Saturday, July 25, 2009

Lake Lenore Caves in the Coulee Corridor

Coulee Corridor - About 100 miles east of Spokane off Highway 2. Of the several interesting features to be found in this area, the Lake Lenore Caves is a point of interest that is an activity that will stretch the legs and the mind. A short but strenuous hike from the parking area off Highway 17 south of Highway 2 about 8 miles, (which is well marked and features a "comfort station" and a information kiosk) takes you and your kids up the face of the coulee to a bench where several rock shelters can be observed. Most of the evidence of human habitation has been erased by time, although you can still see the smoke stains on the overhangs. My kids enjoy this hike annually, and take their friends along. I recommend springtime, after the snow and ice is gone (and that is a good three weeks before Spokane) but before the rattlesnakes*** come out. The wildflowers are in bloom at that time. Or in the fall, before snowfall. I have never encountered a rattlesnake there, but a warning is posted, and it is a possibility. Summers in this area are HOT! So if you go in the summertime, try to do this one in the early morning and takewater with you.

Dry Falls and the Coulee Corridor

Warning: Fun Science Alert! When the Ice Age was on, there was a huge lobe of glacial ice that extended down into Central Washington, called the Okanogan Lobe, which diverted the course of the Columbia River. In the meantime, there was another huge lobe of glacial ice that blocked off the drainage of the Clark Fork, Spokane, Pend Oreille, and St. Joe Rivers and formed a huge lake in Montana called Glacial Lake Missoula. When all that water backed up in the Rockies busted loose, it came raging down the foothills and slammed into the Okanogan Ice Lobe and went sluicing down the diverted course of the Columbia which we commonly know as Sun Lakes Coulee. (Officially Lower Grand Coulee) As the water came rushing through it carved a "coulee" or valley right down through the layers of basalt rock and left a rather dramatic dry waterfall, once ten times the size of Niagara Falls, with beautiful Dry Falls Lake at its base, which is the first lake in the Sun Lakes chain.

About 100 miles west of Spokane on Highway 2, turn south on Highway 17 which runs right down through the coulee. The first point of interest you will come to on this leg of the journey is the Dry Falls Overlook & Interpretive Center. This is a great place to introduce your kids to the concepts of climate cycles and the awesome power of nature. Another thing to marvel at here, is the beautiful rock masonry structures built by the Civilian Conservation Corps in the 1930's. There were some tremendous craftsmen on those crews.The Interpretive Center is open from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. daily, except holidays, and they have restrooms.

Sun Lakes State Park in the Coulee Corridor

Fancy some traditional recreation after your geology lesson? As you leave Dry Falls Interpretive Center going south on Highway 17, you will descend down into the coulee. On the right in the layers of basalt, you can see a fault line where tectonic plate movement is apparent. On the left you will see a golf course, campground and park at the north end of Park Lake. There is also miniature golf (a really nice new installation terraced on the hillside), paddle boat rentals, snack bar, gift shop, swimming, docks, fishing, cabins, and all kinds of fun stuff. The Ping family has been operating this park concession for a number of years, and has made many improvements.

Blue Lake Rhino in the Coulee Corridor

As you continue south on Highway 17 from Sun Lakes State Park, through the majestic Lower Grand Coulee, you will come to a small, unassuming, resort called Laurent's Sun Village Resort. You can rent rowboats at this resort and the most remarkable thing is that just across the lake there is a small cave that was actually formed by the body of a prehistoric rhinoceros that was caught up in a lava flood when all this basalt rock was laid down during late Miocene and early Pliocene times (between 17 and 6 million years ago). Be sure to bring a flashlight and be ready to crawl into the tight cave.

If spelunking in small caves isn't your cup of tea, I suggest renting the rowboat, check out the cave from the outside and then take the kids over to Seattle to the Burke Museum where they have made a full size mock up of the cave from plaster casts and have a nice educational display about it. Laurent's also has a miniature golf course, park, camping, cabins, and fishing opportunities. To learn more about the lava floods check out the USGS website.

Good Clean Fun at Soap Lake

With a mineral content similar to the famed spa at Baden-Baden, Germany, Soap Lake has long attracted health-seeking visitors from all over the world. A gathering point for the Columbia Plateau tribes before white settlers came to Washington, the Native Americans called it Smokiam, or "Healing Waters." After World War I, the victims of mustard gas attacks developed a disease called Buerger's Disease, and Soap Lake water was the only known cure. A sanitarium was built to treat the afflicted soldiers.

The water is too alkaline to support piscine life, so leave your fishing pole in the car, lest you make a spectacle of yourself. (I have friends that "go fishing" there just to be funny). Brine shrimp and a few water bugs inhabit the water. Some of the locals will attempt to intrigue you with tales of a lake monster, but they are just pulling your leg.

Soap Lake boasts several gradually sloping beaches that make it very safe for little ones to play in the lake. And, because the water is so dense, it is virtually impossible to sink. You can float around all day with your head, hands and feet sticking out of the water (try that in normal water and you sink like a stone). When you come out, the minerals from the lake will dry in white water spots on your skin. There are showers on the developed beaches where you can rinse off if you like.

Another interesting thing about Soap Lake is: when the wind blows, the wave action on the shore actually whips up suds (see photo)! Soap Lake is at the south end of the Coulee Corridor at the junction of Highway 17 and Highway 28.

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Discover the Mistequa of Antiques

The Mistequa Auto Museum at the Spokane Indian Tribe's Chewelah Casino has added some interesting cars lately, with more on the way, DayTrippers in Chewelah tell the Divas. At least 50 cars are currently on display, by local classic auto restorers - from "horseless carriage" cars, steam engines, gangster cars, to motorcycles and muscle cars like Mustangs and GTO's. The museum is located at 2555 Smith Rd.Chewelah, WA 99109; Open Weds. and Sat. from May-October from 10am to 4pm; call (509) 935-8034 for more information or appointments during the winter season. Suggested donation gets you in the door.

Monday, March 16, 2009

Grant County Historical Museum and Village

For a unique museum experience, visit the Grant County Historical Museum and Village, a collection of buildings that have been furnished with fixtures from the mid- to late-1800's, when the building was in use. Children can sit at the desks in the one-room school; there is a country church, a log cabin, a complete authentic pioneer homestead, a print shop with press, a blacksmith shop with working forge and much much more. In addition they have a very nice assortment of antique farm equipment. Sheets blow in the breeze on the "solar clothes dryer" all summer long. The Village comes to life each June during the Sage and Sun Festival, with docents on hand to demonstrate old-timey stuff and answer questions.

Call ahead for hours and admission information. The Museum is located on the North end of Ephrata on Highway 28 (towards Soap Lake), at 742 Basin Street Northwest, Ephrata, WA 98823; 509-754-3334

Above, local children take a tour of the One Room School House at the Grant County Museum.