On the road to Dry Falls/Sun Lakes State Park in Central Washington on Thursday to report another in our series of stories on Washington state parks, I made some notes for anybody planning an east-of-the-Cascades road trip this summer:
- Before you leave, check the WSDOT website for updates on Interstate 90 construction east of Snoqualmie Pass. They’re doing lots of blasting this summer, and delays — and even freeway closures — are common. I only learned about a planned 2-hour Thursday night closure when I tuned into the highway information radio because the yellow lights were flashing on the highway-alert sign in North Bend. Yikes.
- If you haven’t been east of Ellensburg for a few years, expect to be wowed by the mammoth wind turbines that now march right down to the freeway’s edge. They’re part of Puget Sound Energy’s Wild Horse Wind Farm (which has a visitor center if you’re interested).
- Speaking of wild horses, take the time to turn off I-90 just uphill from the Columbia River crossing at Vantage at Exit 139, where a sign points to the Wild Horse Monument. Besides a nice viewpoint of the river gorge, you’ll see a stunning herd of 15 lifesize, sculpted metal horses running across a butte above the freeway. It’s an artwork called “Grandfather Cuts Loose the Ponies,” by artist David Govedare of Chewelah, Stevens County. It’s been there since 1989. I’d never stopped. I was glad I did.
- It seems something new always catches my eye when I drive across our state. Have you ever noticed the highway sign as you enter Grant County that notes that it is “The Nation’s Leading Potato Producing County.” Take that, all you Idahoans with “Famous Potatoes” license plates!
- Speaking of which: My family has been known to make infantile potato jokes the entire time we drive anywhere in Idaho. (Q: What do you call 10 people from Boise crowded into a Volkswagen? A: Mashed Potatoes.) But I digress.
- Just past George, leaving the freeway for Highway 283 toward Ephrata, suddenly you’re in the heart of the Columbia Basin and its famous irrigated land of plenty. Running as straight as a 10-mile yardstick, the two-laner sliced between fields of wheat, alfalfa, corn, onions and, yes, potatoes, along with an orchard of cherry trees bearing those metallic streamers meant to scare away birds that added an oddly Christmasy look to the late-June day.
- Ephrata may be the ultimate farming community. Del’s Feed and Farm Supply was one of the more prosperous businesses. And the town had a down-to-earth tone about it. In Oasis Park, a sign on the public restroom door asked users to close the door when they left “to keep out bugs and other small critters.”
It was just a good day’s drive east of the mountains.