Photo Essay

The Little Known Desert in the Northwest

Spring Snow

Every year, my friends and I head up to the desert in North Central Washington State for a camping trip to fish, drink, and flip each other shit. This has been going on for over 20 years now—long enough that our sons have started to come along.

The location might change once in a while, but the long weekend stays pretty much the same. Eat, drink, play bocce ball & "Garbage Golf" (with tennis balls and "holes" made up on the spot) and stay up as long as possible to try to burn through a wood pile that now averages 2 ½ cords. (Just doing our part for Mother Nature.)

This year's trip was to Bridgeport State Park near Chief Joseph Dam on the Columbia River. The area is gorgeous and not terribly popular, which makes it ideal for our loud asses. It sits in the Columbia River basin at the edge of the Okanogan, which is a glacially created area of ground down mountains, erratics, and tabletop mesas called "coulees". It sits at the Eastern edge of the rain-robbing Cascade Mountains, and is crisscrossed by rivers that feed the once-mighty (and now heavily dammed) Columbia, including the Methow, Chelan, Okanogan, Entiat, and the Wenatchee.

Like most of Washington State, (believe it or not) it's a desert with sagebrush, cactus, wheatgrass, and tumbleweeds. It was carved by glaciers that advanced into the state from Canada and scraped down the mountain peaks and carved out the rivershed. When it melted some 10,000 years ago, it left behind "erratics", which are non-native boulders that rode the ice south. Many erratics are worn smooth, like river rocks, from the grinding ice, but some of the coolest examples are basalt, which is brittle and jagged.

The level areas of the basin are covered in apple orchards, which are blooming about now, and the upland is open range for cattle. I love the expanses of undeveloped public land which means you can hike or bicycle or drive for a hundred miles without meeting anyone but a coyote or elk. It's a dreamland for rockhounds, rock climbers, bicyclists, hunters, kayakers, hikers, and fishermen, and there is PLENTY of room for everybody!

It's a beautiful, if stark, place that has become one of my favorite places in North America. Next month, I will introduce my wife to the area during a cross-country drive—I know she'll love it as much as I do.

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