A desert with lakes?
Have you ever seen a desert with lakes and a waterfall? Actually not just a waterfall, but a waterfall gracefully flowing into a lake? How can this place even be true? Well, it is and it’s gorgeously beautiful for hiking.
The long story behind the Ancient Lakes in Washington State began as far back as 40-60mln years ago, when the so called Grand Coulee was formed. It is a huge ancient river bed which belongs to the Columbia Plateau and its name (“coulée“) comes from French and means to strain/to flow (in a manner similar to lava).
To cut the long story short: the region is close to the Eastern edges of the Cascade mountains where a “Rain shadow effect” has created an area with very dry and hot climate.
Simultaneously, it is also a part of the Grand Culee which I mentioned earlier: a giant bedrock which kept uplifting and subsiding over the course of millions of years and has undergone a series of major volcanic eruptions, in areas which were later covered by glacial ice which subsequently cause massive floods in the area. Dynamic, isn’t it? No wonder it is such a fascinating place. Nowadays, there are huge irrigation distribution networks across the Columbia basin and the combination of all these factors gives you the ultimate hiking dream: a scorching desert with lakes and a waterfall.
The trail is located in Eastern Washington state, near Quincy and the basin of the Columbia River. I used to live in Seattle back then, so the Ancient Lakes were about a 3 hour ride away from home across Interstate 90.
On the way to the trail
Along I-90 there is a cool landmark which is really worth visiting. The steel horses of Grandfather lets loose the ponies
can almost fool you from the distance. The string of ponies is running towards the edge of a hill overlooking the Columbia River and it makes for a great side stop for photos along the way.
There are paths through the steppe and fairly easy to find passages along the rocky parts of the terrain. Make sure you have sturdy shoes and watch out for your balance because some of the softer types of rocks get easily broken when you step on them.
The Ancient Lakes area spreads over 15,000 acres and although some spots seem to be really close- the terrain can get tricky and slow you down. What looks like a 15 min walk might take you more than an hour in some areas.
Water and rocks, green, blue, brown and grey. Plus the red of my sunburnt face.
This seven-hour hike is one of the outdoor experiences I will always remember vividly – it is a unique area and a lovely first encounter with the beauty of American nature and its many paradoxes.
Twin Peaks Afterparty?
Hiking through such an area is an reward on its own, but we also got an extra treat at the end. I am a huge Twin Peaks fan and since it was filmed in the greater Seattle area, after our hike I had the unique chance of visiting the Twede’s Cafe
/Diner: the home of Agent Cooper’s “damn fine cup of coffee”. Unfortunately, the original place got burnt down years ago, so this is a replica, but still exciting enough for fans. P.S Their cherry pie was reaaaallly great (but that’s something I learned on later trip because it was closed at the time we got there after the hike).
In short: a fantastic day in one of the strangest areas I have ever hiked in. Plus the most spectacular sunburn in my life: imagine bright red skin, backpack handles promptly marked on my shoulders and a skin color gradient showing all areas which I forgot to spray with sunscreen…Sometimes I truly miss this country.
Tips & Tricks:
– it is about a 6.5-7h hike, 11 miles (17km) for the roundtrip
– on your way to the Ancient lakes, definitely take the time to see the huge steel stallions by David Govedare, called Grandfather cuts loose the ponies (near the Columbia River basin)
–if you don’t have hiking shoes- wear your least favourite sneakers: by the end of the hike you won’t even be able to recognize their original color: there is so much dust along the way
– take a lot of water with you!
– take sunscreen and a light wind jacket if you don’t want to get the worst sunburn in your life (I did. And I am still telling stories about it…)
–bring a map (and a compass) or a GPS device: it looks like an easy and straightforward hike but we did go in circles at one point and after a long day in the sun you might just want to save yourself the trouble 😉
-keep the plants intact and preserve nature 🙂
Somewhere on my emotional map…
Washington state has a unique charm of its own. Bounded by the Ocean on the East and dotted with lakes, mountains, waterfalls, valleys and dense forests, it is not surprising that its nickname is “The Evergreen State”. On the other hand, you can also find steppe/desert-like areas which are in stark contradiction with the very notion of “(ever)green”.
I still remember the sight from my window and how much it reminded me of Bulgarian nature with its lovely pine woods, river valleys and beautiful mountain ridges. Somehow my emotional association with the US remains a mixture of old school music (Creedence Clearwater Revival, anyone?) and images of overwhelmingly beautiful nature seen from the window of a moving car.
It feels like it was ages ago- like a memory from another lifetime. If you have lived in other countries you would certainly recognize this weird feeling of simultaneously being nostalgic and feeling like it had happened to someone else.
Originally posted on my Bulgarian blog InSights