Exploration Day 3: Palouse Redux

Sometimes we get signs, and we have to pay attention to them.

There’s something about the Palouse that just gets to me. Not to get all weird, but years ago I had a very vivid dream that I still remember, which is very unusual for me – dreams quickly evaporate when I wake up. But in this one, I was riding a mountain bike across an endless field of impossibly green rolling hills, with my dog Jessy, gone these 10 years now, running alongside of me in canine bliss. The sky was bright blue, and every hill we crested just revealed another one, stretching off to the horizon. I woke from that dream heartsick, knowing that there was nowhere in the northeast like that. Then I saw the Palouse, and I finally knew what that almost 20 year old dream meant.

A memorial in downtown Palouse, WA
A memorial in downtown Palouse, WA

So I decided to drag everyone back down to the Palouse today, for another trip through Moscow via points east. We headed south from Spokane under bright skies, with the temperature slowly rising through the 80s into the low 90s. We cut to the southeast on 27 and 271 in Washington, winding through the deep Palouse. The few communities floating in this sea of grain are small and centered around a grain elevator and a small downtown, but they’re almost all productive and happy places, if a bit isolated. Maybe that’s why they’re happy. Again, all the downtown areas of these towns are active and healthy, and meticulously maintained.

We headed east back towards Idaho on 6 into Potlach. Again, this is deep Palouse with isolated communities, but here the land is much more frequently punctuated with densely forested buttes and broad plains. The plains having small ranching and hay operations, while the endless streams of logging trucks heading towards the world’s largest lumber mill in Potlach tell the story of what the buttes yield.

Imagine what this looks like when the fields are green.
Imagine what this looks like when the fields are green.

As we pushed farther east, logging became the predominate activity, and the towns we passed through seemed less happy. Deary was the easternmost town we saw, and even though it was small and isolated, people were still friendly and very polite to foreigners. That was pretty much universal in Idaho and Washington – people are just kinder and better to each other than we’re used to.

We headed back west toward Moscow on 8, through a number of small logging towns. The biggest was Troy, where an online friend and her family live. Still depressed here, but not as much, probably due to proximity to the university. In fact, the connection between the university and the community is pretty strong. Not only does the campus meld seamlessly into downtown Moscow, but there are rails-to-trails projects that push both west toward WSU in Pullman and east way into and past Troy. The bike paths are well used and nicely maintained. Bike paths seem like a big thing out here.

We came back into Moscow around lunchtime, this time from the east. There’s a small strip mall area on the east side with the usual McDonald’s and Taco Bell trappings, but that quickly gives way to the older downtown area. There are no big boxes in Moscow proper – Walmart is a 20 minute ride away in Pullman, and there’s a Home Depot down in Lewiston, about 30 minutes south. Moscow’s downtown is still pretty vibrant as a result.

Spotted in a Moscow hardware store. Not a common sight back east.
Spotted in a Moscow hardware store. Not a common sight back east.

We had lunch at a local drive-in, then did a little wardriving around downtown Moscow and the surrounding neighborhoods. We also parked and walked around downtown, mainly visiting real estate offices and picking up local advertisements. We stopped by the Chamber of Commerce Visitor Center, where the nice fellow working the desk put together a relocation package for us. We chatted with him about life in Moscow, and he was pretty positive. He said the campus and townspeople don’t really have any issues because there’s no real physical separation between them. Besides, the students are mostly Idahoans, so they’re not bringing outlander baggage with them.

The drive back north was through pretty much the same areas we’d already covered, so we didn’t see much new stuff. We’re back at the hotel now, breaking down base camp and preparing for the trip back over the Rockies to explore Montana a bit more. We chatted up some hotel neighbors this evening who are relocating from Alaska to Arizona – not clear what they’re doing here, other than passing through – and they say they have a son in law school in Montana. They report Kalispell as expensive, but probably not by east coast standards. I also had a long conversation with the lovely lady at the hotel desk this morning. She’s a former Jersey Girl – born and bred in Asbury Park – but she’s been here for 38 years and loves it.

She says that she can’t believe the pace when she heads back east, and is appalled by the rudeness and crudity of the people. Amen, sister.

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