Ruth and I love The Palouse. This 4,000-square-mile area in the southeast part of Washington State, as I’ve mentioned in previous blogs, holds special memories for both of us. During this year’s visit, the wheat crop was being harvested. Most of this bountiful grain is shipped to Asia. Japan and Korea buy most of it. It’s harvested with huge combines that cling to hillsides without toppling. Ruth and I have ridden in them.
The Palouse in the summer looks like sand dunes covered with wheat fields. This year we found the perfect place to see The Palouse in all its majesty because we discovered Steptoe Butte.
There are 186 state parks in Washington. This is more than California has. There are 10,336 state parks in the United States, and Steptoe Butte is one of the more unusual ones. A 3,612-foot-tall quartzite island pyramid of only 150 acres, it’s surrounded by wheat farms on all sides. Over 400 million-years-old, Steptoe Butte can be seen up to 100 miles away on a clear day. It’s rather isolated but people with cameras love to be on its top at sunrise and sunset.
Theories abound, but The Palouse is probably named for the Palus people, a native American tribe that met Lewis and Clark during their grand adventure. The Palus are listed among Native American Tribes and Nations as The Palouse but no current population numbers are given. They are said to be part of the Yakama nation now. The Palus were known to be expert horsemen, and the Appaloosa horse was reportedly named for them.
There’s a narrow road all the way to the top of Steptoe Butte. When we drove it last Sunday, we shared it with only 2 other cars. Established as a state park in 1946, there was a hotel atop Steptoe for 20 years until 1908. I was surprised to drive through a couple of modest forest areas about half-way to the summit. Palouse views were spectacular all the way up, and “Top of The Palouse” is a frequent and apt name for this butte.