Exploration Day 1: Loose on the Palouse

OK, that was lame.

We decided to abort our plan to make today a down day, despite the miserable cold fog that settled in overnight and made us want to head back to bed after a homemade pancake and egg Sunday breakfast. After mulling over our options, and deciding to leave Spokane on Wednesday so we can spend a day exploring western Montana on our way back east, we decided to loop down from Spokane into the Palouse to Pullman, Washington, cross back over into Idaho at Moscow, and back north through Latah, Benewah and Kootenai counties.

We set out at 11 or so, and the skies quickly brightened and the fog burned off. Not very far south of Spokane, the population drastically thins out and the terrain turns to rolling hills spotted with pines and grasslands. Shortly after that, you enter The Palouse. The Washington Palouse is every bit as breathtaking to me as the Rockies, and maybe even more so. For as much wheat as we saw in western Montana, we saw probably 10 times more in the Palouse, and over a much more interesting and varied terrain – rolling hills studded with buttes, as opposed to Montana’s flatter plains flanked by steep slopes. We literally saw nothing but uninterrupted wheat fields from just south of Spokane to Pullman, with the exception of a few small towns.

On the way south, we saw this huge wind farm:

We couldn’t count the number of windmills – they stretched to the horizon. Huge things – several hundred meters tall. We actually saw a turbine blade on a rail siding along the highway in Montana, and they’re unbelievably large up close.

Pullman is quite a big city by Palouse standards. All the usual stuff – we stopped in a Walmart for supplies – and tons of college students, since it’s the home of WSU. I told my teenage son to pay attention to all the little Betties bopping around doing their Sunday shopping – very nice indeed. We cruised through the WSU campus, and it was nice, but very hilly – not a walking or biking friendly campus. Plus, the downtown area of Pullman has little to recommend it.

We crossed over into Idaho along 270, which has a great rails-to-trails path that runs between the two schools. Still plenty of agriculture along the 15 minute drive, and very little else – except for a Toyota dealership in the middle of nothing, which was random. IMHO, Moscow is a much nicer town than Pullman, and UI is a MUCH nicer campus – flatter, better laid-out, and very walkable. Students can easily stroll right into the funky little Moscow downtown area, and out into the nice neighborhoods surrounding campus. Our older kids both fell in love with UI and Moscow.

We dropped into a sporting goods store outside of campus, and I chatted up a salesgirl working the apparel section. As and aside: how Mr. Anti-Social got stuck with the mission of reaching out to the locals is beyond me, but I’m doing OK with it. She was very friendly, and I found out that she’s a sophomore at UI and comes from Ohio originally, but lives in Idaho Falls. She said the winters in Moscow are mild, at least compared to Idaho Falls, where she said summers are brutal and winters are worse. She said Moscow clears out during the summer, and that CdA is just beautiful. She was a great ambassador for the region, even if she didn’t intend to be one.

After toodling around Moscow for a bit, we headed back north, but a bit off the beaten path. We happened across an unreaped field of grain that wasn’t wheat, so I hopped out for a sample. There were pods that rattled, and I thought they were lentils, but to my surprise, they turned out to be garbanzos:


That was so cool – we were next to a field that went on out of sight, five minutes outside of UI, with millions of bushels of garbanzos around us.

The ride up the Idaho Palouse was just as scenic as the Washington side, or perhaps more so. Just as much agriculture, but more varied grains, and still a lot of wheat in the fields. The landscape was more varied, too – not as many buttes, and the Rockies off to the east were an incredible backdrop. The fields were more interrupted here by wooded areas, and as we pushed further north, forests basically replaced grain fields. The towns became smaller and more depressed up here.

We passed through the a small town in Benewah County, and took a detour to look at a retreat property I’ve seen listed online for the last year or so. I exchanged a couple of emails with the owner, who says the neighborhood is full of like-minded individuals. I’m not really considering living in this area, but I’ve looked at the property on Google Maps hundreds of times, and I thought it was a good idea to get a ground level look at what I’ve seen from overhead. That should help me in assessing other properties remotely.

Down the road from the target property, we found a car that had been shot hundreds of times with a .30 caliber, or maybe larger. There was a sign on it that read, “We don’t call 911.” Here’s what I found at the driveway of the target property:


Like minded individuals indeed.

We stopped by a – sorry, the – grocery store in town, and everybody else went in to resupply while I plotted our route north. A truck pulled up next to me with an old gentleman and his wife. “Well yer a long way from home, young feller,” said the guy after spying the Massachusetts plate on our rental car, and we started a long conversation through the windows. Nice guy – worked in the woods for 40 years, on disability now and hates it. I told him why we were there – he asked – and we ended up talking about Sandy Hook. He said he’d heard something about that in the news. I asked about meth, and he said it’s a problem mainly from the consumption side – LE has cleared out most of the meth labs, so production is not an issue, but it’s still finding its way here.

We’re back in Spokane now, after passing through some nice forest towns in Washington. Tomorrow we’re planning on a loop up to CdA, through Rathdrum and into Sandpoint, across to Priest River and back into Washington north of Spokane.

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