Washington State’s Best Prehistoric Road Trip Through Time

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For an upcoming weekend, plan to hike the lesser-known Coulee Corridor National Scenic Byway. The 150-mile corridor that takes you through the wonders of man and nature is far from the most touristy maps of Washington. Mainly made up of quiet two-lane roads, the route explores an area where cataclysmic mega-floods of lava and water have created bizarre rock formations, sheared mesa-like plateaus, carved deep channels (called lava flows) and emit still tremendous quiet power. Indeed, many stops are on the Ice Age Floods National Geologic Trail.

Travel the Coulee Corridor National Scenic Byway

Take the North Cascades National Scenic Byway to Winthrop, then cruise to Omak. Omak is one of the last places to refuel your car (or yourself) for nearly 60 miles. Then drive south on State Highway 155, which enters the sprawling 1.4 million acre Colville Indian Reservation, managed by the Confederate Tribes of the Colville Reservation.

You’ll pass the entrance to Lake Omak, one of 420 lakes and ponds on the Colville Reservation, and open to non-tribal members. The reserve prides itself on its unique preserved areas, perfect for those wishing to see wildlife and plants in a more natural state. But some parks offer camping, bathrooms, picnic tables, and even RV sites and resorts for non-members (check the booking website for more info) .

As you move south, your car may be the only one on the road as you leave the crowds far behind you. Huge terraced structures rise along the route, resembling the stairways of giants. Sagebrush gives way to lonely ponderosa pine forests, then fir trees, at the remote Disautel Pass at about 3,500 feet, where clouds can still accumulate, even on otherwise sunny days.

The descent from the pass takes you through a landscape of shrub-steppe and crusts dotted with countless “irregulars” or giant boulders, ranging in size from refrigerators to two-story houses. Tens of thousands of years ago, dozens of floods deposited these monstrosities where they still stand today, much like a river might move a small pebble. The most famous is Omak Rock, precariously balanced to the north near Lake Omak, Washington State’s largest salt lake, but you’ll see plenty of it from the car as well.

The shrub-steppe gives way to cattails and marshes covered with water lilies, where the birds flit. The Audubon Society notes that the Coulee Corridor is home to more than half of Washington’s 346 bird species. Order a map or download the organization’s app to identify the brightly colored avian friends you see en route, including the many birds of prey soaring overhead.

Road trip to Grand Coulee Dam and Sun Lakes

The Coulee Corridor Byway amps up the drama as you approach the Grand Coulee Dam, a beautiful place to stop for a restroom, picnic or photo break. The recently reopened visitor center explains the innards of the dam, and the facility also offers guided tours, an evening laser light show, and a geocaching challenge. Nearby, the Colville Tribal Museum showcases traditional and contemporary history and art.

The almost incomprehensible torrents of the dam make sense – the dam is one of the largest in the world. The surge can also help you get a sense of the strength and power of the Old Ice Age floods that drastically altered the outlook ahead. The Amazon River flows at 6 million cubic feet per second, but major floods swept through this part of Washington at 386 million cubic feet per second.

Take WA-155 as it winds south and Lake Roosevelt National Recreation Area reflects dramatically shaped clouds overhead. You have entered Grand Coulee – an ancient riverbed carved out by floodwaters – where man-made lakes now offer RV and camping sites, fishing and boating. Banks Lake’s vivid blue-green reservoir may look familiar; the color rivals the well-known reservoirs of the North Cascades, Diablo and Ross Lakes dams. En route, look for Steamboat Rock State Park. From a distance, the 650-foot butte looks like an old steamship – but closer reveals basalt (cooled lava) colonnades, plus the hiking, boating, golfing and visitor center visitors to Fort Spokane.

Take WA-17 S to the excellent Sun Lake-Dry Falls State Park Visitor Center, which explains the process of forming the prehistoric landscape with photos and provides an immersive experience. Long ago, a raging waterfall four times the size of Niagara Falls once roared into the giant basin of Dry Falls. Today, only a few pothole-like freshwater lakes lie in the bowl, which rises 400 feet. See Dry Falls from above, where informative signs and photo opportunities abound. Then descend into the bowl for an otherworldly experience.

A few miles further, stop at the Lenore Lake Caves to walk a short sagebrush-scented trail to narrow, shallow basalt caves that were used as shelters 5,000 years ago. Stand inside the cave for a glimpse of the surrounding landscape and Lake Lenore.

Road trip to Soap Lake

More than 100 years ago, the mineral content of Soap Lake made the alkaline-rich water feel smooth and soapy, and the black sand shores often gathered foam. In the early 20th century, Soap Lake’s heyday came as a “sanatorium lake” and the Veterans Administration approved it as a healing destination for Buerger’s disease (resulting from smoking, thus questionable effectiveness). In recent years, the mineral content has changed due to the development of canals and other water systems.

As a result, much of the foam disappeared. But the city’s eccentricity and mud rituals may earn it a comeback. The curious visitor who looks past the empty storefronts will be rewarded with surprising delights – a community theatre, an ice rink and the few restaurants set the table for excellent diverse cuisine.

La Cucina Di Sophia’s Brazilian-Italian restaurant offers fresh salads, steaks, and wood-fired pizzas that might be better than most restaurants in Seattle (book in). Mom’s European Foods and Deli closes early but serves charcuterie, cheeses, desserts and homemade borscht, pierogies and sandwiches. Mi Cocinita Mexican Grill & Cantina offers fresh cut fries and an extensive menu of favorites.

Sleep in one of the local AirBnBs or at the Soap Lake Resort. Comprised of several acquired buildings, Soap Lake Resort includes themed rooms newly constructed from giant Canadian logs (cowboy, Vegas, peach, etc.); cottage rooms — some in a historic Art Deco-style building; and smaller hostel rooms. Some suites are equipped with a kitchenette. Call to make sure you know what you’re getting.

The resort’s exclusive lakefront access makes it easy to navigate the clear waters, while offering picnic tables, an oceanfront hot tub, chairs and swings, and a family game room. Don’t miss the resort’s quirky delights, including two tiny barrel-shaped saunas and a 1929 prison, converted into an ice dispensing room.

The next day, enjoy an excellent breakfast and top-notch pastries in the lovely plant-filled interior of Cloudview Kitchen. The cafe was founded by local young adults who worked at some of Seattle’s best bakeries and then returned home. Open Friday through Sunday only, the kitchen’s rotating menu can offer American, Turkish, or Korean fare for breakfast and lunch, as well as strong coffee and cases filled with dozens of muffins, croissants, and tarts. hand and other treats.

From Soap Lake, return to Seattle or extend your geological exploration by visiting Drumheller Canals National Natural Landmark or Palouse Falls State Park. Either way, be sure to drive through Ginkgo Petrified Forest State Park just off I-90 to see the fossilized remains of the ginkgo in its natural habitat. And be glad you didn’t live here 12,000 years ago.

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