Loosely interpreted, the American Indian word "spokane" means "children of the sun." Indeed, the sunshine that blankets Spokane, Washington, and the upper northeast corner of the Evergreen State makes this an unparalleled playground year-round.

We picked up a red Nissan Xterra in Seattle, and a 4.5-hour drive along the I-90 corridor brought us to Spokane, where our holiday began. The Xterra PRO-4X offered a good mix of rugged utility and a comfortable ride. The total mileage on our adventure was about 1200 miles, and this four-wheel-drive SUV yielded a very respectable 22 mpg at its best, cruising along at 65 mph on the interstate. Going into 4WD was a simple matter of turning the selector switch on the fly, instantly shifting the Nissan into 4Hi. 4Lo was never called upon. When traveling along unfamiliar back roads and byways, it feels really good to know your ride is reliable.

There's a lot to do in the area around Spokane. Just minutes southwest of the city is Backcountry Aerosports, where you can learn to fly a ultralight aircraft. If you don't have several days to do that, owner Denny Reed will take you up in a two-seater, and you can soar and swoop above the rolling wheat fields at an altitude of between 150 and 600 feet. The golden hour at sunset when the breezes blow is the best time to go flying because of the aero lift and thermal changes, and the photo opportunities. The breeze and the ride are as soft and as light as a whisper.

The Spokane River offers plenty of fly fishing, and no one provides a better experience for total novices or seasoned fishermen than Double Spey Outfitters. If the silence and tranquility of river travel appeals to you, the Spokane City Recreation Department offers guided kayak trips through the peaceful eddies and deep pools of the slow-moving Little Spokane River.

Because it's located in an area of rich, abundant land, Spokane is home to many breweries. Northern Lights Brewing Company pours delicious ales, dunkel beers, and stouts. At the Steam Plant Grill in downtown Spokane, you can order a sampler of 11 different brews. Built in an old steam plant that for 100 years generated steam to heat the city and electricity for the community, today the Steam Plant Grill is cleverly configured into a brewery, pub, and bistro. The grill and brewery are set among its painted and rehabbed pipes, valves, boilers, and turbine generator.