Photojournalism Near & Far

Landscapes of Central Washington

This photo is only lightly edited for exposure and shadows…it was an eerie scene driving into Sun Lakes-Dry Falls State Park, an area formed by the Missoula Floods at the end of the last Ice Age.

Every once and a while, I enjoy taking a little road trip to clear my mind, reconnect with nature, and visit a new corner of my backyard. I opted to take a three-day weekend over the mountains to central Washington for a 500+ mile road trip. Despite living in Seattle for two years, this was my first time to this unique area of the state; my curiosity was high. Most of my rural experiences existed in the nearby Cascades, so I was up for a change of pace. I plotted out a couple campgrounds, potential hikes, towns, and points of interest along the way–then hit the road!

A view of the Stehekin River looking north from Harlequin Campground. I had mild weather and dry skies that April, which is far more common east of Washington’s Cascade mountains.

A few months earlier I completed a month-long road trip across both New Zealand islands, most likely inspiring my decision to get out on the road once again. I recalled the absolute freedom to go anywhere and seemingly discover anything. It felt empowering, but also very slow, which was nice! Entire days were spread over miles and miles, and the sunlight seemed to linger forever. It was an enjoyable pace of travel.

Overlooking the Columbia River valley from Beebe Springs Natural Area Hiking Trail. This is a couple minute hike from a nearby highway descending into the valley.

But this idea wasn’t born out of desire alone, but necessity as well. Personally, I was feeling a little burned out at work and looking for seclusion and peace of mind. A place to be alone with myself and relax. The city is a place of efficiency, innovation, close-quarters and most of all: busyness. Hustle. Bustle. Lights and noise. I needed to break free from routine and seek out some novelty.

I was lucky enough to experience beautiful April weather with temperatures hovering around the mid-seventies. I found myself miles and miles away from life in Seattle. On day one, I hauled myself to sunny and breezy Harlequin Campground approximately 4 miles from the Stehekin landing. Located on the far north end of Lake Chelan, I took a $40 round-trip ferry ride to get there. The boat holds 80 people, although it wasn’t even close to full that day, and takes two and a half hours to traverse. It was a beautiful day for a ride, spending the better portion of the trip speaking with a retired couple living north of Seattle.

Enjoying an afternoon snack of salami, store-bought bread, and cheddar cheese at the Stehekin landing. The day’s hike took me 4 miles into the valley directly behind that lone pine tree.

I had the great pleasure of meeting families and couples out for a day-hike on the local trails. We discussed the projected ice melt and bear populations for the season. We even shared a couple words about our gear. It’s all pretty typical back-country talk I suppose. I took their recommendation to visit a local orchard and carried on with my walk, carrying everything I needed for the night on my back. I was the only visitor to stay at the campground that night, after all it was pretty early in the season.

Rainbow Falls (far left) is approximately 320 feet tall and from 50 feet away, I could barely keep my eyes open as the mist was so constant. I just ended up getting soaked.

A long exposure shot of Purple Creek meeting the body of Lake Chelan.

During my hike from the landing, I passed a family of white-tailed deer crossing the road. Shortly after I visited Rainbow Falls, no more than a quarter mile off the main road. I’ve never seen a waterfall that powerful from up close. Around 4:30pm, with the sun hanging 30 degrees in the sky, I staked out a campsite and cooled down a couple beers in the nearby river bank. The Stehekin passed by my tent with ease, a few ducks bobbing along toward Lake Chelan. It was a remote and quiet place, exactly what I needed.

After an evening in the Stehekin back-country, I returned to the city of Chelan at the lake’s southern tip and headed towards the rolling farmland east of the Columbia River. It was here I discovered a drastic change in Washington’s scenery. From Wenatchee to Coulee City and beyond, the mountains give way to fruit farms, migrant works, waving fields of grain, and once-populated towns of rural America. Large grain silos and rusted-out barns whiz by my car as I cruise across county roads. What a departure from the city life! I stopped at a few places along the way to snap some photos and educate myself.

Not until much later did I realize this cemetery served the citizens of Farmer, Washington, an abandoned town in Douglas Country, Washington. For a long while, I assumed this housed the bodies of dead farmers.

Eventually I found myself at one of the most impressive gorges I have ever seen, Sun Lakes-Dry Falls State Park. This area used to contain a waterfall considerably larger than Niagara Falls many years ago, of course. In lieu of my usual back-country hike, this was a formally designated tent site. RVs and other campers were within ear shot, but for the most part, I had a large area to myself. The surrounding park contained a handful of trails winding through low-lying brush and crumbling rock faces. Geology at its finest!

Without encountering any snakes (thankfully), I reached the top of a mesa in Sun Lake-Dry Falls State Park. Surrounding me were a handful of lakes dotted with fisherman.

That night, howling winds (the Rangers weren’t kidding) and steady rain led me to abandon my tent for the safety of my vehicle. I’ve never had to call it quits while tenting, but the lack of tree protection and large basin geometry makes for tent pole-uprooting speed winds. With only a headlamp illuminating my frenzy, I collapsed my tent into a ball, threw it in the trunk of my car and dove into my backseat completely soaked. The next morning was calm and beautiful, naturally.

For my final leg back to the city, I climbed out of the canyon and headed southeast towards Frenchman Coulee, a gorge located just a few miles off Interstate 90. I detoured through the Palisades, which is a canyon-region in which I was hoping to check out some Bureau of Land Management (BLM) areas. It’s a pretty remote part of the state and my car couldn’t get through some seasonal rivers due to spring run-off, so I continued to Frenchman Coulee. This is close to the famous Gorge Amphitheater which hosts tons of concerts throughout the summer. The hike itself was a 6 or 7 mile round-trip walk up to a cascading waterfall. The ground had loose sand, plenty of sharp slate to cut your hand on, and the constant fear of crossing paths with a snake. The views were beautiful and I’d highly recommended it for a day trip or perfect accompaniment to your own central Washington road trip.

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