Sunrise doesn’t get enough credit, which is probably why people refer to it as an ass crack. Catch a glimpse and you cringe, shutting your eyes and pretending it’s not there in an attempt to fall back to sleep. I cherish my sleep, but I also get harebrained ideas when I ride my bike, and the longer I’m on it, the more wascally they get. So, last weekend as I was winding down the Centennial Trail toward Idaho, I set my heart on catching sunrise at Central Ferry on the Snake River. Local grain growers bring their crops to the Port of Central Ferry to be transported down the Snake, and in their free time, fish, camp, and imbibe on secluded sand beaches along the river. I have fond memories of this place, including one hot July night leading up to harvest a few years ago – triple digit temps and the river surface like glass, mirroring the cherry and tangerine swirled sunset. Clearly, the sun saves the most vibrant colors for summer on the Snake, painting a crack worth opening your eyes for.
I say this all the time, and will keep saying it, but there’s something so invigorating about speeding with the windows down through Eastern Washington’s unfamiliar highways; my mind runs rampant. I am enamored with wind farms and wheat fields and am always so blown away when I stumble across places I didn’t know existed. Like, how is that possible? …to be so unaware of the treasures in my own backyard. It challenges my definition of adventure, because while I yearn for distant exploration, I’m reminded there are things worth discovering right where I am, no plane ticket required.
Starbuck, Washington is just one example. The speed limit drops from 60 to 25, and at 6:00am, there was no coffee, just a diligent greenthumb welcoming me to her tiny town with the wave of a hand shovel, a friendly cheers to the early birds. And a few miles further on 261 is another surprise: Lyons Ferry, where the Palouse and Snake Rivers converge. It’s an entire world in itself, with a KOA and a marina full of riverboats and a handful of painted wooden houseboats; I’m curious about the stories of those dreaming inside. I bet they’re twice as impressive as the bridges that span the river.
I stopped briefly at Palouse Falls, but my timing was poor, and instead of getting a good view of the falls, I was merely staring into the sun. So I continued north in search of Towell Falls, another out-of-the-way hiking destination I read about recently. After more desolate highway driving and almost fifteen miles of gravel road, it dead ends at the abandoned Escure Ranch. I don’t know that I’ve ever felt that isolated – no humans, no cell service. Getting off the grid is something I fantasize about, and I am confident in my ability to travel alone almost anywhere, but I can’t deny the anxiety I felt for the entirety of the hike.
What I thought was three miles round trip, ended up being three miles to the falls and three miles back on an overgrown access road. That’s too much time to spend inside my own head hushing my imagination, that is often outrageous and enjoys entertaining nearly impossible situations. Animal droppings with berry seeds. Must be a bear because this is their usual habitat. The whispers of a pleasant breeze combined with a plague of grasshoppers that scatter with every step. Something is stalking me. If not an African lion, a mountain lion, and if not that, one of those human-humping bucks. And what about rattlesnakes? If I get bit, it will surely be by one of the little guys who’s overeager with his venom delivery. I am a goner. I kept looking over my shoulder and scanning the rock formations for human predators. Nothing. Just deer, grasshoppers, cows (that my imagination nearly convinced me were on my side of the range fence), and me.
Towell Falls, although not nearly as spectacular as Palouse Falls, are a small oasis in the Eastern Washington desert. Water spills over 12- and 15-foot ledges into the creek. Unfortunately, by the time I reached them, I was ready to be back in the drivers seat where my imagination is tamer and I am safe from any kind of animal attack. I made it out with just a few fly bites and one snake sighting, all of which were forgotten when I rolled down the windows to let my fingers dance in the wind all the way back to Spokane.