Tag Archives: whitman county

Welcome to nothing

Pullman, WA to Snoqualmie Summit, Wa

After attending Sasquan, the World Science Fiction Society convention in Spokane, Washington, we took a trip 75 miles south to Pullman, Washington, home of Washington State University. Along the way we admired the huge rolling hills of the Palouse region, and such natural wonders as Steptoe Butte (named for a US Army officer who lost a battle to the Palouse tribe) and Kamiak Butte (named after Chief Kamiakin, a Yakima and Palouse leader that faced off against the US Army). Due to extremely heavy smoke from forest fires in British Columbia, Idaho and Washington, we couldn’t see any of the natural wonders. It was mostly an imaginary admiration.

A few days later, we drove from Pullman to Bremerton, Washington. Pullman is next to the Idaho border, and Bremerton is 350 miles away. Decades earlier, before roads were widened, straightened, added, bridged, etc., the trip was almost 400 miles, one way, with most of that trip through — nothing.

The navigator for the journey was not familiar with the route, but given an iPad and Google Maps, she was prepared for the intricate navigational challenges. First step, drive north from Pullman 14 miles to Colefax, WA, then turn left on Washington 26 for 137 miles to Vantage, Washington, on the banks of the Columbia River. Between Colefax and Vantage, there is — nothing.

Journey through nothing
Animated GIF (created by Google Photos) of several still photos taken between Colefax, Washington and Washtucna, Washington.

During this first leg of 151 miles, from Pullman to Vantage, we saw fewer than a dozen vehicles on the road. That includes passing through Colefax, the seat of Whitman County. We did see the occasional farm building, power line, or highway sign, but even those were few and far, far between. A screen shot of Google Maps reveals nothing, which is revealing.

Washington 26, heading west
Washington Highway 26, heading west, as shown on an iPad. Note the helpful directions at the top, advising you to stay on 26 West for 53 miles until you reach 26 West.

After about an hour, as we crested one hill only to see miles of more of the same, the navigator started giggling. Several minutes later, at the crest of the next hill (these are big hills, and even at 65 mph it takes a while to get from one crest to the next), she burst out laughing. We stopped in Washtucna, mostly because we’d never stopped in Washtucna in perhaps a hundred trips down this highway. We saw one person at the combination gas station, convenience store, museum, and thrift shop.

Between the yellow-tinged sky (due to smoke) and the miles and miles of little more than sagebrush and tumbleweeds, the mind is starved for green. Due to the severe drought, even the small rivers and irrigation ditches were dry, and everything was brown.

Eventually we came to the broad, blue waters of the Columbia River. A couple of hours later, we crested the Cascade Mountains at Snoqualmie Pass, and dove into western Washington’s riot of evergreens. Even in the middle of a spectacular drought, western Washington fairly glowed with green.

Heading west from Snoqualmie Pass
Traffic picks up on Interstate 90 as we head into the green expanse of western Washington. It is 234 miles from Pullman to Snoqualmie Summit.

For those interested in seeing more photos of the Empty Quarter, we’ve created a photo catalogue of the Pullman to Snoqualmie trip.

And if you wondered, yes, I do love eastern Washington. The vast emptiness has a stark beauty, and intense grandeur. Though green is in short supply.

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