Submitted by Don and Peg Doman.
After reading Susanne Bacon’s article on the wondrous Palouse Falls, Peg and I knew we had to visit the falls. We sold my sister Deedee and our cousin Lindy on driving to Eastern Washington to view this national treasure in person.
We waited until June and then saddled up Lindy’s Jeep SUV and left Tacoma on Friday morning at 11 am, just an hour later than our plan called for. Lindy drove to the Indian John Hill rest stop on I-90 where we had lunch. In the distance we admired the Stuart Mountain Range, which still had snow covering much on the tops. In the old days, we would have just driven until we reached our destination, but we wanted to see and enjoy the beauty of our state and not ignore it on our way to a single target.
I had forgotten how big the state of Washington is. Driving from Auburn through Snoqualmie Pass was just gorgeous. The trees were various shades of green and dominated the view. Snow still dotted the forests. We enjoyed the sights along with way. Once away from the mountains the rolling hills of Eastern Washington seemed to stretch as far as we could see. The distribution of water seemingly irrigated every acre. I drove from the rest stop and we stopped for a breather at Washtucna.
The town of Washtucna bills itself as the Gateway to Palouse Falls. The speed limit on the main street of Washtucna is 25 MPH. I carefully heeded the limit, although I doubt there is any officer of the law there to enforce it. We saw empty buildings, empty houses, rusting equipment, no people walking or children playing . . . not even a dog. And yet, Washtucna was one of our favorite memories. The population of Washtucna (named after a nearby lake, which was named for a native American) is 195. I saw an empty house that looked perfect for a large growing family. I found one for sale: $59,000.
The Palouse River is a confluence of the Snake River. The Palouse Falls National Park is 94 acres and is a 13,000-year-old wonder of the ice age. We had traveled to Palouse Falls by secondary roads. We wanted to see the landscape formations of this lovely area more than we wanted to save time. Most of the fields and hills were irrigated and deep green. But that wasn’t all the landscape. In the less cultivated areas, the hills and fields were yellow, from pale pastel to gold and ochre, punctuated by the subtle grayed-green of sagebrush and small plants with yellow, purple and blue wildflowers. Those contrast with the rocks that surround the Falls: Dark, layered like bricks in some places and giant blocks in others, pitted and smooth. It was worth the time to see all this. There weren’t many trees, except as windbreaks around a farm house.
You need a Discover Pass to enter Palouse Falls State Park. If you don’t have one, you can just pay $30 more when you buy your annual car tabs. Once you turn into the entrance to the park you still have 2.4 miles of washboard, gravel road to travel over to arrive at the actual parking lot, which only holds 24 cars. Watch out for the large rocks and rattlesnakes. Rattlesnakes come out at dusk to warm themselves on the rocks which absorb the heat of the sun’s rays; however, the rocks are there all the time. We saw a woman almost trip and fall. A nice woman visiting from Missouri threw herself in front of the stumbler and saved her from possible injury. Everyone we met was pleasant and helpful.
When we arrived at Palouse Falls, the first action we saw was a small picnic area, with three healthy marmots (rodents of the Sciuridae family including squirrels, chipmunks and prairie dogs) searching picnic stoves for left-overs. Marmots aren’t dangerous, but they are wild animals. (The groundhog is a marmot.) They can weigh about eleven pounds and can grow to over two feet. To Peg, they looked like furry brown Rhumba vacuums. They just kept crossing the grass, kept to their business and completely ignored us. I saw one while golfing at Carmel, Indiana’s Crooked Stick Golf Club several years ago. I was surprised at their size. Besides rattlesnakes and marmots, other wild animals in the area are deer and elk, bobcats, coyotes. crows and the giant Palouse Earthworm. Our group of four might resemble the giant Palouse Earthworm because like them, we were all pale and white. Thankfully, we are longer than the eight-inch giant, which can burrow as much as fifteen feet into the earth. Marmots also burrow and would probably be overjoyed to find a giant morsel to their liking.
The problem in sharing the beauty of Palouse Falls in photos is perspective. At the entrance, you are looking down on the waterfall and its pool of water from hundreds of feet up. The waterfall itself drops about 200 feet. The family we saw swimming and sunning themselves down at the pool looked up at the falls, while we looked down. The perspective at the pool below must have been awe inspiring.
While we were at Palouse Falls, we should have visited the upper falls as well (a few miles north). It would have been fun to walk down the valley along the river, too. The problem is that the walk down to the bottom of the falls takes time and the walk back up would have taken much more desire, energy and muscle tone than we had to offer. What they need at Palouse Falls is an escalator. We loved the views, and the curving roads that got us to this beautiful spot in Washington. We didn’t rush, and we kept our Palouse Falls images in our minds and hearts. They are still there.
We drove on to Spokane Valley, where we had rooms waiting for us. On Saturday we visited the Spokane Falls, where we were at odds about where to get the best view. The falls have very nice paved and landscaped walkways along the river and intermittent bridges to get across. Spokane Falls was the original name of the city of Spokane. The Spokane River is 111 miles long from Idaho through Spokane and feeds into the Columbia.
The Spokane River provides electricity for the surrounding area. While the river is safe to swim in, there are five areas where swimming is forbidden. They are all selected for clean-up. Mostly you can swim in the river, but don’t eat the fish.
As the river falls in steps it grows in power. The river was as fun to listen to as it was to view. I suggested we return and take the gondola ride above the churning waters, but did not get an overwhelming response. I tried to gather powerful comments about the ride (left-over from the World’s Fair in 1974, but the first two I found called the ride over-priced.) Although I was disappointed in not riding over the white river, I was pleased that we visited the river and had a fantastic Saturday morning enjoying the view of the river and downtown Spokane.
We rarely had a moment in driving when we weren’t talking. We were happy campers or more likely happy travelers. The weather was perfect not too hot, not too cold, and only a drop or two of rain. Washington at its best. Lindy, cousin Lavinia Hart, said, “The top of my list was Palouse Falls, for the surprise to see the sight in the middle of what seemed to be endless prairie. I loved the serenity and beauty of the falls. I was intrigued by the geology of the granite cliff- faces of the canyon just beyond the smooth water pool created by the falls.”
The views expressed in this article are the writer’s own.
Susanne Bacon says
Thank you so much for YOUR story about your Palouse Falls trip, Don! It brings it all back to me, and makes me want to go and explore even more. I so agree with Lindy about the surprise in the middle of nowhere – and WA has so many of them. It makes me wonder whether there are that many surprises that nowhere is actually somewhere anywhere. Will share your article on my private FB page. Thank you again!
Don Doman says
Thanks for the kind words. I’m glad you enjoyed the story and that it let you enjoy the old memories . . . and more. The four of us enjoyed the journey and the experience. Thanks for sharing on your page, also.
George Or r says
I have taken my grand children to the “falls” and Step Toe when they were in high school. Great , quality time together.
Don Doman says
Thanks for commenting. Palouse Falls and Eastern Washington is a great way to share with family and friends. Quality time is the best use of time.
Don,thank you for sharing your travel to this magnificent part of our State which most of us have never been I’m new in Spokane and wish I had friends and family to tour with especially to see the beauty that God has created for our eyes to see which we sometimes take for granted….again..thanks for sharing ? ?
Don Doman says
Thanks for commenting. Yes, as you may have gathered it is nice to travel with friends or family, but we did meet with people exploring by themselves and willing to talk and compare notes. I think part of the main part of traveling with others is to not only enjoy the camaraderie, but to look out for roadside attractions and break the monotony of the beautiful rolling hills. Short trips should prove no problem. Traveling from Spokane to Vantage with the nearby Gingko Petrified Forest right next to the beautiful Columbia River and the life-size metal horses running freely on the hill top – “Grandfather Cuts Loose the Ponies” are great sites to be seen. We talked individually with a number of people at almost every place we stopped. If you take that trip be sure to gas up in Ritzville, which has some interesting sculptures as well. I enjoyed the life-size stagecoach and team of horses constructed of horseshoes welded together. Enjoy! Thanks for sharing.
Bruce Payne says
Sorry,but there is no granite at Palouse falls,only Columbia River basalt
Don Doman says
Thanks for commenting. I guess I should have listened more attentively in my geology class at UPS . . . or attended more regularly. Thanks for sharing.
Dayle Andersen says
Great read. If you haven’t done so, I would recommend Dry Falls also, it is an incredible site.
Don Doman says
Thanks for reading and commenting. Dry Falls is on our list. Also, we still haven’t written up our story about visiting the Gingko Petrified Forest National Park in Vantage on the Columbia. We stopped there on our way to Ellensburg. We have incredible places all around. Dry Falls in on our list because people like you step forward and tell others. Thanks for sharing.