Exploring Eastern Washington and Palouse Falls
| July 28, 2017 |
Oh, the beauty of Plan B. I teamed up with one of my favorite adventure buddies, Sarah, for a weekend of good ol’ Pacific Northwest explorations. We booked a yurt in Idaho, with the intention of snowshoeing and visiting an area we both had yet to visit! Since Sarah has been based out of Olympia for a while (she also has been stricken with the PNW, and can’t seem to leave, after being a travel PT for some time), she’s seen a lot of the state. So, we intended to cross somethin’ off each of our lists together.
But… Weather was looking rainy in Idaho, so Sarah and I said ixnay on the road trip. Sarah had more than enough rain in Olympia (no complaints about sunny Yakima), so we decided to flow with a new idea: Palouse Falls State Park. Sarah drove to Yakima around 10am on March 25, I handed her a quesadilla and coffee, and we piled into my Forester for an eastern Washington adventure! We had tons to catch up on, and she ignited my adventurelust with her adventurevan plans. Conversation flowed effortlessly, and the eastward drive seemed to fly by…
We decided to stop at Twin Sisters Rock before pushing on to Palouse Falls. WTA proclaims the hike to this rock formation as a “leg stretcher,” and it’s exactly that. Yet, somehow it was still exhilarating. Undoubtedly, the sweeping, wide-open views of the Columbia River combined with the wind and sandy landscape made the 1-mile hike feel much grander. In the distance, we saw gates surrounding the land of a lucky homeowner. Honestly, I had heartfelt flashbacks to memories on the Irish coast as we stood beside the Twin Sisters, glancing along the Columbia Riverside. The mossy, green landscape, combined with the jutting rocks mirrored the dramatic Cliffs of Moher. This “I think I’m in Ireland” feeling persisted throughout the day. Sadly, however, my day didn’t end with a Guinness. I think I’ll have to address that next time.
I’d recommend throwing an extra layer on if you plan to walk around these rocks because it truly was quite windy! We were pretty amused by the Native legend surrounding the Twin Sisters, and overall fascinated by the quirky, admirable rocks:
The large basalt pillars in front of you are actually two cayuse Indian sisters. Coyote, a spiritual hero of many Indian legends, fell in love with three sisters who were building a trap in the river to catch salmon. Always the trickster, Coyote watched them and at night he would destroy their work. The sisters rebuilt the trap daily but Coyote would destroy it each time. One morning Coyote saw the sisters crying. They were starving for fish. Coyote promised to build them a trap if they would become his wives. The sisters consented and he kept his promise. For many years Coyote lived happily with the sisters but after a while he became jealous of them. Using his supernatural powers, Coyote changed two of his wives into basal pillars. The third wife he turned into a cave downstream. He then turned into a rock so that he could watch over them forever.
Lesson learned: if you want someone to marry you, starve them first. Secondly, Coyote is a creep.
Honestly, the Tri City area offered MANY odd roadside attractions. We stopped at a bridge to nowhere, and watched as the landscapes continued to grow more dry and vast…
Palouse Falls State Park seemed to spring up on us after driving on many winding, hilly roads. Upon arrival, there was a line waiting to get into the park. I sighed. *Hmph* there’s gonna be so many people here… We asked a security guard how far it was from the entrance to the falls themselves, and he said it was 2 miles (2.4 per WTA). Anticipating a long wait at the entrance (the guard said about 30-40 minutes), we decided to prepare to hike the road into the park instead of waiting. We didn’t really know what to expect once in the park, and considering we only got a leg-stretcher of a hike at Twin Sisters, we were up for the challenge! We changed into our running shoes (picturing a nice jog to the falls), got some water/snacks, and threw additional layers in our packs (lending my Patagucci fleece to Sarah). Bug spray – check. Sunscreen – check! We were READY to go.
With our laces tightened, sunglasses donned, and pack straps snug on our shoulders, we locked my Forester and headed fearlessly toward the 2.4-mile path ahead of us…
…as the guard simultaneously started allowing people into the park.
Well, so much for the hike. We wiped our enthusiastic grins off our face and begrudgingly piled our gear back into Jazzy The Forester and followed the herd of tourists/Washingtonians/kind-of-hikers to the falls. We kicked a good amount of dust up behind us, and arrived at the parking lot with about 20 other vehicles around 2pm. In the distance, we saw a bunch of people gathering. From a distance, I could tell a large percentage of them just wanted to stand on the rim and say “Wow, cool,” get their photo and then leave. We saw a myriad of phones and selfie sticks (no offense) snapping photos non-stop.
For some reason, natural places seem like such an odd place to simply stop to ooh-and-ahh. Meh, more on that another time 🙂
I anticipated the annoyance of the crowds/other people, but as soon as we approached the falls and they panned into view, I almost dropped to the floor.
Behold: Washington State’s official waterfall (as of February 12, 2014)!
The 198-foot falls were more massive than I could have imagined! I also don’t remember seeing any photos with a rainbow, which was present the entire day. (Lucky Charms, much? I TOLD you I felt like I was in Ireland all day). Admittedly, Sarah and I joined the other ooh-and-ahh’ers around the falls. I breathed in the power of the falls, audible even from across the drainage. What was even more incredible was the appearance downstream towards Snake River. The multiple layers of land were steep steps toward the remnants of the Missoula Floods. The land itself is a fossil of of the Ice Age and glaciated floods that engulfed eastern Washington, and Sarah and I just needed to get a closer look.
As we walked beyond the gravel path, we were met with a WARNING sign, stating there were unmarked trails ahead. Being that we are avid and experienced hikers, we decided to take the risk and push beyond the crowds…
There were endless views of the falls to explore, and we got it from every angle up above. Most impressive to me was the rock structure that looked like a Gothic Cathedral.
I mean, WOW. How’s that for scale?
On the other side of this beautiful rock, we were able to stand at the BASE of Palouse Falls. We couldn’t really hear each other, and we maintained caution (a wee bit slippery!) as we soaked in the magnificent power of Washington’s greatest waterfall.
We followed the makeshift path around the circumference of the falls, until we came to a sketchy drop-down area that we decided to downclimb in order to get an even closer look.
As we meandered around the falls further, we came to a rope leading down even further. We were certainly on a mission to be at the base of the falls, but not at too risky of a cost! We saw two girls staring at a rope down toward the shore, and when they weren’t making any moves, we decided to go for it. Our daring, confident decision led us to be the only people at the base of the falls.
Whoever said “Don’t go chasin’ waterfalls” needs to take a trip to Palouse Falls State Park… am I right?
The hike back to the parking lot was a little less pleasant than expected, and we thought we made a wrong turn at one point due to the amount of off-roading and scrambling that it took to return to the overlook.
Palouse Falls State Park far exceeded our expectations in every way. The perpetual rainbow (and double rainbow), thrilling hike to the base of the falls, and time spent at the park was energizing!
Once we made it back to the car, we were not even the slightest bit tired from our adventure! Our souls were filled with a new energy, and we embarked on the journey back to Yakima. With a glance down at my dashboard, I saw my gas gauge was quite low. I had noticed this as we approached the park, but just figured we’d get gas on the way out.
Little did I know, the closest gas station was MILES away… I’m talking greater than 30 miles. Jazzy The Subaru was put to the test, and somehow I miraculously drove on “E” for a few too many miles for comfort. My fingertips and toes were tingling, and Sarah and I were having a bit of a laughing panic attack. We figured that, if we didn’t make it, we could at least call the gas station… AAA… anything? I’ll tell ya, I never felt so relieved to pull up to a gas pump. And I’ll never let my gas tank go below 1/4 full again. (Or, at least I’ll make sure there’s a gas station close by…)
Despite the small anxiety attack at the end of the day, I guess you can say this day was an overwhelming success! Cheers to adventure buddies and endless sights in Washington state…
Palouse Falls State Park Tips
- Discover Pass is necessary for entrance! Make sure it’s on display in your vehicle.
- The path leading down to the falls is NOT MAINTAINED, and hikers assume ALL risk. There’s a lot of loose rock and some sketchy areas, so please be cautioned. Sarah and I are seasoned hikers, so this was not an issue for us.
- Try to get here at sunset, especially if you want some epic photos. The light was a little harsh for mid-day to get good photos (and I forgot my neutral density filter…), but I managed fairly well.
- Don’t forget your tripod! It functions as a photography AND walking device.
- Make sure your gas tank is happy and filled up before positioning yourself >30 miles away from a gas station… Unless you feel like having a slight anxiety attack?
- Look out for rattlesnakes (we didn’t see any) and yellow-bellied Marmots (we also didn’t see them).
- Camping is first come, first serve! Next trip, I think I’ll camp for a greater chance of (even more) epic photos. Per WTA, the 105-acre camping area has 11 tent spaces, including one campsite that is ADA compliant (nice!).
- As a warning, you may want to visit the Cliffs of Moher after a trip to Eastern Washington. So, pack some Guinness in your cooler and play some good ol’ Irish drinking songs before/during/after to get in the mood. (Is it just me?)