Spokane and the Palouse

Saturday, October 8
5163-refuge1Our our way to the Palouse area of Washington, we stopped first in Coulee City for a night, then on to Spokane for two. Mary’s father worked as a welder/steam-fitter on the dam project and she was hoping to find out if there was a record of his time there. She asked at the visitor center if there was an official register or some official record of him, and a staffer, because it wasn’t particularly busy, actually spent some time doing a little research, but could only find a couple of vague references to him.

On Saturday we continued on to Spokane. We found an RV Park south of town. Peaceful Pines RV Park didn’t quite live up to it’s name with 2 rail lines, an airport, and an  Air Force base nearby, but it was remarkably quiet most of the time. When I don’t think about what the trains might be carrying, I generally enjoy the sounds as they pass by.5165-refuge2Just a couple of things drew us to Spokane. The Turnbull National Wildlife Reserve and two public parks in town. After arriving and setting up, we went out to the reserve. It was just a few miles down the road and our geezer passes got us in free. We only saw a few other people on the paths. Maybe because there was no wildlife to be seen while we were there – save a mallard or two.5170-refuge3It is set up the way so many reserves are with ponds surrounded by tules, reeds and grasses. There is a driving path and walking paths that allow easy walking and viewing, but nothing was stirring this afternoon. So we had a nice walk – and later a drive – around the ponds, made a few images and called it a day.5231-spokanepark6Sunday we went into Spokane. It was supposed to be raining heavily here, but the storm band bent down to the south a bit, leaving us with just a cloudy gray day. We stopped first at the John A. Finch Arboretum, where they have a large section of colorful trees this time of year. We caught a few in a nice setting.5188-spokanepark1 5202-spokanepark3 5224-spokanepark4 5192-spokanepark2 5228-spokanepark5We then stopped downtown to check out the river that runs through town, but we just weren’t feeling it. Our last stop for the day was at Manito Park. Mary wanted to see the Japanese garden within the larger park.5238-spokanejap2It was much smaller than expected and a bit dark because of the heavy cloud cover and all the tall trees around the park. We did a brief walk around the path and found some nice tree and water compositions. A quick look at a nearby rose garden and we were finished for the day.5234-spokanejap0

The Palouse
Monday, October 105245-palouse1We thought we would be driving to Colfax from Spokane in the rain, but it actually finished up early in the morning hours and by the time we were on the road, skies were clearing. Once out of Spokane, the terrain almost immediately transitions to the rolling hill country known as the Palouse.5265-palouse75689-rvparkIt was quite a nice 50 mile drive to the Palouse Empire Fairgrounds in Colfax where we will be staying for the duration of our stay. It was it’s usual busy park, with all of one other rig that looked to be stored. This place is open all year, but the services are cut back in the off season. So far, we have never apparently been here during the on season. We do have power and water, but the rest rooms and dump station are shut down.5249-palouse3 5254-palouse4 5260-palouse4Since we knew that tomorrow would be back to full sun, we decided to take advantage of the wonderful partly cloudy conditions and took off on nearby backroads as soon as we were settled. It is always better to photograph here under these conditions. Watching the light change as clouds race over this wide open landscape is always compelling. Images seem to form by themselves and all that is needed is to be there to release the shutter.5278-palouse9 5299-palouse11 5296-palouse11Coming here this time of year we knew the harvest was well past, so the hills would not be covered in waves of flowing green wheat. Instead, we will be photographing hills showing just the straw stalks and the many patterns left from cultivation. Some new winter wheat sprouts should be visible by now as well. 5264-palouse6 5305-palouse13We spent several hours driving the backroads we already knew from earlier visits. We wanted to take best advantage of our time. Using notes and GPS coordinates from earlier visits to the region, we located a number of familiar spots.5312-palouse14 5314-palouse15 5319-palouse16 5321-palouse17We finished our afternoon with a sunset that didn’t really happen at a favorite overlook before heading home for the day.5324-palouse18 5331-palouse19 5341-palouse21 5344-palouse22 5350-palouse23Tuesday, October 11
5357-palouse2-2Now that the rain has passed, it is forecast to get really cold. Not bad last night, but tonight is forecast to be down to 30 degrees and colder still on Wednesday. I will have to disconnect our water hose to avoid it freezing and splitting.5352-palouse2-1We were up and out just after dawn this morning. As expected, the skies were completely free of clouds. It was cold but calm, and the light was brilliant. Mary has organized our daily drives so that we cover both old and new ground without too much overlap or long distances to travel.

Driving south out of town I managed to get pulled over by the local gal in blue. 35 in a 25 zone. Mind you, it was the first time through town this trip and I hadn’t really been aware of my speed. After taking my license, registration and proof of insurance, she was gone a good long time. She apologized for the delay saying the computers in California seemed to be slow today. More likely my record is so free of infractions the computer melted down looking for something. She did let me off with a warning, but now I am a bit paranoid.
5364-palouse2-3We wandered around for the next 3-4 hours finding frost covered grasses by the road, more farm houses, and lots and lots of abstract patterns.5374-palouse2-4 5382-palouse2-6 5386-palouse2-7 5388-palouse2-8 5391-palouse2-9Some of the landscape seemed to resemble the painting style of Wayne Thiebaud.  I liked that idea and played around with my compositions.5395-palouse2-10 5399-palouse2-11 5403-palouse2-12 5404-palouse2-13It was getting to be late morning and the light had gotten harsher. We worked a bit more at various locations, but decided to take a break and come back out later in the afternoon.5407-palouse2-14 5417-palouse2-15 5424-palouse2-17Steptoe Butte5533-palouse3-1After a few hours back in camp, we were on our way out again to Steptoe Butte. It’s origin is volcanic and rises over 3,000 ft. above the surrounding countryside. It is preserved as a state park but we learned that the entire butte is not protected. A large section just below one of the main lower viewpoints was set to sell until an all out effort produced a buyer who pledged to donate it in the future.5530-palouse2-29We arrived at the entrance, paid our $10 entrance fee and began to spiral up and around the butte. The road does 3 or 4 wraps around the butte on the way up and there are numerous pull-outs to stop and admire the views.5426-palouse2-195427-palouse2-18 5430-palouse2-19 5434-palouse2-21 5436-palouse2-21 5445-palouse2-22 5464-palouse2-23We stopped at a lower viewpoint near an electronic relay station of some sort. As we were looking out to the views, a man walks up telling us he had just paraglided down from the top of the butte. He asked if he could have a ride back up so he could jump again. I was reluctant because we would have to rearrange a lot of stuff to get him and his gear in our RAV, and we wouldn’t be able to stop on the way up without leaving him in the car. So we took him up and hung around to see him lift off again.5477-palouse2-23Since we were now on the top, we decided to hang out here while the light gets lower. From up here, I could really see how large this landscape is. Seeing the farmhouses dotting the view gives context and anchors the scene. Seeing some of the field patterns out before me, I tried and failed to imagine how they were produced.5479-palouse2-22Other plow patterns resembled large scale land drawings that can only been seen from the air.5484-palouse2-23 5495-palouse2-25The plowed fields produced just as interesting patterns as those that still had wheat.5489-palouse2-24 5513-palouse2-27 5510-palouse2-26 5520-palouse2-27As we were leaving the park, just after we crossed the boundary, we came across the paraglider guy again – packing up from his final ride in the middle of the road. We offered to drive him back up to his car at the top, and surprise, he accepted. We finished our long day with a quick drive back to camp and another really cold night.

More Palouse
Wednesday October, 125550-palouse3-3We probably would have slacked off a little this morning, but we knew it was going to rain all day tomorrow. Another full sun day today and even so, it is very still very cold.Todays high will be 49 degrees. So we will essentially repeat yesterdays game plan of morning and afternoon trips, only this morning we are headed to the northeast of Colfax.5558-palouse3-4Initially we tried locating a few specific spots using GPS coordinates taken from some previous trips. We could find the correct road, but the scene seemed so different from the first time as to be nearly unrecognizable. An interesting exercise that needs more work.5534-palouse3-2We stopped in Elbertson – or what is left of it. A church, a bridge and an abandoned house. There was frost covered grasses across the road from the church, and while Mary worked the buildings, I played with the grass.5566-palouse3-5 5568-palouse3-6We continued to explore the backroads that wind all around and through these hills. The landscape kept surprising us. Just when we thought an area was played out, turning another bend in the road reveals something new.5571-palouse3-7 5574-palouse3-8 5581-palouse3-9 5588-palouse3-11 5593-palouse3-12 5594-palouse3-13 5599-palouse3-14 5604-palouse3-15 5606-palouse3-16 5608-palouse3-17We were spent for the morning, so we decided to return to camp and take a few hours break before heading out again.

The way the weather forecast is sounding, we may have rain for the next 4 days straight. We want the light we have left so we had to go out again for the afternoon. This time we headed to areas northwest of Colfax. We’ve not explored the area much before, but if it is anything like what we’ve seen, we should be busy.5625-palouse3-18 5631-palouse3-19It was surprising to find a lot of winter wheat beginning to sprout in some of the tucked away corners of the hills. When backlit, it absolutely glows.5646-palouse3-20 5648-palouse3-20 5651-palouse3-22 5654-palouse3-23 5657-palouse3-27 5660-palouse3-28 5665-palouse3-29 5672-palouse3-30 5677-palouse3-31 5679-palouse3-32 5681-palouse3-33Since rain is in the forecast for the entire day tomorrow, we will wait it out and hope for better on Friday. We’re ready for some down time.

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