that they are steptoes which are isolated protrusions of bedrock, such as the summit of a hill or mountain, in a lava flow. Both of these buttes managed to keep their heads above the basalt flows that covered the area. After taking some pictures I headed back to Kamiak for dinner. But..I managed to get back early enough that I hiked back up to the top of Kamiak for some later afternoon views before firing up the stove for dinner. After dinner came the real show...sunset....and I was right by the trail. I could see the glow starting. I grabbed the camera and off I went to the edge of the park and the edge of a freshly plowed field. Sunset was awesome.!

I wanted to beat traffic back to Seattle. I don't enjoy sitting in holiday traffic at either pass so leaving on Sunday was the plan. Instead of heading back over 90 I wanted to make a big loop and go back over Hwy 2. First...I had one last planned stop, Palouse Falls. I made my way back to Colfax first then followed 26>127>12>261 to the Palouse Falls turnoff. Driving up the freshly oil road (my car has splats of fresh oil all over it that I can't figure out how to remove) I couldn't fathom how there could be a huge waterfall ahead. Sure pull in the parking lot and you can hear the waterfall roar. I envied the fisherman how went through the gate and down the fracture in the basalt winding their way to the waterfall's base. Oh well...I consoled myself my making a last minute decision to visit one last place...make that two.

First I wanted to see Quark's ripples. About 10 miles west of Kahlotus make a right onto Copp. Follow the road down the coulee and back up the other side to just shy of the top. Stop and look back south to the radio towers on the far horizon...there they were...Quark's ripples (visible evidence of the Bretz Floods).

My final destination was Beezley Hills to check out the flower show. I took mostly back gravel roads continuing on Copp>Black basically heading north to hit I90 then taking the exit for Quincy. The turnoff to Beezley Hills is signed Columbia (it is not marked P NW or Monument). Follow this paved then gravel road just over 7 miles and park near the radio towers. I got out of the car and felt disappointment sink in. I had yet to hit the hills during peak flower show. I stumbled along the old road wondering what I would see. The I saw the slightest hint of pink...then a little more...and then more...The flower show (hedgehogs and bitteroot) had just barely started! It you are looking to head out to the hills, give it a week. The bitteroot had just begun to open...many were still small buds and I only saw one hedgehog and the bud was barely plump.

Finally, yes...finally, I had to kick myself and make myself head home. I followed 28 to E Wenatchee and then finally picked up Hwy 2 to head home. It was such a treat to go over the pass and not get stuck in holiday traffic!
Palouse Roadtrip Slideshow

(click on map to view a larger version)

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