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Days of Water, Wheat and Wine

Washington state is rich with agriculture, but until you venture east of the Cascades into the central and eastern regions, you won't notice the abundance of it. We have plenty of the main ingredient for agriculture here in our state - water. And with it we can grow plenty of fruits and grains. The canyons, plateaus and deep forests these rivers run through offer a motorcyclist optimal riding adventures. Welcome to the days of Water, Wheat and Wine.

Photo: On the road to Step Toe Butte

Day #1

Seattle to Cle Elum - We'll assume that you're coming from the Puget Sound to begin your journey. You'll start with a trip over the Cascade Range heading east on Interstate 90, but when you reach the other side of Snoqualmie Pass, you'll descend to Cle Elum at the bottom of the hill and you can say goodbye to the Interstate for the rest of the week! From here on out you're taking the scenic road less traveled.

Cle Elum to Vantage - Speaking of the Interstate, long ago there wasn't one. Instead, people traveling east and west across the state used SR10, the Sunset Highway. Some of it is still around today so let's take a historical drive that was as much fun then as it is now. Drive through Cle Elum along the main street, SR970. A few miles out of town you'll see a sign for SR10. Turn right onto it and enjoy a trip through a beautiful canyon. Don't ride too fast, or you'll miss the remnants of the old aqueduct that brought water to the local farmers along the east side of the Thorp Prairie and into Ellensberg.

When you reach Ellensburg, ride through town on the main street and continue heading east. The road turns into the Vantage Highway. Continue past the houses, farms and fields, and when the road turns southwest up a gradual hill, you will enter the ever-so-twisty and barren Schnebly Coulee. You'll drop through the coulee, and when you get near the Columbia River, turn left to go to the Ginkgo Petrified Forest.

A petrified forest in Washington state you wonder? Yes, indeed, with a rare tree typically only found overseas - the ginkgo. Spend some time at the interpretive center to learn more about how water and ice flows shaped this region. Below the center in the shallow shoreline of the river itself, you will spot signs of old Highway 10 from before the area was dammed up. In fact, there was a bridge that was removed from here, but it's still in use today. You'll be riding on it in just a few days. Stay tuned.

Vantage to Othello - With your mind chalk full of geologic history, it's time to head east and see just what exactly they were talking about back at the center. Ice age, coulees and all the stuff. You gotta see it to believe it. Cross the river using I-90, then take the next exit, SR26. Ride south and follow SR26 up into the sand dunes of Sand Hollow. At L St SW, turn left and ride over Low Gap Pass. When you descend, you'll turn right and follow Frenchman Hill road for a while. The area on your left off to the north is known as the Potholes, a series of lakes carved out by rock and ice that moved through this area. At SR262/O'Sullivan Dam Rd, turn left and continue east deeper into the Potholes area. At H St, turn left and drive south to the end, make a left and then a right onto McMahon Rd. Consider a stop at the Drumheller Channels National Natural landmark for a photo op. Follow the road into Othello where more than one food critic says the local Mexican restaurant serves the best guacamole in the state.

Othello to Tri Cites - The day's getting long, and it's time to put up for the night. From Othello, head east on SR26, then south on SR17. At the junction, head south on Highway 395 into the Tri-Cities area of Kennewick/Pasco/ Richland. Here you'll find lodging and plenty of food options.

Day 2

Today's ride takes you to the far end of the southern area of the state. Along the way, you'll be rewarded with one sweeper after another.

Tri-Cities to Clarkston - Follow SR12 west to the junction of SR124. Turn left and make your way into this agricultural expanse past tree farms, wheat fields and large grain storage tanks. You'll pass through several small towns. At Waitsburg, follow the road out to Highway 12 and head east toward Clarkston. Are those sweepers ahead? Oh, yes! Enjoy this tasty stretch of road as you make your way eastward toward the Snake River and the city of Clarkston. In Clarkston, you'll find food and a motorcycle shop should you need any service or supplies.

Clarkston to the Rattlesnake Grade - The road south of Clarkston is legendary. Head south on 129. When you reach Asotin, head south up the hill and enjoy the ascent onto the plateau. The road levels out for a while as you make your way south. Just past the town of Anatone things get lively again as you drop two thousand feet into the Grande Ronde river valley down the infamous Rattlesnake Grade. At the bottom you'll find a restaurant and guide service for fishing parties along the river.

Grande Ronde to Walla Walla - It's time for another long day to come to an end. Backtrack up the Rattle Snake Grade, through Clarkston and over to Waitsburg. Continue West on SR12 through Dayton and finally into Walla Walla for the night. There are plenty of accommodations here as well as a variance of dinning choices not found in the smaller towns nearby.

Walla Walla is the central hub of the wine making region in Washington state. With your bike parked at your hotel, it's easy to walk out to nearby restaurants and enjoy an evening of great food complimented by fine wines.

Day 3

It's time to go get loose in the Palouse. Smooth rolling fields intermingle with coulees to form a playground for you and your motorcycle. In fact, if you were to try to ride all the roads in the Palouse region, it would take you weeks. The ride today will take you along some of the finer stretches, including another engineering masterpiece - The Starbuck Highway.

Walla Walla to Washtucna - Depart Walla Walla heading east on SR12. At Delany, turn left and go west on SR261. Just down the road is the tiny town of Starbuck. Nothing to do with the coffee per say, but the railsmen who built this area probably drank plenty of it way back when. As you continue past Starbuck, you'll pass a railroad bridge on your right. The next bridge is for you to cross. It's called the Lyons Ferry Bridge, and it's the one mentioned back on Day One which was moved from Vantage to here. The bridge was literally dismantled, barged along by ferry down the Columbia River and up the Snake, then reassembled like an erector set.

Photo: An adventure rider ascends the twisty sepentine slab of the Starbuck Highway

Just past the bridge is a park which marks the beginning of a roller coaster ride you'll never forget - the majestic Starbuck Highway. From here to the next junction it's nothing but sweepers and twisties. If you have the time, plan to ride back on it and repeat as necessary. Total round trip time is about 40 minutes.

Once you're done playing, turn right on SR260 and head north to Washtucna.

Washtucna to Spokane - We thought you might like a night in the big city, so today's ride ends in Spokane, the largest metropolitan city in the state east of the Cascades. But to get there we have a number of grand roads to explore.

Begin by departing Washtucna heading east on SR26. When you reach Colfax, turn left heading north on SR195. 6.6 miles north, turn right onto old State Rd which turns into Hume. Follow the signs to the top of Steptoe Butte which rises 3600 feet above the Palouse floor. From here you can get an idea of just how expansive the wheat industry is in this area. A 360-degree view of every wheat field within 50 miles can be had from the top. The ride up? Well, it's a bit spirally, and you'll be tempted to look away from the road the higher you climb. Don't - there are no guard rails on the road to Steptoe Butte.

Photo: Did someone say wheat?

Backtrack to Colfax, then head east on SR272. When you reach the town of Palouse, enjoy this small gemstone of a community and go find the Boomerang Museum. When you're ready to fall back to earth, head north on SR27 and enjoy the final miles of the Palouse region as you weave through towns like Tekoa, Latah, and Rockford. Just northwest of Rockford you'll spot the tall mountain in the area - Mica Peak. Finally, you'll arrive in Spokane Valley where you can proceed west into the city for the night.

Day 4

Spokane to Colville via Metaline - Twin Peaks fans unite as we go discover the little town just several miles east of Idaho and south of the Canadian Border. The area was immortalized when David Lynch described the location of the city in the TV series Twin Peaks.

To reach the small town, head northeast out of Spokane on SR2. When you reach Newport, make a left and proceed north up SR20. At the junction for SR31, continue straight through Tiger, Ione and finally you'll reach Metaline. Continue through town and turn right onto Sullivan Lake Road. This is a scenic recreation area offering a nice return to SR31. At the junction, turn left heading south. Once you've passed through Tiger, make a right onto SR20 and head up the grade, making your way to Colville.

Photo: Let your friends know back home you made it to Metaline

Colville to Republic - From this point we begin to travel from the far western reaches of the Rocky Mountains across to the Cascade Range. As elevations change, so will the vegetation and temperature.

Begin by proceeding north along SR395. When you pass Kettle Falls, you'll cross Lake Roosevelt and turn left immediately onto SR20 heading west again. Here you'll head back up into the mountains along one of the country's National Scenic Byways. Once you roll through Sherman Pass, you'll descend again and soon you'll arrive in Republic, your stopping point for the day. Hotels, B&Bs and camping are all available here. Be sure to visit the fairgrounds and have a look at their fully-restored merry-go-round.

Day 5

It's time to make your way back to the Puget Sound.

Republic to Winthrop - Depart Republic heading west on SR20. After 40 miles you'll descend from the forest down Bonaparte Creek and into the barren Wagon Road Coulee. Turn left onto US97/SR20 and head south. Once you pass through Okanogan, turn right back into the forest continuing west on SR20. Past Loup Loup pass, you'll descend into the Methow Valley and wind your way from Twisp to Winthrop.

Winthrop to Snohomish - Winthrop makes a good lunch stop. When you're ready, gas up and make your way into the Cascades for the final stretch. Ascend into Washington Pass, across Rainy Pass, then descend to Ross Lake and finally Marblemount. Enjoy the pullouts and viewpoints along this scenic stretch.

Photo: Sport riders in Darrington during a chilling winter ride through The Cascades.

Just past Marblemount, take a left onto SR530 and make your way into the town of Darrington. From there you'll descend into Puget Sound. At the junction of SR9, turn left and ride south into Snohomish - the final stopping point on our ride.

Tom Mehren/February 2017

Tom Mehren has published a number of books for touring in the Pacific Northwest. For more information visit store.soundrider.com  


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