Sandwiched between the Cascade Mountain Range and the secluded forests of the Nez-Pierce in Idaho, lies the deserts of central Washington. The land of fragrant sagebrush and towering rock formations carved out by ancient ice ages. Some have called this the high desert, and that assumption can easily be made as the same landscape stretches up from Oregon’s high desert. This makes for incredible road trip fodder.
But while Oregon boasts a true high desert territory, Washington State cannot accurately make the same claim. The elevation must be over 2,000 feet above sea level, and as the desert reaches Washington, the sea level drops to 1,000 feet and under.
Nevertheless, what other state gives you desert landscapes on one side and temperate rainforests (link to your rainforest blog) on the other? None, I tell you! It’s what makes Washington State one of the greatest in the continental U.S. with respect to diversity of environment.
Geological anomaly, anyone?
As you drive down the winding roads of Hwy 155 along Banks Lake and survey the awesomeness of the landscape, you can’t help but let your mind wander. It’s easy to get overwhelmed by the enormity of the cliffs and waterways that were formed eons ago, where humankind is but a blip on the radar of history.
You’ll want to spend some quality time here to completely experience it all. What treasures could such an immense landscape hold? What ancient secrets? Thankfully, there are many answers to be discovered. Here are just a few.
One of the few petrified fossil forests in North America, this recreation area’s claim to fame is their display of petrified Ginkgo biloba trees. Follow the short road off from Highway 90 to the Interpretive center, with more displays, and a short introductory movie to the area.
Step outside the building, and survey the glorious panorama of the Columbia River below you. Then view the petroglyphs located just south of the center. Past the road to the interpretive center, you can drive down in elevation to a lovely picnic area, and walk the interpretive trails through the petrified forest.
We stayed at the Inn at Soap Lake, which flanks the south end of Soap Lake. There are designated lounge chairs to be used only by guests right by the water. Dare to wade in, stick your hand down into the water, scoop up some of that wonderful mud and spread it over you…aaaaahhhh. The mud has healing properties – if you can get past the initial feeling of “yuck!” it’s actually quite soothing.
Or if you really just aren’t into that sort of thing, there are several rooms at the Inn with Jacuzzi tubs that pipe in the lake water with all of its minerals! You can tell because the water is just a little slippery to the touch and oh so soothing! Perfect for an in-room soak. Choose from Notaras Lodge rooms or Cottage Rooms. Not all rooms have the Soap Lake Jacuzzi water, so be sure you’re reserving a jacuzzi room if that’s what you want.
Summer Falls State Park
This is a tiny park with a few picnic tables and an awesome view of a man-made lake with a man-made waterfall. But you wouldn’t know it from the sight of the waterfall…its 50 feet of spectacular! Much of it is funneled in from the Coulee Dam area, and much of the year (especially in summer) the falls could be bone dry. Still, a lovely place to bring a picnic and enjoy the view near the water.
An outdoor recreational lover’s paradise. Boating, jet-skiing, fishing, camping…you name it…it’s here! A few miles north of Soap Lake, this is a long skinny lake with a Wildlife Recreation Area, and Coulee City flanking its south end. Just south of the lake is Dry Falls State Park
On the north end of Banks Lake is Steamboat Rock State Park. There are lots of camping and recreational activities to be had. Hiking, boating, fishing, swimming, rock climbing, mountain biking and horseback riding. What’s not to love? Oh, and the sunsets !!!