April 30, 2017
Today we drove east from Vantage, WA where we were camped and did the Whiskey Dick hike. Following directions in Best Desert Hikes Washington, we turned off Highway 14 and followed a bumpy road for a bit before parking. We could see north to Whiskey Dick Mountain from our parking spot:
We hiked east down the road under very high winds.
In the distance we could see the Columbia River. The depression running from foreground to background is known as Rocky Coulee and we’d be going down in it:
Another look at Rocky Coulee:
The road headed down into the coulee. At points the road was a real mess, definitely not drivable in a regular vehicle. Looks like off-roaders have come through here in muddier times and ripped the road to shreds. This picture doesn’t accurately convey the steepness of this stretch of the massive ruts:
Down in Rocky Coulee; you can just make out the road that we descended:
We came across this one spot on the road where the clay had curled and dried. Super cool-looking!
Now the road ascended steeply, climbing up out of Rocky Coulee. This is looking back at the route we hiked down:
We were delighted to discover that the hedgehog cactus was blooming. Hedgehog Cactus (also called snowball cactus) is the only pincushion-type cactus found in Washington. Despite the fact that it rarely survives when removed from its natural habitat, the cactus is collected for residential gardens.
We saw other flowers blooming as well:
We passed Lone Star Spring but the only water we saw was a trickle going down the road:
Just up the road from the spring was this strange A-frame shelter. We couldn’t figure out what it was for:
We were pleased to spot two elk in the distance. They quickly ran off, wanting nothing to do with us:
We left the road to visit the high point that we were near. It got windier and windier as we climbed:
It was CRAZY windy at the top. It had to have been 30 MPH. Here’s Deb leaning into the wind:
We had a view of the Columbia River and the Interstate 90 bridge from up there:
Just below the rocky summit we found a sheltered spot where we ate a snack and had a break before continuing on. Rather than retrace our steps we decided to head due west cross-country:
This proved to be a good choice because our route took us through a super beautiful patch of lupine and balsamroot. The wind made the flowers difficult to photograph, but they were nice to look at:
Looking back at our route. The windy high point is dead center:
See it now?
We started descending down into Rocky Coulee since our truck was on the other side. See that steep jeep track going straight up the hill over there? The truck is out of sight at the end of that track:
We startled two deer during our descent:
Almost down to the bottom of the coulee:
We reached the bottom of Rocky Coulee:
Ascending the steep jeep track on the other side of Rocky Coulee (hard to imagine any vehicle every driving this!):
After our hike we drove over to the Wild Horse Wind & Solar Facility and visited the Renewable Energy Center there. Located at 3,500 feet of elevation on Whiskey Dick Mountain (yes the same one we were just hiking on; it’s a long mountain), this place experiences some pretty extreme weather. Temperatures range from 0 to 100 degrees Fahrenheit, with maximum recorded wind gusts exceeding 90 miles per hour. But the wind turbines and solar array up here are capable of operating in a wide range of weather conditions, with the turbines producing energy in winds ranging from 9 to 56 mph.
We were just in time for a tour, which enabled us to go inside one of those wind turbines. Neato! The tower was so big that a dozen of us could stand inside comfortably. Our guide told us that one windmill costs $3 million and that in the 35 MPH winds up here the tip of the blades were traveling at a speed of 120 miles per hour. WOW.
When we got back to the campground, we found quite a mess. Knowing it was going to be a super windy day we had collapsed our tent, left it staked, and put heavy stuff on it, so it wouldn’t blow away. This was how we left it in the morning:
And this is what we came back to:
The heavy blue bin full of gear had tipped over. The gear was spread around on the grass and the bin was nowhere in sight. The lid of the ice chest had flipped up. The heavy 5-gallon water jug had tipped over and was empty. The chairs were scattered. The tablecloth had caught some wind and sent our camp stove flying down the hill below our site. WHAT. A. MESS. And by the way, the wind was STILL blowing 20-30 MPH. Thank goodness we had collapsed the tent; if we hadn’t it probably would have blown away. We gathered up our crap and got it secured before we headed down to the campground showers. On our way down we spotted something blue across the road. It was our bin! We chased after it as it blew across a field and down into a deep ditch where Deb retrieved it. If we had gone to the showers just one minute later, the bin would have already been in the ditch out of sight and we wouldn’t have seen it. We never did find the tablecloth or the “bag of bags” (a plastic grocery bag filled with other plastic grocery bags and ziploc bags). Other than that, everything seemed to be accounted for. It could have been SO much worse!
We decided it was just too windy to put the tent back up, so we ended up renting this “camping cabin” which, conveniently enough, was right next to our site. It was a wind-free place to sleep that night, AND it made for a nice windbreak when we cooked dinner on the porch.
The wind blew for most of the night, so we were glad to be warm and cozy in the cabin!
<< Day 4: Whiskey Dick Mountain | Day 6: Ginko Petrified Forest State Park >>