Sunday, September 20, 2015

Eastern Washington Extravaganza

 This was the Big One:  Our annual September vacation. It served a dual purpose this year in that not only was it for fun but also to more fully explore the greater Spokane area to begin to suss out a possible retirement location. Which is still fun, if you ask me, which you didn't, but it's my blog and I can just say whatever stuff I want.

The fun began at a midway stopping point of Olmstead Place State Park. It's an old-timey place, showcasing antique farm equipment and buildings from bygone days. I like to say "old-timey," and I said it a lot while we were there.

There is a 1-mile interpretive trail, which I thought would be a nice leg-stretcher before we continued on our long drive. The Big Guy, however, didn't trust me that the trail actually led to something, so we didn't finish it and missed most of the old-timey buildings. The area we did explore smelled of skunk, and we saw a few suspicious holes burrowed under the sides of the old-timey schoolhouse.

There was a nice creek running through the park. I bet this is where the skunks get their drinks.

Obligatory shot of the RV at the park. Swooshy!

Motoring back into the present day, our first major stop was Riverside State Park in Spokane, where we spent four nights.

There are two choices in campgrounds for this park, and we had chosen the Bowl and Pitcher campground. Our site wasn't at all secluded, but although it was right next to the road, there was not a lot of traffic since it's a dead-end and open to campers only, and there were no immediate neighbors. The river is behind us.

 We were in time for a sunset stroll along the trail by the river.

It was lovely.

There were plenty of deer around. This doe was getting a snack of fresh green grass on the ranger's lawn.

The next morning's walk took us up to the overlook, which appears from the river to be quite a climb, but the trail isn't really hard or long at all, although it is high above the rock formations that give this area its name.

Neither the bowl nor the pitcher are visible in this shot, but it doesn't really matter since they don't resemble a bowl or a pitcher, in my opinion.

The Swinging Bridge is pretty cool. You don't really notice the swinging until you're about halfway across, at which point you start to feel a little whoopsy in the gut area. We had to cross this bridge many times to access the trails, and each time we cracked ourselves up warning, "Oh, no! I'm going to vomit!" It loses a little in the telling, I'm sure.

Directly across the river from our campsite was an osprey nest high in a tree. The one in the nest almost never shut up all day, and when the other came sailing in with a fish in its talons, the screeching reached a fever pitch. We were very happy to find that we'd forgotten to put the binoculars in the RV. When I say "very happy," I mean "really pissed off at ourselves." I used my camera's zoom feature to take this pic, and in that way, we got some close-up views of all the screechy activity.

Time for a hike! The trails are very nice here, although it would behoove the parks department to make some actual trail maps.

We trekked down along the river,

past what may or may not be Devil's Toenail,

and up to the Spokane River Centennial Trail. Yes, this is a trail.

 A small man-made lagoon perfect for cooling off hot hiking feet. Zuli does not agree regarding its pleasantness.

This came with the RV.

So I used it.

While we were relaxing in our camp chairs, I kept hearing little twig snapping sounds on the hillside behind us. Then this lumpy guy showed up. Despite his unfortunate tumor, he didn't seem to have any trouble getting around, although the future doesn't seem too bright for this poor fellow. As another passing camper noted, "There is something dreadfully wrong with that deer."

On our coffee walk the next morning, The Big Guy noticed these in one of the fire pits. They are baby bull snakes, but it's hard to tell them apart from rattlesnakes to the untrained (my) eye. They soon disappeared into the cracks at the bottom of the pit. Comforting!

This was to be a busy day, beginning with a long hike.

Scoping out the river from on high.

It is nice that all the trails have numbers. Really it is. It's just too bad that most of the trails have the same number. 

After the hike and some lunch, it was time to hit the Centennial trail for a ride into Spokane. We wanted to see Spokane Falls, but we turned back not far from downtown proper when the trail merged with the highway, and we didn't feel like dodging traffic up the long, hot hill. Call us weenies if you like.

If weenies carry their bikes up stairs, ride a mile of mountain bike trail, then 12 miles of non-flat paved trail in 90-degree heat, after a couple hours of hiking earlier that morning, then we really are weenies. We'll work on that.

The next day, because our butts weren't sore enough apparently, we again crossed the bridge and stairs to access the Centennial trail and rode in the opposite direction to the Nine Mile Falls area of the park. We didn't take many pictures at all, but we did stop to take this one.

Not a rattlesnake.

There are lots of resting places along the trail. This one overlooks the Bowl & Pitcher overlook on the other side of the river.

That pretty much concluded our time at Riverside. My hiney was happy about that.

We drove through some small towns and areas to do some retirement investigation, then headed up to our next stop. As we drove up and into the park, it began to spit rain, and I watched the thermometer dip below 50F. We had expected and were prepared for this temporary weather setback, but it was still hard to take considering the heat we'd left behind just a few short miles back.

No reservations are required here, and none would've been needed at this time of year and on such a gloomy day. It was $25 for an overnight campsite, which is a bit extreme considering it's dry camping, so basically it's a $25 parking spot. No matter. It was very quiet, and that's what we were after.

We took a short little jaunt to stretch our legs, but mostly tucked in for the rest of the afternoon, me working on a jigsaw puzzle and him catching up on some reading.

Our wake-up view.

 Off for a hike up to Vista House and the summit!

There was some uphill involved, but nothing like the western hikes. That means I liked it.

We made it!

Pretty stone house.

Hello, is there lunch available?

Please don't fall off the wall.

We decided to take the road back down instead of the trail. The wind was a killer for the first mile or so.

We cheated once, and cut through the grass between road switchbacks. I think I look like a baby Bigfoot.

There are a ton of trails at Mt. Spokane that we didn't have time for this trip, but that just leaves us something to do when we retire, right?

Our next stop was Peaceful Pines RV park in Cheney (that's Chee-knee, not Chain-ee in case you were wondering.) The RV park was fine, but "peaceful" is funny since it sits right by the railroad tracks. We chose it, however, because it was in a town we wanted to check out, and it gave us access to a non-camping state park

 This state park is a trail. The cool part is that 4.75 miles of it runs through

 Turnbull National Wildlife Refuge. Please try not to be jealous of my stylish biking garb. I know it's difficult.

This part of the trail is, obviously, unpaved, and it's a mile from the trail head to the refuge. If you're counting, and we were, it was a 10.5mi ride total. It was chilly, but clear-ish, and we saw no one else the whole time we were in the refuge. What I wanted to see more than anything was a moose.

We were on the lookout for but didn't see any rattlesnakes. This may or may not be a rattlesnake shed, but we're going to say it is, OK?

 Other than lots of wild turkeys, the cast-off feathers of which we collected as souvenirs for Turtle, we didn't see any other wildlife refuging.

We did see a lump in a tree, though.

Wait, a what? Who cares?

A lump! In a tree! Quick get a photo! Why would I want a photo of a tree lump?

Because it's a prickly lump!

And it's giving me the stink-eye.

I don't know how The Big Guy spotted this as we rode past, but what a treat. I didn't get to see a moose on our ride, but we'd never seen a porcupine in the wild, either, so it was a nice consolation.

Leaving Cheney, the highway passes through the refuge. We were tooling along, and I remarked that I was going to keep my eyes peeled for a moose. The Big Guy doubted aloud that we'd see one, and I said, "I don't care what you think, I'm going to watch for mooses!" No sooner had the words left my lips when I saw this

just standing there. "OMG there's one right there! I saw one, I saw one!!!" I screamed. The Big Guy nearly drove off the road, then cursed for about two miles while he tried to find a place to turn around. Finally he found one, and we drove back, thinking surely it would have moved on in the time it took us to retrace our route.

It hadn't moved on at all, but was having a bit of a lie down. Looks to be a baby moosie. Fortunately, there was no traffic behind us (a lovely benefit of the eastern side vs. the western side of the state) and we had a nice place to pull over to get a picture. Then The Big Guy noticed right by side of the road where we were pulled off, staring at us through the brush, was this

A big moosie! Two for the price of one, what a huge thrill it was.

It was hard to drive away, that's for sure.

Our next two stops were short ones to take in a couple non-camping state parks.

Steptoe Battlefield State Park in its entirety.

 Steptoe Butte has a bit more to offer, but not much.

The original plan was for us to ride our bikes up the butte (heh) but since we'd done a long ride already this day, I put the kibosh on that. The drive up the winding ledge road made me a little sorry I did.

Even though it was a bit overcast, you could still see for just about ever.

Top o' the butte to ya!

That night, we stayed in the city of Palouse at their city RV lot. There's not much to it, but it's a nice little area for RV's to park with full hook-ups. It cost as much as Mt. Spokane. We took a nice walk around town that evening in search of some food, and ordered take-out from the Palouse Caboose. At first, looking over the menu, I was kind of disappointed since their offerings were all things we had in the RV (burgers, dogs, etc.) But The Big Guy noticed the pulled pork sandwich, so we ordered two of those and some Plum Bread Pudding (special of the day.) Holy moly, those sandwiches were good. The onion rings and pudding were pretty darn tootin' delicious, too.

Since we'd budgeted our time to include two days at Mt. Spokane but only stayed one, we had extra time to fill. We began with Kamiak Butte the next day.

 As the sign indicates, this is not a state park.

The weather was chilly and rainy again, but we donned our rain gear and headed out on the loop trail. Once again, we had the whole trail to ourselves.

 On a clear day, this is probably a great view.

 It was an fine hike, but once you've done it, I can't see the appeal of repeating it. But that's the kind of snobbish hiker I am.

The main part of the park, though, is very pretty and well-maintained and still offers a nice view of the valley.

Our next unscheduled stop was Potholes State Park. I like to pronounce it Poth-oles. For fun.

This park has over 100 spaces for RVs, plus tent sites, and more green grass than we'd seen all summer. No water ban here, apparently. Weirdly, it has only one place to deposit trash. One! In the biggest state park we've seen to date.

There were plenty of other rigs camped out, but we still found a completely empty circle to call our own.
I had in my notes that there were three miles of hiking trails in the park, but we walked and walked and only found a short interpretive trail besides the roads and camping loops, which provided plenty of walking yardage, but we were a little disappointed just the same.

 This park is geared towards fishing anyhow.

Sunset was pretty, though.

We were in no hurry the next morning, so The Big Guy encouraged me to take a run. Which I did. The sagebrush (or whatever it was) smelled wonderful, and I found the lost hiking trail. It was lovely dusty dirt through the sweet-smelling scrub, and had I not been alone and without my phone, I would've stayed on it for my whole run. After a nice shower, we pulled up stakes and headed to our last stop.

Gingko Petrified Forest State Park and Wanapum Recreational Area. I think this should count as two parks since there really are two distinct parks, but technically it doesn't.

We found an isolated spot in the upper campground. It was early in the day, though, and the other spots filled quickly, but ours was situated nicely overlooking the Columbia River. The lovely volunteer lady told us to be mindful of rattlesnakes because with the weather turning cooler at night, they liked to come up to the campground for warmth. Oh yay!

The signs posted everywhere reminded us of the same. Also of high winds, which I guess could blow a loose rattlesnake right into you if you're not paying attention.

We took the Forest Pig for a walk down to the beach before we hopped on our bikes to make the 6-mile round trip up to the Gingko part of the park.

 Made it!

Overlooking the mighty Columbia at the Interpretive Center. It was open, and we had a little tour, once again all by ourselves. Well, there was a ranger-person working there, and I couldn't help but think she must go out of her ever-loving mind with boredom on days like this. But someone has to be there to make sure no one commits larceny by taking any piece of anything from anywhere. I know this because the sign warned of such heinous acts and their consequences.

Dangerous creatures still roam the area. It's a good thing this one was contained by that fence.

 Camera-timer selfie!

 The hot ride back. We did not ride the extra two miles to the interpretive trails, instead opting to stop on our way out the following morning.

We hung out for the rest of the day, being brave and sitting right on the ground, snakes be damned!

We took a few little walks through the park, spying this little guy along the way. I think it's a side blotched lizard.

Los Ninos No Flotan.
If I tell you that we couldn't stop laughing at this sign, would you think us evil? If so, I won't tell you that.

 The Big Guy spotted these deer high on the ridgeline. They were still for so long, we were starting to think they were decoys or sculptures, but indeed, they were real. Do deer get bitten by rattlesnakes very often? I'll have to research this.

Sunrise on our last day.

The bunny wasn't scared of snakes.

We motored up to the trails as planned and hiked along the 3-mile (sign said, we doubted) route traversing the hillside and showcasing big lumps of various types of petrified trees. They were encased in stone pits covered by heavy metal grates. While the I find the process of petrification interesting, if you've seen one petrified log piece, you've seen them all. The hike was made exciting, however, by the last opportunity for us to find a rattlesnake. The sign at the trail head warned of their prevalence, and we kept our little toes in the center of the trail at all times. I told The Big Guy that if I saw one, I'd stop in my tracks and become as stiff as a petrified log. I practiced this for him, so he'd recognize it if the time came.

When I finally did see one, though, I totally blew it, and pointed, yelling "There goes one!"
He did see it, too, luckily, and even more fortunately, it was moving away from us at a high rate of speed.

That concluded our vacation time, and we pointed the RV westward.

Where it was overcast and humid.
Ah, home!