Friday, March 27, 2015
Hiking Eastern Washington: Ancient Lakes
Suddenly Ancient Lakes is all over social media. Or maybe I'm just starting to pay attention. But the word is out on this geologically unique area near Quincy, Washington.
Despite being a native-born Washingtonian, until this year I've never hiked the "coulee country" near the Columbia River just east of the Cascades. Ancient Lakes is my second coulee hike this year, and it's high on my list now for early and late season hiking.
We arrive at the parking area at the end of the road in the Quincy Wildlife Recreation Area around 9 a.m. on a breezy, sunny Sunday, after a scenic drive from Crescent Bar just upriver.
A few cars are in the lot, but the only other person there is a solo mountain biker who takes off quickly and is gone like a shot. Then we amble along what is basically a pretty flat, rutted dirt road into the first coulee.
After a half mile or more skirting the basalt cliff to our left, we gain a panorama into the coulee before descending slightly past a huge, lonely boulder.
This boulder is about the only shade relief on hot days out here.
A few straggly waterfalls stream off the basalt cliffs as we proceed toward the end of the coulee and a few lakes (these would be the Ancient Lakes, remnant potholes scoured by the Lake Missoula floods that stormed over the Columbia River basin several millennia ago).
On a spring green knoll across the coulee, we spy a couple tents. We'd caught a glimpse of the Milky Way and brilliant stars last night and wished we'd known to bring camping gear too. (If you do camp, bring your own water.)
Toward the end of the coulee are the three Ancient Lakes close together. With the sparse vegetation, it almost looks graded and landscaped out here.
For a few minutes we stop and try to identify the waterfowl skimming the surface of the first lake. I see some Canadian geese, but can't figure out the other ducks. Where are my birder friends when I need them?
In the lull, we look back and notice several mountain bikers and hikers not far behind us.
But still, it's pastoral and lovely out here regardless.
Then we stroll back to the car on what is essentially a loop on the dirt road (and trail in a few stretches) through the coulee. We're meeting someone for lunch in Wenatchee so just do the 4-mile roundtrip rather than extending our hike another couple miles by dropping into the southern coulee to Dusty Lake.
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When You Go
Go on a weekday or early in the morning on weekends to beat the crowds of hikers and mountain bikers. If we'd known in advance, we would have pitched a tent in the Ancient Lakes coulee and gazed at the stars away from city lights. We were too early for wildflowers, but spring is the perfect time to recreate here before wildflowers wither in the heat and rattlesnakes come out of winter hibernation.
From Ellensburg, drive east on I-90 to George (Exit 149), about 150 miles from Seattle. Turn left and drive on SR 281 to Quincy. In Quincy, turn left (west) on SR 28 and drive 4 miles to White Trail Road. Turn left and drive about 7 miles or so until you reach Road 9-NW and drive 5.9 miles to the road's end. You need a Discover Pass to park here.