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Columbia Basin Drive

Highway 2 to Spokane
Highway 2 to Spokane

Rocky shores, volcanoes, inland marine waterways, desert, rain forests and a mighty river - Washington state has it all. I am still amazed at the different diverse regions. The spine of the volcanic Cascade range separates the state into two very distinct sections.

Crossing the Cascade passes and dropping into Eastern Washington, you enter a different world. This is the land of distant horizons and long lonely stretches of road. The Columbia Basin is dry but fertile desert surrounds the mighty Columbia River - the 4th largest river in North America. The Snake from Idaho and Kootaney from British Columbia Canada feed into the Columbia and are included in this basin.

This is also the area of deep canyons, long coulees, volcanic basalt and rocky dry falls. This is the result of an ice age flood. An ice dam near the Idaho/Montana border near Missoula during the ice age created a large glacial lake from the Clark River coming off the Rockies. The dam held back over 500 cubic miles of water - as much as both Lake Erie and Lake Ontario combined. It is theorized that the dam broke and the water poured in a matter of 2-3 days over what is now Eastern Washington carving coulees and leaving behind fertile but arid soil. It is awe inspiring to cross the bottom of one of the hot dry coulees and realize the power of water.

The climate is also very different. The Cascades form a rain barrier creating dry barren scrub land east of the mountains similar to the Great Basin area of Nevada. But unlike Nevada, there is a major source of water - the Columbia River. The Columbia Basin Project irrigates the Basin farms with water. Potatoes are the major crop along with corn, alfalfa, and peas.

I love taking a road trip east through this classic western land. My favorite road is Highway 2. It parallels the Great Northern Railway I wrote about earlier, traveling east from Everett to Spokane and beyond. The road passes through small towns along the western foothills before climbing up to Stevens Pass at 4,000ft. At the crest of the pass, the clouds and mist disappear as you drop down into Tumwater canyon and the kitchey Bavarian themed town of Leavenworth. The evergreen trees disappear and sun burnt hills scrubby hills appear and are shortly to replaced by lush apple orchards around Wenatchee and the Columbia River. Green fingers of orchards climb up the microclimate valleys along the Columbia.

The highway crosses the river and travels along the riverbank for a couple of miles before turning east again to climb to the plateau covered with golden fields of wheat and a sky filled with fluffy clouds. The road seems to stretch forever before it suddenly drops into Moses Coulee and the Dry Falls region. Grand Coulee is just around the bend. The road continues east through farm land and small towns. The terrain changes and you start to see solitary pines and rocky crops - the distant foothills of the Rocky Mountains. Spokane is not far away.

Here are a few pictures of region and drive - More tomorrow.

Columbia River at Vantage
Bridge over Columbia River at Vantage

Highway 2 to Spokane
Along the Columbia River near Wenatchee

Wheatfields near Waterville WA
Columbia plateau wheatlands near Waterville, WA

Highway 2 to Spokane
Moses Coulee

Dry Falls
Dry Falls

Coulee Dam
Grand Coulee Dam

Comments (2)

Kathy (Trekcapri):

Hi Marta, this is such a wonderful post and really beautiful photos. Your descriptions makes me want to return to Washington. While I attended school there I remember making the drive from the rolling wheat fields near Pullman to Seattle many times. And reading your post brings back some great memories of that drive. I now regret not paying more attention to the beauty and for not taking the time to explore more of it while I was there. You live in a beautiful State.

All of your photos are gorgeous. That first one looks 3D like I'm right there on the road making that journey. Beautiful.

Thanks so much for sharing and I'm looking forward to your next post.

Thanks Kathy. You make me blush. :)

We really love exploring this area and its stark beauty. It is easy to just dash through the area and quickly get to your destination. We made a special effort this trip to learn a bit about the area and small towns so we could appreciate it more.

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