Palouse, WA to The Salt Flats (2015 Road Trip, Part 1)

We just returned from our annual extended road trip and after wading through hundreds and hundreds of photos we’ve sorted them into three chapters. This is chapter one.

Day one was a flat-out burn from Seattle to Palouse Falls State Park in the Southeastern corner of Washington State. Due to some last-minute wheel emergencies (don’t ask) we weren’t able to leave until midday, which got us pulling off of the gravel access road and into the parking lot at Palouse Falls a little past dusk. With daylight fading it seemed like the best plan was to set up camp (about 15 seconds of popping up the rooftop tent) and break into the bar for a whiskey by the fire. It’s worth noting that there is organized car camping at the falls but there is no actual access to the camping area via a vehicle, so if you are sleeping on or in your vehicle you will just need to do so at one of the front campsites where there is a parking spot directly in front of the campsite. The plan was to wake at first light and hike around the falls for some great sunrise photo op’s, and amazingly enough that is actually what happened.

This was midweek, which meant a pretty much empty park. I saw three other people the entire evening and following morning that we were there which was great because there are really only 2-3 places where the view to the falls is completely unobstructed, though to be honest I actually found the view the other direction (downriver) to be even more dramatic. Unexpectedly the sun began to rise directly behind the falls and the bright light not only gave the mist an eerie glow but cast a vibrant golden hue along the hills opposite at the same time. It was a great scene. I spent at least an hour clamoring over rocks and scurrying down trails to make the most of the perfect light, but as anyone who’s been awake at sunrise knows, it doesn’t last long and the full heat and intensity of the sun is on you in what seems like only seconds.

After a few extra minutes of soaking up the scenery and slowly sipping the last of our coffee we packed up and hit the road again. The plan was a relatively straight shot to at least Twin Falls, ID, but we were sidetracked multiple times by the need to explore gravel roads leading off into the grass-clad hills around the park. Several turned into trails through the grasslands which again made for some awesome, albeit starkly different, scenery. From there we stuck to side roads as we wound through The Palouse, chasing the amazing tapestry of hilly farmland. And it definitely did not disappoint! Around almost every corner was a scene that actually made me mutter aloud, “Whoa”. If you need a weekend away and just want to wander, The Palouse will not let you down.

From there we headed South toward the (Bonneville) Salt Flats just outside of Wendover, which is a bizarre little town that actually straddles the Nevada/Utah border (more to come on that). But that’s a long stretch of road for one day so we opted to spend the night in Idaho after exploring a huge swath of BLM (Bureau of Land Management) land along Highway 93 near Rabbit Springs. This is where we found what I think might be the most amazing campsite I’ve ever seen – just along a small winding river with a dramatic canyon backdrop and the intense smell of sage wafting on a light breeze. Yes, I geotagged it for later visits and no, I won’t share the coordinates (ha). Suffice to say it was a great place to spend some time and stretch the legs (see pic below).

As a small side note, it’s useful to know that BLM land is generally completely open and requires no special permits for overnight camping as long as it is dispersed (meaning large groups do not camp together in the same place). If you’re ever looking for a place to camp overnight and don’t want to risk a fine or wind up on someones private property, search for BLM land. Many times there are even maintained toilets spread throughout the area.

I was hesitant to leave – I could have spent an entire week at that spot – but with more checkmarks to make on the bucket list it was time to get going. So after a refreshing coffee and breakfast burrito it was time again to hit the road – Salt Flats or bust! And that is where Chapter 2 will pick up so stay tuned – it was amazing.

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