Monday, August 4, 2008

The Palouse

If you’ve never been to the Palouse, you simply won’t believe your eyes once you get there. To call it a land of rolling hills is an understatement. It’s more like a land of bubbling earth.
In one mile you may go around, or up and over, as many as six hills, each 200 feet in height. The hills are covered with topsoil so rich and fine it is the color and texture of coffee grounds and it goes down, down, down, 250 feet deep in places. The soil is so water retentive that crops flourish on the areas 20 inches of annual precipitation. And long hot summer days make for robust growth. Little wonder that the farmers of Whitman County are the most productive wheat producers in the United States. Here wheat, barley, lentils, and peas grow in what has been called “the magical kingdom of grain”, “the Louvre of farmland”, and “agro-surrealism”. And if all that seems far-fetched, you’ll change your mind once you visit.
To experience the Palouse, you need only drive the roads in Whitman, Garfield, Columbia and Asotin counties. But the experience doesn’t stop with simply seeing the farms. You’ll crane your neck looking at architecture throughout the area. The grain elevators, and there are dozens of them throughout the Palouse, are symbols of longstanding prosperity. The old lofty wooden elevators are monolithic tributes to the past. The modern steel structures, which can have a total storage capacity of 2 million bushels, attest to a promising future.
Other buildings point to the strength and stability of Palouse life. Courthouses, churches, barns, farm houses, and the residential streets of prosperous little towns are all testaments to sturdy pioneers who came in the mid to late 19th century, worked hard, built a strong, but thinly-dispersed society and stayed through the generations to repeat that happy way of life. St Boniface and St Gall Churches, both built in 1905, are grand expressions of ecclesiastical frontier architecture. Perkins House in Colfax was built in 1886 and demonstrates that even in this far away land, folks knew what was stylish in their time.
The town of Dayton is a study in turn-of-the-century elegance from its carpenter gothic depot to the cast-iron columns of the Guernsey-Sturtevant Building. The town has nearly a hundred buildings on the National Register of Historic Places. Near Dayton, the scenic byway into the Blue Mountains is recreational delight not to be missed.
And don’t miss Pullman, home of Washington State University. It’s a good place to headquarter stock up on supplies or simply take a walk through the campus. It’s hard not to be drawn to this nucleus of youthful enthusiasm. Headed 26 you’ll pass a barn proudly bearing the slogan “Go Cougars”. Indeed, you’re headed for WSU.
A stark contrast to the rolling hills near Colfax and Pullman, Hells Canyon on the Snake River near Clarkston in the deepest gorge in North America. Jet boat excursions float tours and guided fishing charters will add to your enjoyment of this dynamic area. Thirty miles west of Clarkston, Pomeroy allows you to discover the charm of a small “home town” environment where old-fashioned hospitality reigns supreme.
People seldom visit the Palouse just once. You’re usually drawn back for a second or third look at the “like-nothing-you’ve-ever-seen-before” scenery, to take in the friendly easy-going life of the small towns, and to roll up and down the hills like a boat on big, but gentle waves. The place just changes the way you think about the world. And you wait for the next time that the wind will pick you up like a speck of glacial silt and blow you back to the Palouse.
The Palouse region can be as wild as its history or as calm as golden shafts of wheat swaying gently atop the area’s trademark rolling hills. From its small, proud communities to the highly ranked Washington State University, the Palouse provides a uniquely wonderful taste of Washington charm and hospitality. Here, you can relive historic battles, ski down fresh snowy slopes or enjoy an exhilarating jet boat excursion through Hells Canyon on the Snake River.
The area’s beauty has been lauded in many national and international publications. The subtleties of light and shadows on the rolling hills combined with seasonal variations of soil and crop color make it one of the most popular destinations for professional photographers from around the world. But, there is certainly a lot more to discover in Washington’s Palouse region than its beautiful topography.
Whitman County, in the North Palouse, contains the cities of Pullman, Rosalia, Uniontown, Colfax, Albion, Lacrosse, Endicott, St John, Colton, Garfield, Palouse, Tekoa and Oakesdale. Begin with Rosalia, a strong, old-fashioned hometown evident in the turn-of-the-century replication carriage lights that line the entry into town.
At the Steptoe Battlefield, located on a hill overlooking Rosalia, a 25 foot granite memorial has been erected to mark the location where an Indian victory over the U.S. Army occurred in May of 1858. Rosalia’s Battle Days celebration commemorates this event. Visit the Rosalia Museum with its authentic jailhouse, the largest meteorite found in the area and a vast collection of relics and photos. A local gallery displays paintings and drawings of Old Rosalia and the Antique Railroad Exhibits puts the Roman Arched Bridge that spans the valley in context. This bridge once carried the Milwaukee Railroad through the Palouse providing a vital link for early commerce in the region. If you’re continuing south toward Colfax, the slight detour to the summit of Steptoe Butte, with an elevation of 3.618 feet and just a few miles south of Rosalia on Highway 195, is well worth the effort. It offers a spectacular view of the patchwork mosaic of fertile farmland that stretches as far as the eye can see.
South from Rosalia on Highway 195, you’ll find Colfax. Settled in the 1860s, Colfax, the Whitman county seat, has the distinction of being one of eastern Washington’s oldest established communities. The town’s main industry is agriculture, yet, there is significant evidence of its historic significance. Stately Victorian homes, including the Perkins House, built by Colfax’s founder James Perkins in 1886, give you an impressive glimpse of local history. The cabin on the Perkin’s House property, the original log cabin built by Perkins, is the oldest standing building in Whitman County. Colfax has another unique icon for remembering the past – the Codger Pole. This whimsical 65 foot chainsaw sculpture, the largest of its kind in the world, captures the spirit of a football game rematch between St John and Colfax – played 50 years after the original by the same players on the same field.
Legendary Hollywood stunt man, Yakima Canutt was born near here in 1895. Many of his contributions to the art form have evolved to become standards of the industry today. The Yakima Canutt Museum provides an entertaining look at this innovative and gifted stunt man. In 1998, Colfax experienced a face-lift, adding historic street lamps and trees to beautify the main street of town. Treasures are found throughout the many antique, craft, and jewelry stores downtown. You will enjoy the charm, hospitality and sense of community pride from the moment you step into one of the shops or restaurants to say hello.
Home to Washington State University, the city of Pullman offers a diverse population of 25.000. Pullman was founded in 1877, when it was known as “Three Forks”, a reference to the joining of the Missouri Flat Creek, Dry Fork Creek and the Palouse River.
Pullman has cozy antique shops, galleries, boutiques and a wide variety of dining options for even the most discriminating palate. And if you’re concerned about deserving the wonderful treats from these eateries, get your exercise at one of Pullman’s large number of city parks or the Chipman Trail.
For a change of pace and some local flare, attend Pullman’s National Lentil Festival in August. This two-day festival, which boasts an attendance of nearly 17.000, celebrates a local legume, the lentil. More than 135 million pounds of lentils are grown annually on the Palouse and the Lentil Festival provides a great opportunity to sample many tasty creations using the little legume. More importantly, the festival is packed with fun, family activities, events and live entertainment.
Located between Pullman and Albion is the Three Forks Pioneer Museum. This attraction transports visitors to the late 19th century with a stroll down an old-west Main Street. Storefronts and antiques from the era are represented in a general store, leather shop, doctor’s office, bank, barbershop, blacksmith shop, jail, hardware store and boot hill. The museum is open May through September by appointment. The Staley Museum, a personal museum of the Staley family, is a glimpse into the Pullman of the past, and opens by appointment.
For more enjoyment, investigate the many performing arts options in the city. The Pullman Civic Theatre and Festival Dance and Performing Arts, with six touring events at Beasley Coliseum, are widely attended and enjoyed by residents and visitors.
Washington State University is a world-class educational institution with a strong research component. Be sure to stop by WSU’s Visitor’s Center in the Cougar Depot in downtown Pullman, and then drop by the Lewis Alumni Centre. First constructed as a barn, it is now recognized for its unique preservation of original architecture.
A visit to campus is not complete until you try the world famous Cougar Gold Cheese. The WSU Creamery and Ferdinand’s are housed at the Food Science & Human Nutrition Building and delight visitors with the secrets of this popular product.
WSU has many outstanding museums, including the Conner Museum, with the largest public collection of birds and mammals in the Pacific Northwest, and the WSU Museum of Anthropology, showcasing interpretive exhibits including the fossil record of human evolution and exhibits on cultural similarities and differences in people.
The Robert P. Worthman Veterinary Anatomy Teaching Museum located in Wegner Hall on the WSU campus features several hundred dried and skeletal preparations of large and small domestic animals as well as specimens of birds and other species. You can also see wildlife on campus; view grizzly bears, black bears and bighorn sheep that are at WSU for research, education and conservation on Airport Road. Sporting events at WSU are always a hit – check the schedule and see if you can catch a Washington State Cougar Pac-10 Conference event.
South of Pullman, on Highway 195, Uniontown is a worthwhile side trip to see the town and its signature attraction – the grand St Boniface Catholic Church. Begun in 1878, the church houses the original five altars, statues, stained glass windows, painted décor, wooden pews and oil painted Stations of the Cross. St Boniface also has a stunning collection of ornate silver and gold chalices and crosses, ancient censors and relics, robes and embroidered and hand-painted silk banners.
Feeling quirky? The Wheel Fence in Uniontown is an impressive creation of a local family that includes more than 1.000 wheels from things such as a WWI federal truck, plows, bulk and hay wagons, antique baby buggies and steam engines. Bring your walking shoes and a panoramic camera.
There is also a strong showing of State and County Parks in Whitman County that include Boyer Park and Marina, Central Ferry State Park, Kamiah Butte County Park, Wawawai County Park and Palouse Falls State Park. Boyer Park and Marina located on the historic Snake River and within viewing distance of the impressive Lower Granite Lock and Dam, offers 80 acres of park and river area and 150 boat slips. Treat yourself to hours gazing at the hundreds of fish that glide up the fish ladder in the viewing room. Follow up with a stroll through the exhibits that examine the salmon’s life cycle.
Asotin County is known as the Gateway to Hells Canyon, North America’s deepest gorge. Recreational opportunities abound from the gateway communities of Clarkston and Asotin, located on the banks of the Snake River. A guided tour on the Snake River through the astounding Hells Canyon National Recreation Area is an experience of a lifetime and a “must see” while touring through the Palouse region. The Hells Canyon National Recreational Area is nearly 700 acres of archeological, recreational and ecological treasures, including startlingly rugged wilderness areas. A study in contrasts, the Seven Devil Mountain Range rises 9.393 feet in elevation at “He Devil” Mountain, then plunges 8.000 feet from its summit to the mouth to Granite Creek making it North America’s deepest gorge. Tour the canyon from a mild jet boat tour on a comfortable covered boat or a wild ride down the rapids in a raft or dory boat. A tour in the canyon can include dinner cruise or a multi-day trip with an overnight stay at a rustic camp-style lodge or camping on a white sandy beach under the stars.
Clarkston is located at the confluence of the Snake & Clearwater River in the Lewis & Clark Valley. Clarkston was named in honor of the famous explorer, William Clark from the Corps of Discovery Lewis & Clark Expedition. As they lead the Corps of Discovery through the area in 1805 they were provided much needed assistance from the Nez Perce Indians in the region. You can visit the Hells Canyon Resort Marina in Clarkston, where you can view beautiful sidewalk etching depicting the adventures of the Lewis & Clark expedition. Relive the famous expedition while visiting that area and enjoy a guided canoe, horseback or narrated bus tour on the Lewis & Clark Trail or spend the night in a tepee on the banks of the Clearwater River.
Eight miles west of Clarkston on Highway 12, outside the entrance of Chief Timothy State Park, is the Alpowa Interpretive Center. The center, built near the original site of Alpowa, a Nez Perce Indian village occupied during the mid-1800s, offers displays and a movie of the site’s history and the Lewis & Clark Expedition.
This area is often referred to as the “Banana Belt” due to its annual warm weather and mild winters – so you can golf practically any day of the year. In Granite Lake, formed on the Snake River behind Lower Granite Dam, choose from an array of activities such as water-skiing, sailing, fishing, and swimming, walking or riding along miles of paved levee pathways or camping at a riverside park.
Asotin, located south of Clarkston on Highway 129, is home to the Asotin County Historical Society Museum. Filled with artifacts of the region’s pioneering history, its exhibits also include a Mastodon elephant tusk over 10.000 years old. At Chief Looking Glass Park and Marina you will find the Steamboat Jean, the type of sternwheeler that was once used to transport people and freight from Portland.
Asotin is also known as the gateway to a sportsman’s paradise with easy access to hunting and fishing. Try your hand at some of the best fishing in the Northwest with a fishing trip into Hells Canyon. Chartered tours depart from Heller Bar at the mouth of the Grand Ronde River – also a popular area for fly-fishing. In spring and summer, the fast action catch is bass and trout and in fall, it’s steelhead. The canyon has a healthy number of North America’s largest fresh water fish, the great white sturgeon, which can reach lengths of up to 8 feet. You can’t take one home, but catching one could be the highlight of your trip.
Anatone, at the base of the Blue Mountains, is just a short drive south from Asotin on Highway 129. At Fields Spring State Park enjoy camping, picnicking and warming shelters, miles of cross-county skiing, hiking trails, a sled run and lighted tubing hill.
Garfield County is filled with year-round recreation opportunities, from hunting, camping and backpacking to snowmobiling, cross-county skiing or snowshoeing and water sports on the Snake River.
Take time to explore the city of Pomeroy, a historic agricultural community nestled in the Pataha Valley between the Blue Mountains and the Snake River. The county seat and only incorporated town in this dry-land farming county is nestled on Highway 12 along the Lewis & Clark Trail.
Pomeroy’s Main Street is lined with beautiful 100 year old brick buildings. The historic Garfield County Courthouse provides the centerpiece of the community and is valiantly guarded by the bronze statue of local Civil War hero Lt John C. Mitchell.
Other diversions in Pomeroy include the Garfield County Museum, historic Seeley & Opera House, and an assortment of antique and gift shops. Homemade pie is a matter of pride here, so be sure you sample a few slices at one of the many eateries in town. Don’t feel guilty. You can work off those well-earned calories golfing, or swinging a tennis racquet at the Pomeroy City Park.
Two very famous trails, the Nez Perce Indian Trail and the Lewis and Clark Trail, also run through this community.
The city of Dayton is nestled at the foothills of the Blue Mountains. Home to three National Historic Districts with 117 buildings on the National Historic Register, the town lays claim to the oldest train depot in the state, built in 1881, and the oldest working courthouse, built in 1887 – both beautifully restored. Lewis and Clark camped here in 1806 and you can share in their experience at the Lewis and Clark Trail State Park which features valued amenities the Corps of Discovery didn’t encounter like campsites, kitchen shelters, restrooms and picnic tables.
Dayton’s renovated Main Street was once used as a racetrack for regional Indian tribes congregating for summer recreation and food gathering. Family vacation traditions still continue here due to the local charm, interesting festivals and events, and outdoor activities ranging from downhill and cross-county skiing to camping, hiking and fishing. The sight of Dayton’s Historic Main Street lined with classic cars during the All Wheels Weekend event held each year on Father’s Day Weekend is absolutely marvelous.
Dayton boasts the only 4 star restaurants in eastern Washington. The Patit Creek, and fully restored Victorian accommodation, the Weinhard Hotel. The hotel once housed a saloon owned by Jacob Weinhard in the late 1800s. Walking tour maps provide self-guided tours of the National Historic Districts, and be sure to visit the Depot, a museum that offers a guided tour of its turn of the century furnishing and the history of the area.
Climbing from Dayton into the beautiful Blue Mountains, you’ll encounter the Bluewood ski area featuring great skiing and short lift lines. Bluewood has the second highest base elevation in Washington state and is renowned for its clear skies, dry powder and excellent tree skiing-a true skier’s and snowboarder’s delight.
The Palouse, whit its quiet beauty and surprises at each stop, contains an impressive breadth of geography, history, and vacation opportunities. This is a land with loyal roots and an open door. Palouse region, visitors are always welcome. Whether joining in on one of the region’s festivals or resting beside a revered natural resource, this corner of the state is a grand spot for slowing down and jumping in. from the rolling hills of the Palouse, and the stunning gorge of Hell’s Canyon, down to the rich river valley and pristine Blue Mountains, the Palouse Region offers a reason to travel during every season.

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