Lyons Ferry, WA

Home: Lyons Ferry KOA campsite

Dad had the smart idea to just book two nights for themselves at the campground, so that if we weren’t able to make our schedule, we’d still at least have one night together (even better, he booked Monday and Tuesday, whereas our original schedule had us getting there on Sunday, so that encouraged us to take an extra day to get there rather than pushing insane ~60 mile days). Since we all successfully showed up on Monday, that meant we’d have another whole day and night together!

Proof that trains do actually use the Joso High Bridge across the Snake River (later in the dark we also saw a train on a separate set of tracks on the left bank, which runs under that first gap on the left).

Their site had zero shade, and the temperature was expected to hit 95F today, so it was great for them to be able to come 50 feet to hang out under the shade of our trees. In exchange, it was great for us to have access to their ice-filled cooler, and their food, and their internal-combustion engine, etc.

The KOA has a decent amount of groceries in their camp store, partly because it’s the only form of groceries in the 60 miles between Kahlotus and Pomeroy (they also have a restaurant, but unfortunately we were there on the two days of the week when it’s not open). The fact that a Kampground of America is one of the major sources of services should be a good indication of how extremely-low the population density is out here.

We brought a decent amount of food with us from Connell, but carrying two full days of food is a bit of a challenge, so we were counting on a combination of Mom & Dad, and the KOA store to fill out the rest. For the first night’s dinner, we ate at Mom & Dad’s Mobile Food Truck. Beef stroganoff for me, and Hungarian Goulash for Rett (her first taste of the Mom & Dad 40-year-old staple). We figured the store would have pasta that we’d be able to use for our 2nd night’s dinner. They didn’t, but of course Mom came to the rescue with plenty of extra egg noodles that she kindly shared with us.

What the store did have was bread, and we bought a loaf of it yesterday immediately upon arrival to make sandwiches. It had been in their freezer, so at first we thought maybe that’s why it was so dried-out and crumbly. But the slices still in the bag were soft, so we quickly realized it was the 15% humidity air sucking out the moisture and turning the bread to toast before we could even finish our sandwiches!

The one thing that makes this environment compatible with human life is the trees. They wouldn’t grow here naturally, and require the same irrigation that the grass does. My initial reaction is to recoil at unsustainable recklessness it takes to play god with water in order to encourage humans to come here. But then I remember that this isn’t Phoenix or Las Vegas; no reservoirs or aquifers are being drained by the terraforming happening here. As long as you have energy, pumping water up from the huge river to spread it across a bit of land really isn’t costing the future, or downstream communities, anything. The Snake runs into the Columbia, and an enormous amount of water still flows into the ocean. So why not green up pockets of this desert?

In fact, not irrigating these trees now feels like the morally dubious path. When I was doing research on this KOA (to see if it would be a terrible idea to “force” my parents to come to a sun-blasted wasteland), I came across a news article from several years ago reporting that the previous proprietors were retiring, and the author’s tone implied that the community was going to find someone else to take over. Not “if no one buys this business, it will shut down just like any business that reaches its end”. This framing felt a little odd to me, until I got here, at which point it makes perfect sense. Building up these trees has been a multi-generational, multi-century project. To just let them be abandoned and go uncared for would nearly be a crime at this point. This morning my mom noticed that on the east end of every site in the unshaded row they’re in, a tiny sapling has been planted. Too small now to shade even a rabbit, or even be noticed by anyone, they’re a hope, and a plan, for the future.

Today, the four of us spent most of the day under the shade of one of those great old trees, just talking, catching up in a broader and deeper way than even a video call can do. We got some wine slushies and beer from the store, and generally just had a “family hanging out together all day at a campsite” that we see other families do all the time, but it feels a bit alien to us (campsites are a place to stop and rest between doing things, not a place unto themselves in which to do things!) Let me tell you dear reader, the campsite family gathering is pretty great, and we should do it more often. It was so great that any vague plans we’d had to kill time by crossing back over the river and visit the state park swimming area or waterfall just sort of evaporated into the dry air of comfortable inertia.

Last night while we were all at the picnic table, a guy cut through the back of our site a few times. A bit rude, but not a huge deal, I guess he just was never taught how to behave in a campground. But this morning, we were all sitting in that back area of our site, and he walked right between our chairs! Ok, it’s not just campground etiquette he failed to learn, he also missed How To Behave Around People! When he attempted it a second time, Dad thankfully (and tactfully) said “Could you please go around?”, and while he did, he was not pleased about it. Later I noticed a KOA sign in front of the store that explicitly said “Please avoid walking through someone else’s site”, so it was nice to have it confirmed that we weren’t just bringing some niche Midwestern culture to Eastern Washington.

After dinner, Dad said maybe we should go check out Palouse Falls after all. We were all up for it, so Mom and I wedged into the collapsed-roof camper in the back of their pickup, while Dad and Rett were in the cab like civilized people. I could still see out the window as we went 700 feet back up the hill we’d come down yesterday. And in the evening light, saw a different land than we’d seen in the noonday sun. A lone elk on a hill. Train tracks down in a channel no wider than the cars. A shining city of windmills in the distance. Three white pelicans soaring over the river in formation, turned orange by the setting sunlight.

And then, the falls. Plunging 200 feet down, but seen from 200 feet above, it’s a breathtaking and unexpected view that opens up immediately from the parking area. We’d seen hints of the Palouse River gorge from our ride down, but here (2 miles of washboarded gravel from the highway), we could see down the length of the chasm, all the way down to the tiny fishermen unexpectedly on the riverbank.

From a day of doing things that we wouldn’t do with just us and the bikes, to an evening doing a thing we couldn’t do with just us and the bikes, our time with Mom & Dad, five months from the last time we saw them, was a gift that we’re all glad we succeeded in wrapping.

Palouse Falls, the State Waterfall of Washington (bit of a snub to Snoqualmie Falls, IMO, but I can see the argument here too. Plus, good for Eastern Washington to get some love).
Palouse Falls
Palouse Falls and its gorge, seen from a viewpoint I never would have gone towards if I hadn’t seen a bunch of Fancy Photographers setting up there (and until I got there, I couldn’t imagine why they even bothered).
The falls were absolutely lousy with (mostly-tamed) marmots. Here one contemplates at the cliff-edge whether he wants to continue in this world (don’t worry, he pulled himself back from the brink.
As a bonus, right next to the top of the falls, and seemingly unrelated, was this intricate castle of stone
More Palouse Falls.
Fishing far below. How did they get there?! (a boat, I guess. Non-boaters never think about boats.)
One more shot of our family, at the Palouse Falls gorge.



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3 responses to “Lyons Ferry, WA”

  1. Jan Avatar

    Eastern Washington, especially around Spokane call themselves the “inland northwest”.
    With Patrick and Margot having another residence in Laclede ID we’re getting more familiar with that part of the state/area 😉

    1. neil Avatar

      I haven’t heard that one, but it makes sense! I’ve heard Idaho included among the “Pacific Northwest” states, and I’ve even had difficulty writing about it since in my mind “Pacific Northwest” is the green stuff west of the Cascades (Portland, Seattle, Vancouver BC) so I kinda needed another term for the stuff east of the Cascades, especially since riding your bike over those mountains makes their dividing force even more-prominent than its ever seemed before. Inland Northwest it is!

  2. Sophie Harms Avatar
    Sophie Harms

    I’m so glad you guys got to meet up and spend maximum time together, it’s serendipity. I laughed at the experience that belongs on r/entitledpeople!

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