Easy Escape in Eastern Washington

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BY JED VAUGHN

With all the diversity Washington State offers for great escapes, the east-central region is typically not the first choice for travelers and vacationers. That said, exploring that area reveals some attributes that are unparalleled anywhere in the world. Come along and explore four natural and man-made attractions—from Grand Coulee in the north to Potholes Reservoir in the south—that make an easy 93-mile road trip.

Grand Coulee
Home to the Grand Coulee Dam, this tourism magnet is responsible for bringing up to 250,000 visitors a year to the area and is truly an epic feat of engineering. The great wall of concrete harnesses the mighty Columbia River, winding its way through Washington as it flows toward the Pacific Ocean. The dam’s construction created the recreational hotspots of Lake Roosevelt and Banks Lake.

A notable event at Grand Coulee is the laser light show displayed on the wall of the dam every night throughout the summer season (through September 30). The 2017 show is called “One River, Many Voices.” It’s a colorful display of lasers and images that dance across the massive concrete barrier, accompanied by an elaborate outdoor sound system that provides an excellent musical integration for the 30-minute event. Find information about the laser show and dam tours at grandcouleedam.com.

The dam, alone, makes a visit to the area worthwhile, but you’ll also find many other pastimes and activities at your fingertips. Watersports, fishing, camping and extraordinary sunsets make this a popular destination for vacationers from all around the Northwest and the world. Enjoy year-round fishing on Banks Lake, Lake Roosevelt, Lake Rufus Woods or one of the numerous smaller lakes in the area. Experience a scenic hike through Northrup Canyon or around Steamboat Rock. View an extensive variety of wildlife and birds, take the kids to the skateboard park or bicycle along the Columbia River. Above the dam, enjoy boating along endless stretches of shoreline and the open waters of Lake Roosevelt. For the ultimate Lake Roosevelt experience, rent a houseboat to enjoy an extended stay on the lake.

Getting to Grand Coulee: Using Highway 2, Grand Coulee is only 90 minutes west of Spokane and 230 miles east of Seattle. From Interstate 90 you can access the area by turning north at Moses Lake traveling eastbound, and turning north at Odessa heading westbound. From the Canadian border at Oroville, you’re about 100 miles north of the dam.

How the Coulees and Dry Falls Were Created
Toward the end of the last ice age, giant glaciers melted in Idaho and Montana. One of them served as a massive ice wall holding millions of gallons of water within a huge valley at Lookout Pass on the Idaho/Montana border. That wall eventually broke free on the western flank of the huge lake. The entire body of water instantly rushed west through the Idaho Panhandle and eventually subsided in Eastern Washington. This tremendous force carved the coulees throughout the region and created what were the largest waterfalls on earth, now called Dry Falls. Four-hundred feet deep and 3.5 miles around, the deep cliff-lined canyon now has a small lake at the bottom. Dry Falls is part of the Ice Age Floods National Geologic Trail. For more information about Dry Falls, check the Dry Falls State Park website at parks.state.wa.us/251/Dry-Falls.

 

Soap Lake
It’s not magic… it’s the water! Soap Lake, Washington, is home to the world’s richest mineral water. Nowhere on earth is there another place with 24 minerals at such high levels. The healing water has been used for therapeutics on a wide range of symptoms since the early 1900s. People come from all over to soak in the lake and indulge in therapeutic mud baths. An excellent place to experience the soothing water is the Soap Lake Natural Spa and Resort (soaplakeresort.com). A stay at the resort will leave you feeling rejuvenated and your skin will love you, and it’s even better with a whirlpool suite. Slipping into a hot tub of this mineral water is truly transformational and you immediately feel the soothing properties. Small cottages are also available and RV hookups are nearby. Grab a steak at Don’s Restaurant, the resort’s iconic dining establishment under the stewardship of executive chef Dakota Likewise, who is an award-winning culinary specialist from Arizona.

Driving from Grand Coulee to Soap Lake stirs the imagination as you follow Banks Lake west. You’ll get an up-close view of Steamboat Rock and gaze in wonderment at the tall rimrock cliffs that were formed by the great Missoula floods about 10,000 years ago. Be sure to stop at Dry Falls and take in the inspiring view while you wrap your head around scientists’ estimates that the falls were once five times the width of Niagara with ten times the flow of all the current rivers in the world combined. Soap Lake is a travel destination to put on your radar; for more information, go to soaplakecoc.org.

Getting from Grand Coulee to Soap Lake: From Grand Coulee, follow the scenic byway on Highway 155 to Coulee City. Shortly after, turn onto Highway 17 toward Dry Falls and Soap Lake. Continue on Highway 17 past Sun lakes and Lake Lenore. You’ll soon reach Soap Lake, about a one-hour drive from Grand Coulee.

Moses Lake
Many people you ask might say Moses Lake is just a convenient gas or rest stop while commuting from one side of Washington State to the other. But for those who delve a little deeper, it’s much more. This area is part of the Columbia River Basin on the course of Crab Creek, a tributary of the Columbia River. Fishing, golfing, camping or exploring parks and wildlife are highlights of the area. Many people are also finding Moses Lake to be a desirable retirement community. The weather is generally pleasant and outdoor recreation is abundant.

Year-round fishing (including ice fishing) gives anglers access to trout, bass, perch, crappie and blue gill. Two-hundred miles of shoreline leaves no shortage of places to explore from a boat amid various stay and play resorts. Two 18-hole golf courses and one 9-hole course are highlights for golfers.

Moses Lake offers a variety of lodging choices, many of which are waterside. Additionally, Blue Heron Park, McCosh Park, Cascade Park and the Japanese Peace Gardens are attractive places to relax and enjoy a family picnic with some great recreation.

The Gorge at George, one of the finest outdoor amphitheaters anywhere on the planet, is just a 45-minute drive west of Moses Lake. Options for accommodations near the world-class venue are limited, making an extended excursion to Moses Lake even more appealing if you’re attending a concert.

To learn more about exploring Moses Lake, go to moseslake.com.

Getting from Soap Lake to Moses Lake: Moses Lake is just 23 miles south of Soap Lake on highway 17. Driving from the east or west side of the state, simply follow Interstate 90 to Moses Lake.

O’Sullivan Reservoir
Just 20 minutes south of Moses Lake, the landscape changes dramatically as you arrive at Potholes State Park. This 775-acre state park with 6,000 feet of freshwater shoreline on the massive reservoir is a beautiful and unique place to camp, RV, boat, birdwatch and drown some worms. Don’t confuse it with the nearby Potholes lakes, which are a 30-minute drive from the state park.

Even if camping or RVing is not in your plans, take the time for a quick detour south from Moses Lake to experience the reservoir and its unique landscape. Once again, the Missoula floods come into play at Potholes Reservoir. The flood waters initially dug depressions in the earth; later, damming from modern-era Columbia Basin Project turned the depressions into lakes.

To find out more or to reserve a camping or RV spot, or to reserve one of the park’s cabins, go to parks.state.wa.us/568/Potholes.