|02-10-2012, 02:47 PM||#1|
Joined: May 2009
Location: where elephants roam
Budget Tour of Banks Lake WA
Here is my two day trip of last Spring, looking fwd to more of these soon, thanks for looking.
The spring season of 2011 in North Idaho was the wettest and coolest I can ever recall, and it has been really getting old to see the unending reports of more rain and snow in the forecasts. We finally make it to Memorial Weekend, and guess what? The forecast is for MORE OF THE SAME! On Saturday morning of May 28th 2011 in Coeur díAlene, Idaho I was greeted by an overcast sky yielding just 40 Farenheight degrees to the mercury column, but my fever was high to get on with a weekend ride. This was to be a solo ride. No accomplice. No other itinerary. No negotiationsÖ. Just a nice weekend out in the great wide open spaces of North Idaho and Eastern Washington. The more rural it is the better I like it, so there would be lots to like about this route. My general destination for the day was to be Banks Lake area, (map link at the end of story) which is not all that far away by the most direct route, however the point of the ride is the RIDE, not so much getting to Banks Lake.
I am a budget traveler. Mostly out of necessity, but also because budget travel conveniently coincides with the type of travel I like to do. I donít consider myself cheap, but I usually end up getting the most enjoyment from things that are. I prefer to camp when I travel and I also think carrying every imaginable amenity is a PITA.
My preferred mode of transportation is two wheeled. I like a spirited ride. I regularly compete on carbon fiber bicycles that weigh less than 16 pounds. I ride a Honda VFR 800, which isnít a race bike, but it is plenty sporty for any roadway in a governed democracy. The pacific northwest is generally well enough patrolled that extended periods of excessive speed are going to land you in trouble. So there is no point in riding like a racer anyway. Not on the moto anyway. My loose plan is to camp somewhere for the night, so my Viffer is festooned accordingly. Hereís the pig, some of my other wheels are in the background!
My loosely planned route took me across the Rathdrum prairie and into Washington near the Hauser Junction. There is nothing fun or remarkable about getting across the north side of Spokane as you have to take a few crappy and heavily trafficked roadways no matter what route you pick. I wiggled my way across town to hwy 291 which begins to follow the Spokane River valley out past the WA Riverside State Parks and into some nice rolling country side. Pretty soon I am working around the edges of Long Lake, which is a backwater to, you guessed it, Long Lake Dam. Itís a wonderful time of year to roll around in this part of the country to check out rivers, dams, and falls. We had big time snow pack in the hills this past winter, so all the spring run-off flows are pretty spectacular now.
A few more miles to the West comes the intersection with Hwy 231 giving options to travel North up through Springdale and on into the hills beyond, or South toward Reardan, WA, and the open Palouse prairie. Today we are just going to jog south then go west again on Little Falls Road toward Wellpinit, in the Reservation. Here we get another dam site, and fast flows of the Spokane River making its way to the Columbia via Lake Roosevelt. The road and riding across to Wellpinit and on toward Mudgett Lake is nothing short of fantastic, but take care as you are passing through the Spokane Indian Reservation. Likely as not, there will be very little to slow you down or damper the fun of this undulating snake of a road. You get terrific sight lines and view as you pass thru stands of pine and craggy outcroppings of basalt. There is over 32 miles of fun to be had here. Once across the Reservation, and at the junction of Hwy 25 the route is South, down to the confluence of the Spokane and Columbia Rivers. Just beyond the bridge I spy the little road my oracle map tells me will wiggle through the hilly woods along the big lake and eventually pop out on Hwy 2 just East of Creston, WA, hence the name Miles Ė Creston Rd.?? Drats! Seven windy miles in the road is closed to repair spring runoff damage. Backtrack to Hwy 25 and drone down to Davenport, and then the Hwy 2 over to Wilbur. Even though this isnít a great moto road per seí, rolling through the vast green hills of this region in the Spring never seems to get old. This region has very interesting geologic history as the powerful gushers of Lake Missoula flood waters carved out so many washes and coulees as it scoured the earth with its many releases over the millennia. As I motor down to Almira, WA and then head south on the Kiner Rd the washes are apparent and dramatic. This is where the deer hide too!! There is lots of cover and water in the drainages. There is also a lot of info out there on the regionís geology and I will leave it at that and just enjoy my interloping. Soon I am passing thru Krupp,WA which appears to be one of many of what I call little ďelevatorĒ towns that dot the maps of the Eastern Washington landscape. Typically, these have a few small conveying silos and a rail siding to send all the local farmers crops to processing plants afar. These are always interesting, I think, as this is what has made this region tick for so long. I scratch along the back road that connects us to Wilson Creek, the town, which pretty much sits at the mouth of its namesake. W/C is quite a bit more developed than Krupp, but not much more, but more enough to have a welcoming little cafť. My tummy is rumbling so it must be lunch time! The Harvest Moon Cafť in Wilson Creek is worth a stop!
It is one of those places that time has recently ignored. (Sorry no typical shot of the big greasy cheeseburger and fries) With my belly full I can now concentrate on my original objective: the Grand Coulee and its lakes. I press on to Soap Lake via Hwy 28. Looking like this may be the only grocery stop opportunity, I stock up on camp dinner supplies here. By now the day has given way to party cloudy skies and 65 degrees, maybe more. Much nicer that the gray 40 degrees I had at the start.
It is about 20 miles of smooth asphalt from Soap Lake to Dry Falls up the lower Grand Coulee. The lower grand hosts Soap lake, Lenore lake, Park lake, and Blue lake along its length. As well as a few other smaller ones too. The route is along water all but for a few miles. The basalt canyon walls that define the coulee, at nearly 1000í high are absolutely stunning and unique, hard to describe to the uninitiated, you just have to see it. At the upper end of the LGC is Sun Lakes State Park, where I had hoped to camp for the night. No room at the Inn! Apparently quite a few other folks saw the gloom and rain forecast for most of the state except the Columbia valley interior. Memorial Day Weekend is always a big campout weekend at most state parks and this one is full for good reason. What a nice place! I will definitely make another trip here, maybe with a reservation. Well I decided to take a little tour of the park anyway and lounged around in the day use area just long enough to lighten my load of provisions by about 12 ounces! I was told there is camping allowed in the City park in Coulee City, about 10 miles away, and now it is just a beautiful afternoon so there is no rush or worry.
A bit further up the road at the head of the Lower GC are the Dry Falls formations. There is a visitor center here that affords quite a view of the potholes and the cliffs.
One can only imagine the biblical scene of a gazillion gallons of water per second pounding through these weirs. Whoa. If you look closely at it on a map, it looks like the mighty Columbia almost took a shortcut here. Way off in the distance in the first picture you can just see the town of Grand Coulee, I donít think it would have withstood the gush.
It was no problem to find the city park once in the town of Coulee City. It is situated right on the southern end of Banks Lake. In addition to the park is a nice marina, some trails, jettys to fish from, and some nice camp sites. All the comforts of home for $10 bucks. I made camp on a nice grassy spot and even had a concrete pad to park the bike on which was away from the rest of the parking spots. I went about making chow and indulging in some cold beer while being entertained by a raucous co-ed flag football game nearby. It was pretty amusing til the cops showed up and asked for idís on the most drunken ones. It quieted right down after that. A short walk into the downtown revealed a lively saloon with a honkey-tonk band blasting away in the parking lot. A semi-trailer with a sidewall cut out made the bandstand, and the corral fenced parking lot and tavern were standing-room only. As it turns out, this is the annual rodeo weekend, and it is a major party for all. Pretty colorful for a little Washington prairie town. It was a fun time and one that would be worth repeating, a memorial weekend!
I was awakened from my hangover sleep by the flutter of my tent in a stiff wind. I slept well, I think the wind made a perfect white noise, or something like that. The morning has delivered another gray sky full of low clouds, and a stiff breeze. Hmmm what are we in for today? So far - so good, no rain and no problems. I make some strong coffee, have a snack, and roll up the gear, ready for the road. By now the wind is blowing itself out and calming down, sweet. I have all day to find my way back toward Coeur díAlene, longer if need be. Under a clearing sky my compass needle is North along the eastern bank of the North Grand Coulee. Banks Lake occupies a significant portion of the thirty mile long basin that ends at Electric City and the town of Grand Coulee. The roads through these canyons are great moto roads. These are not sporty canyon twisties, but smooth arcing pavement with long sightlines, and sparse traffic. About two-thirds of the way up the draw is an island that hosts Steamboat Rock State Park. Itís a bit of a detour off the main road out to the park, but well worth the time and energy. This is the place where I will return to for a long weekend in the future, hopefully the near future. I didnít take near enough pictures on this trip, so I donít have an image of SRSP.
Driving slowly along the streets of Electric and Grand Coulee Cities is like riding in a time machine. The buildings and houses and trees effuse the essence of a grand period in history. Clearly this was a most affluent and proud community during the heydays of the construction of the Dam. At the time, Grand Coulee dam was the largest concrete dam project on the planet. There were thousands of good paying jobs here during the construction. Its generators and hydraulic energy provided the power and irrigation water that converted central Washingtonís desolate scablands to a hugely productive agricultural region. No great progress comes without cost and controversy though, and if you are so inclined to dig into it, you can do so on many websitesÖthis is about a motorcycle ride!
Grand Coulee dam: To appreciate the immensity of this structure, it has to be seen and heard in person..
The Columbia River backwater of the Dam creates Lake Roosevelt which wriggles nearly 100 miles, almost to Canada, and encircles a good part of the Colville Indian Reservation. The best view of the dam itself is from the North side of it. Also to the north are some of the most hoot-rageous motorcycling roads around here. Along itís sinuous route, the waters of the Columbia have to flow hundreds of extra miles to find its way through the long mountainous ridges that striate the landscape here. These formations create havoc for the rivers and the road builders, which means fun for motorcyclists!
Time to motor North, downstream along the big river for a bit, and up to Elmer City and Koontzville. This is where the route leaves the river below, and ascends one of the mountainous spines that causes the crazy zig-zag route of the waterís flow through the region. And the abrupt rocky ridges also cause the road to do some serious zig zagging as well. The Peter-Dan road forges a path over the divide from the Columbia to the Sanpoil River. The trip over includes wide open undulating scabland, bulging outcroppings of rock, and forested hills. The pavement is pretty good but pretty variable as well. The twisty parts are tight and fun, but these are not highly engineered roads. Lots of bumps and humps and pavement defects. The Interceptor eats it up pretty well tho. The last fifteen miles of Peter Dan is just an appetizer. There is another 95 miles of writhing canyons to be ridden before getting back to what even begins resembles civilization.
Next we go North up the deep Sanpoil River canyon. The road is a smooth State Hwy #21 which can be accessed from the south, but only by ferry service, and from the North off the west slope of Hwy 20 and Sherman Pass. Iím trying to tell you there is no direct route in or out, and hence very few folks are out here wandering about. Of course that is what makes this such a great place to ride a motorcycle. The ride up 21 along the Sanpoil River Canyon is smooth sinuous and brisk for another 20 miles or so until it is time to turn up the Bridge Creek Rd toward Inchelium, WA.
Running up a long creek draw the road climbs away from the Sanpoil, gradually at first, then the devilish character of the route reveals itself. You will climb, and twist, bump, kick, and descend until you get spit out on the bank of Lake Roosevelt many miles upstream from Grand Coulee dam. From here you can continue North along the West bank to Kettle falls, or take a free ferry ride across the lake to Gifford Landing. Today I am opting for the free ride to the other side. You can see from the length of the ramp that is still exposed, the lake has a long drink to take yet before being filled to summer level.
But it is only May, and there is serious snowpack in them thar hills. If you have just missed the boat when you arrive at the landing, Itís a fairly short ride across, so it wonít take long for the vessel to reappear and get you back on your way. Motorcycles usually get to go straight to the front of the boat, so you get to be first off on the other side. All ya gotta do is win the holeshot, and you are also first on the new road ahead too. Yeehaa! It is a nice southbound cruise along the lake down Hwy 25 to the town of Hunters WA.
Once thru Hunters, you have to be on the watch for the Springdale-Hunters Road. You donít want to miss this one.. There are many superlatives already written about many great roads, but it doesnít get any better than the ride up Hunters Creek, over the divide, and down Chamokane creek. Excellent road surface, good sight lines, sweet curves, and undulations that will bring out the kid in anybody. Either that or you are past tense, sorry. Here are a few of the local residents I happened across along the way through.
I stayed on the bike while taking these pics. A Momma Moose is nothing to mess with when her babies are at stake. Another person was standing closer with their camera on a tripod, I figured I just had to be able to scram quicker than her! Another point to make here is that when you see the mass of these creatures, its best to keep in mind that they may be sharing the road with you. And Iím sure if you were to meet one head on, you would lose.
From Springdale I aimed the bike South taking a quick ride down Hwy 231, and then Corkscrew canyon back down to Long Lake. Then the 291 back through TumTum and made a quick stop at the Nine Mile Dam (Spokane River again).. Now that is some hydro power! Natures magic in springtime runoff from the mountains of the Pacific Northwest.
I spent a little time checking on my psycho friends that were participating in the 24 hour mountain bike race in the nearby Riverside State park. Yep, they were still there riding in 15 mile circles, smiling the whole way. Time to burn for home, but first I will make time for one more stop at the Post Falls, Idaho dam which is also on the Spokane River, about 12 mile downstream from Lake Coeur díAlene.
The view points for this dam and falls are accessible via easy trails in a very nice little city park. Itís quite a view this time of year, both upstream and down.
Well, thatís all folks! A nice little two day 500 mile tour de rivers. You can check out the route in detail here:
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