Just east of Snoqualmie Pass, a look north up the valley of Gold Creek to Mount Thompson, Chickamin Peak, and a piece of Rampart Ridge.

In May 2016, construction drove me out of the house and wet spring weather in Puget Sound urged me east of the mountains.

I headed over Snoqualmie Pass to the scablands and potholes of Washington's Columbia Plateau, where I revisited a few old haunts and explored a few new, drove north up Grand Coulee to Northrup Point on Banks Lake, then home via Icicle Creek and Stevens Pass. The trip included three short paddles and a few short walks.

This six day, five night excursion covered just shy of 750 miles. If you look at a map, you see that it should be closer to 400 miles, maybe. So I nearly doubled the length of the trip with diversions up side-roads and occasional doubling-back to look at something again.

Interestingly, each of my next three road trips was shorter than its predecessor by about a hundred miles, the last being close to only 450 miles.


May 22nd: Frenchman Hills Wasteway

Potholes Reservoir, with Potholes State Park down there in the trees.

Camping in the slum of lower Potholes State Park, I considered kayaking either Winchester Wasteway or Frenchman Hills Wasteway.

In camp I listened to a paddler's cautionary story. While canoeing Winchester Wasteway he'd got swept by the current into overhanging branches of a tree (willow, Russian olive?) and dumped into the water. Wet camera, wet gear, chagrin.


Current against me.

Winchester from Dodson Road is described in the books, but Frenchman Hills Wasteway is about three miles closer to the Potholes boat launch, so I took a look at its south channel.

As is my habit, I thought I'd first kayak up it.

The current built as I paddled. As usual when working upstream, I used bank-side eddies to progress, ferrying back and forth, before the diminishing return on my effort finally stopped me.


Beyond slick water, just enough wave to play with, below a Russian olive.

But no more than half a mile upstream, there was a perfect little wave that demanded eddy-turn and surfing practice. I played there for a few minutes before enjoying the rapid ride back downstream.

The water was high and fast and would look very different if lower.

Later I scouted upstream for Frenchman Hills Wasteway's put-in on Dodson Road. I found the water, but its access would be awkward.

Plus I didn't want to deal with a shuttle on my own. If lower water next time, I'll look at Winchester Wasteway, both upstream and down.


May 23rd: A look below the Potholes Reservoir

A pelican taking off from Soda Lake.

From the cliff-top above Corral Lake.

Tired from my exertions, the next day I explored the potholes area by car, scouting for boating possibilities.

These lakes below Potholes Reservoir's O'Sullivan Dam are seep lakes.

That means that most of these potholes are filled with water that has leaked from Potholes Reservoir and would otherwise be dry.


May 24th: Blythe Lake paddle and Drumheller drive

In the distance, the Blythe Lake put-in is just visible.

The day after that I paddled Blythe Lake. It's only about a half-mile long and I hoped to extend the trip by paddling or portaging to Chukar Lake below it.

Blythe Lake rest stop. The outlet is down there in the marsh.

But when I paddled down to look at Blythe's outlet, I found a serious beaver dam and marshy ground.

Was a beaver responsible for the level of Blythe Lake? So it seemed.


Drumheller channels.

After loading the boat back in the van, I headed out for more exploring, driving the Columbia National Wildlife Refuge self-guided tour road. From the east end of O'Sullivan Dam, the route goes south down (Upper) Crab Creek, west on McMannaman Road, then back north on H Road SE.

Some kind of yellow-flowered shrub (Gray Horsebrush?) at the old Soda Lake campground.

Away from the margins of the pothole lakes, I began to realize that after recent rain the semi-arid sagebrush desert was abloom with flowers.


Sagebrush Mariposa Lily, I'd guess.

Some kind of Fleabane.

Globemallow, also called Desert Mallow.


May 25th: From the Potholes to Dry Falls

At the southern end of Grand Coulee. What is a coulee? A deep canyon within a lava flow, according to the book.

I packed up my Potholes camp and headed north, stopping to explore a little around Moses Lake and finding dunes of black sand and dune buggies, but not the put-in I was looking for.

From Moses Lake I drove north past Soap Lake and into Grand Coulee, up past its chain of lakes -- Lenore Lake, Alkali Lake, and Blue Lake -- to make camp on Park Lake.


The campground in Grand Coulee at Sun Lakes-Dry Falls State Park is at far left in this shot looking south down Park Lake from the hiway.

Because of its history, Sun Lakes-Dry Falls State Park is a little unusual. In addition to the expected day-use and campground facilities on Park Lake, it includes a resort with cabins, store, and golf course.

Elsewhere in the park's five thousand acres are an Environmental Learning Center, Dry Falls visitor center, eight different lakes with boating access to three, and a number of desert hiking trails.


Looking down on Dry Falls Lake from the park's visitor center. At top right, above the put-in and the gap in the Dry Falls cliffs, Deep Lake is just visible.

After setting up camp, I drove up to Dry Falls visitor center and played tourist for a bit, then went exploring.


On the drive to Deep Lake.

Deep Lake offered magnificent cliffs and all the amenities. The lake was well worth another visit, which I made a year later.

Deep Lake.


Click me.

Umatilla Rock. Do click the picture for an enlargement.

On the bumpy drive to Dry Falls Lake, you pass more lakes, mesas, and Umatilla Rock.

Sagebrush and mesa at sunset.


May 26th: Dry Falls paddle and walk...

Just over a rise from my campsite, the Mirror Lake pond was full of frogs. Oh, did I mention that the cherries were ripe on the trees in Site 29?

The next day I tried for a reasonably early start as I loaded the kayak into the van and drove to Dry Falls Lake. Once there, an hour and a half on the water was plenty, as the day was quickly warming up.


Basalt cliffs of the dry falls border the lake.

Dry Falls Lake is fed by water seeping through cracks and fissures in the basalt plateau above, from both the reservoir of Banks Lake and the area's well-fertilized farms. Therefore the lake itself is well-fertilized -- the whitewash on the cliffs is from dissolved salts that have precipitated out of the saturated water.

Looking out of a little bay in Dry Falls Lake.


These are Cliff Swallows poking their noses out.

As I paddled past, half-a-dozen swallows eyed me from a swallow condominium, nests tucked under basalt overhangs that sheltered them from both sun and rain.

Before the day became too hot, I beached the boat and went for a walk.

Through a gap in the wall of the Dry Falls, a path wandered up a draw.


Gray Horsebrush in flower bordered the path up the draw.

After a few minutes walking through the sage up a pretty flowered draw, I looked down over Deep Lake, where I'd been the day before.

With other places in mind, I headed back to the car.

Above Dry Falls Lake, the park's visitor center sits up on the rim.


May 26th: ...and a Northrup Point walk

After my paddle and walk at Dry Falls Lake, I drove up Grand Coulee along Banks Lake, heading for Steamboat Rock State Park and Northrup Point. I explored Northrup Point, but left Steamboat Rock for another day.

The Columbia Plateau is built up of layers of volcanic basalt over a mile thick, second in extent only to the Deccan Plateau in India, or so I've read. But at Northrup Point, a batholith of granodiorite has thrust up into the volcanic layers.


Windshield time up Grand Coulee on SR155. The cliffs stand like headlands in an ancient sea.

Steamboat Rock beyond a tiny Northrup Point cove, its sandy beach enclosed by arms of water-polished granite.

As dramatic as the Columbia Plateau's volcanic rock formations are, all that dark basalt can become tiresome. The pink and lichened granite of Northrup Point provides welcome contrast. Plus, granite of course is this old climber's favorite rock.


A view from Northrup Point.

The pretty cove, decorated with a dome of lichened granite.

I never did put the boat in the water here, so that provides another good reason to come back. (I did a year later).


May 27th: Icicle Creek

A view from the upper campground road the morning I left.

A little of the Icicle Creek valley.

And then it was time to head for home. I packed up camp and drove west on US2 across the Waterville Plateau, down the Columbia River, and up the Wenatchee River to Leavenworth. From there it was up Icicle Creek and into the mountains.

After all that sagebrush, the woods were welcome.


Yellowjacket Tower from the Icicle Creek road.

Yellowjacket Tower from the Icicle Creek road. Do click it.

Seen here from the road, the northwest side of Yellowjacket Tower has a route that Mike and I climbed in 1987. Near its top, the scary chimney pitch was Mike's lead, thankfully. Click the picture for the route.

Icicle Creek.


And onward to the North Cascades.


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