Getting There is Half the Fun – A Day Trip to Frenchman Coulee and Taunton: Part 1

With the weather turning warmer, we decided to head out for a day trip to Frechman Coulee and some bits of central Washington. We’ve been learning a lot about the Missoula Floods and I’m always interested in old railroad sites, so a trip to the coulees and an abandoned substation near Othello fit perfectly.

Everyday, we wake up early. This day was no different, and we were on the road by 5am. It almost seems that if the sun has risen before us, the day is wasted. Before full light, we were crossing Snoqualmie Pass with six to ten feet of snow still coating the ground.

Once over the pass, the snow quickly vanished and we wound up in the town Easton, a wrecked little railroad town. Along with its abandoned buildings, someone has a gutted passenger car set up next to a bar. We found a few minutes to climb around it. It’s such a shame that it’s probably far beyond salvaging.

We pretty well hate the interstate. It’s good for getting where you need to be, I guess, but mostly, it’s boring and horrible. The next place we could leave it, we did. That happened to be near the town of Roslyn, most famous as the shooting location for the TV series Northern Exposure. There, we poked around for a spell, but everything was shut down. It wasn’t even 7am. We did, however, find a mural of a miner that looks suspiciously like Ron Swanson from Parks & Recreation.

Between the towns of Cle Elum and Ellensburg, there’s a fine little road, Route 10, that takes you from the pine forests surrounding Roslyn to the dry, shrubsteppe environs that make up the bulk of central Washington. Along the way, you’re following a major rail line, as well an the abandoned Milwaukee Road line that’s now a rails-to-trails. About halfway through, we wound up chasing a train. I nearly blew a stop sign in front of a cop trying to track it down. Somehow, we missed the shot. Smartz took one with my Holga, and we’ll see if that one worked.

The Vantage Highway used to connect Ellensburg to the Columbia River, twenty or so miles east. Now, the road is still there (with many older alignments to the left or right), but rows and rows of giant white windmills dot the hills. There’s a newly-build visitors center run by the power company, so we checked that out. The view was amazing. We could see Mt. Rainier, Mt. Saint Helens, and another – possibly Mt. Adams – way to the south. It was incredibly interesting to be this close to the huge power generators, spinning at 31mph.

When I first saw these things, nearly a decade ago, they gave me a really uneasy feeling. Maybe I was going through some weird Don Quixote-like phase. Getting up close and personal, however, they were just neat.

From the summit, we looked east and saw the Columbia, as well as the sand dunes at Frenchman Coulee, ten miles away. But before we got there, we had to make another stop. When the old Vantage Highway reached the Columbia, it continued east across the river via a ferry. Both old ferry sites still exist, and we visited the west shore site first.

There’s not much to see there, really. It’s sort of shut down and not quite gated off. But the view is pretty, especially in the green of spring. Looking up, behind us, over a cliff you could see the state park visitors center, and so, for a better view, we drove up an old road to get there.

The visitors center offers a great look up the Columbia River gorge. It’s also got some ancient Indian petroglyphs that used to be nearer the river, but had to be removed when some asshat thought that dams were awesome. While there, we visited a nearby rock shop that specializes in the petrified wood found in abundance around these parts. In fact, one thing that we skipped was the Ginko Petrified Forest (we’ve been there twice before). The store is great, and the concrete dinosaurs guarding the parking lot make it even better.

A drive to Frenchman Coulee from our home should take around three hours. Leaving at 5am, most folks would have been there by 8am. But with the backroads, stops, and wanderings, we didn’t make it there until after 11.

Part Two will be posted very shortly! Stay tuned…

To see the rest of the photos we took, CLICK HERE to go to our Facebook page.

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