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.
Clock tower in Spokane's Riverfront Park: Two people climb three flights of stairs each we
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.
Denny Reed of Backcountry Aerosports will take you up in a two-seater, if an ultralight is
Among the 16 wineries in the greater Spokane area, Barrister Winery, located downtown in an old turn-of-the-century warehouse, is the passion of the two local attorneys who founded it. Barrister offers jazz concerts and special events. It also has a tasting room where you can enjoy finely crafted red and white wines.
Dry Fly Distilling is the first new hard liquor distillery in the state since 1916. Started by a couple guys who met while fly fishing, Dry Fly produces 100-percent wheat vodka and 100-percent wheat whiskey (that's right, no corn). Although it's distributed in 25 states, Dry Fly has a local following, and city folks volunteer months in advance to spend weekends to help bottle the spirits. It also is located in an old warehouse, right next door to the Northern Lights Brewing Company, in fact.
Brew-pub goodies arrive right on time, after a thirsty afternoon spent in the clouds or on
Minutes north of town (take Highway 2 north to Green Bluff Road, turn right) is a collective of small agricultural entrepreneurs (a total of 18 small farms) called Green Bluff. These folks market themselves as U-pick farms and orchards. Depending upon the time of year, you can do a hands-on harvest of peaches, plums, apples, cherries, and other produce, and, around the holidays, Christmas trees. The bucolic hillsides of Green Bluff are carpeted with orchards and garden plots, and several of these farms also have eateries, such as Waltgers Apple Ranch, where delicious pies and baked goods are served right out of the oven.
Northeast of Spokane is a huge, beautiful playground that's way off the beaten path. A 90-minute drive takes you through low rolling mountains and valleys, along meandering rivers, and across pristine meadows to a getaway called Bull Hill Guest Ranch. At about 3500 feet above sea level, Bull Hill sits near the top of a mountain that overlooks Roosevelt Lake, one of the many lakes created back in the 1930s when the Columbia River was dammed to electrify and irrigate America.
Homesteaded circa 1900 by a family of Italian immigrants and still owned by the Guglielmino family, Bull Hill Guest Ranch enjoys a steady stream of visitors who return year after year. With cabins for couples and families, Bull Hill is a popular spot for family reunions. Each morning and afternoon organized horseback rides visit different areas on the 30,000-acre ranch spread. With 80 saddle horses on hand, wranglers pair you up with the steed that fits your size and riding skills. Guests have the opportunity to help move cows from meadow to meadow and, in the fall and spring, to participate in a cattle drive.
Just off Highway 31, a portion of the Selkirk Loop swings north from Sand Point, Idaho, to British Columbia or south from Nelson, B.C., down into the States.
Gardner Cave, one of the stops along the Selkirk Loop, is about a dozen miles west of the paved Highway 31 at the town of Metaline. Gardner Cave is the second-largest limestone cavern in the Northwest and was discovered by a bootlegger named Gardner who no doubt used the hideaway to stash his illegal hooch. Today, a park ranger guides a tour into the cavern where stalagmites and stalactites hundreds of thousands of years old continue to grow ever so slowly.