Exploring Eastern Washington

When we first moved to Washington, geographically south central Washington, I quickly learned Washingtonians describe themselves as being from either Western or Eastern Washington. So to my mind that was probably dividing the state down the middle – not really. I learned that the divide was the crest of the Cascade Mountains, which geographically puts parts of the state that are west of the center in Eastern Washington. There are many other social, political, and stereotypical elements that separate the state at the same place, but that is not a topic for this post.

There are many distinguishing characteristics, some obvious and other not so much, that differentiate both regions. The key of which is climate, which can be described as the “wet side” vs. the “dry side”. Wet weather coming off the Pacific Ocean creates temperate rain forests on the Olympic Peninsula and thick evergreen forest going up the slopes of the Cascades. When the fronts crest the mountain they are out of moisture. So east of the mountains it is very dry resulting in some areas, like where we live, being desert-like. Our community (Tri-Cities) averages about 7-8 inches of annual precipitation. Anyway, I explain this for the benefit of the handful of people that read this blog that have never been to Washington and to help understand the following pictures.

The landscape in Eastern Washington and much of the arid West is still awe inspiring to me after 11 years of seeing it everyday. I recall phoning my wife on my first visit here to interview for a job at Energy Northwest to explain to her she should be prepared for there being NO TREES, except where someones planted them and keeps them watered. It was a shocking comparison to the Orlando, FL scenery I had just left.

So, flash forward eleven years and having been on pandemic lockdown for months realizing we need to get out of the house and we have sadly seen very little of our “new” state. With the corona virus in mind we started looking for places outdoors we could visit shortly after the State reopened the State Parks with limited services.

First destination, the Ginkgo Petrified Forest / Wanapum Recreation Area at Vantage, WA along the Columbia River. The Petrified Forest is actually buried under basalt rocks. I am no geologist or all that knowledgeable about pre-historic Washington, but many thousands of years ago, before the Cascades were a mountain range sapping all the moisture out of the sky, this area was a forest with a mixture of conifers and hardwoods. As you know, the Pacific Coast was and is a volcanic and seismic region which led to the whole state being covered with layers upon layers of lava. Well, however it works, the forest were covered and trees became petrified. Over time the petrified trees in the area around Vantage were discovered close to the surface. Several have been excavated around, the species identified (and labeled), and covered with a cage door (to avoid being chipped away by souvenir hunters). So you can hike along the trails and observe the petrified trees. For example…

As you can see the hike involves climbing some hills, but it is very scenic and interesting. The trails go on much further than we explored, but it was quite windy and a bit chilly up there. We also enjoyed the desert flora and though I kept my eyes peeled we did not see any rattlesnakes.

The Wanapum Recreation Area is down the hill from the Petrified Forest and owned by the Grant County Public Utility Department. A lovely area down at the river with picnic tables, campsites, a small boat launch and vault toilets. Above is an overlook with picnic facilities and an interpretive center, which was closed due to the pandemic. The views from here were spectacular. The bridge across Lake Wanapum (Columbia River above the Wanapum Dam) is I-90, so any of our NY friends, just hope on the “Thruway” and head west. In about four days you could be here.

Coming Soon: Dry Falls / Sun Lake State Park.

3 thoughts on “Exploring Eastern Washington

  1. Thoroughly enjoyed your post. We went to the Gingko Petrified Forest soon after we moved here (Yakima) from NC 13 years ago. Then we got jobs and haven’t explored much in the ensuing years. I look forward to seeing some posts of places we haven’t been, now that we are retired. Have you been to the Palouse? Definitely on my list.

    1. Peg, whenever anyone comes from the East to visit we take them to Palouse Falls. It is pretty spectacular, especially in the Spring when the river is running full.

  2. Looks & sounds terrific. I-90 here we come!

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