Tuesday, June 19, 2012

Wild Horse Wind Farm and Other Destinations

Van Brother was home from college for a few months and wanted to do some camping before starting a summer job. The Western Washington forecast of overcast skies and showers had us longing for a healthy dose of vitamin D, so after a day (which turned out surprisingly sunny) at the Seattle Folk-Life Festival, we packed a few essentials and directed Westly to Eastern Washington.

First, a few scenes from the Folk Life Festival

Sunrise at Indian John Hill rest area
Not too far over Snoqualmie Pass, the Indian John Hill rest area is a great place to stealth camp - clean restrooms, free coffee and enough parking so you can usually find a somewhat quiet spot.  Following an abbreviated breakfast, we continued West leaving I-90 (decidedly un-blue) to mosey along on scenic Hwy 10.  In Ellensburg, just past Central Washington University, the route continues as the Vantage Highway.  We turned North at Beacon Ridge Road to visit the Wild Horse Wind and Solar Facility.

We picked up this spare wind turbine to keep Westly's battery charged

Van Kid is ready for
the tour
The wind blows through here almost constantly with gusts up to 95 miles per hour. A total of 149 wind turbines generate enough electricity for 80,000 homes needing as little as 6 mph of wind.  These windmills are impressive!  The towers are 221 feet tall, anchored in bedrock up to 32 feet deep with 120 bolts that each weigh 150 pounds and are 28 feet long.  The three turbine blades are 129 feet long and weigh 7 tons each. The rotations are limited to 16.5 revolutions per minute (greatly reducing bird fatalities) but even at that speed the blade tips are traveling at 150 miles per hour.  Two solar arrays of 2,723 panels provide all the power needed for the entire facility including the Renewable Energy Visitor Center.  We toured the facility and were only temporarily dismayed that we could not climb up in the tower, only step inside the base and look up at the very, very tall ladder.

One of three Elk herds we saw along the road
Inspecting a carcass
Looking East toward the Columbia River Gorge
The road became so rough, we had to turn back
And it mostly was...

While there, we signed up for a permit (yet another pass to add to our collection)  to drive through the 10,000 acre property which covers rolling hills, valleys and piney woods.  The wind turbines occupy a relatively small part of it with the remainder being open for recreation - mostly atv trail riding and hunting in season.
After leaving the wind farm, we continued on the Vantage Highway to the Ginkgo Petrified Forest.  The forest, discovered in the 1920's during road construction, is considered one of the most unusual in the world. More than 50 species of trees have been found here, dating from 15.5 million years (give or take a few) ago.  It's hard to imagine such a lush forest while standing there in the sand and sagebrush, but I suppose you should expect a few changes over that passage of time. The park construction was originally done in the charming manner of '30's era Civilian Conservation Corps.  A small museum has a stunning display of petrified wood (the official Washington State gem) and petroglyphs made by the Wanapum tribe.  Crossing the Columbia River requires returning to I-90 as the Vantage Highway just ends right in the river.  There was an old bridge here that was disassembled in 1968 and used to cross the Snake River near Starbuck, Washington.

Van Kid receives first aid after a mishap on the trail
The cage we're sitting on covers a partially buried petrified Horse Chestnut log
Did I mention it was sunny and hot?  Just what we were looking for!
Grandfather Cuts Loose The Ponies
No trip to Eastern Washington on I-90 would be complete without stopping here
On the Interstate again, just past George, Hwy 283 heads off to the Northeast, intersects with Hwy 28 near Ephrata, and then; next stop - one of our favorite destinations - Smokiam (Soap Lake).  We settled in at Smokiam Campground on the South end of the lake.  Small, clean and inexpensive, though we paid extra for an RV spot this time because they are right on the lake while the tent sites are just a chain-link fence from the road.

Radiant in the late afternoon sun
Van kid hangs out at Smokiam Park...

and does the jungle gym

Breakfast is ready!
Following breakfast, we hiked near Lake Lenore exploring caves and an old abandoned ranch. Along the trail we were startled by a Western Rattlesnake (crotalus viridis) which (being just as startled at seeing us) hid behind a rock, but left it's rattle exposed.  My friend Redwood was bitten by a rattler near here last year, so we were trying to be cautious, but the fact is that when a snake is lying there among the rocks, dirt and dry grasses, it is next to impossible to see. We named the area Rattlesnake Gulch, and then vacated expeditiously.  

Here's what we saw of the snake
The very pleasant Westy Family
At one trail head, we parked next to a blue Westy, then later met it's people.  Before their son was born, they spent most of a year visiting 41 states and 5 provinces, traveling over 26,000 miles in the van.  They blogged extensively about the adventure here.  

Lake Lenore in the distance
Unusual rock formation on the shore of Lake Lenore
Now thoroughly hot and dusty, we intended to take a swim in Lake Lenore, but the afternoon winds had freshened and the water was feeling rather cold.  We waded knee-deep, then dried off on the warm rocks and ate clam chowder.  Way too soon it was time to go West, back to Seattle to prepare for work, school, and get the garbage and recycle cans out to the curb.  

As usual, the rain started in around Hyak.  


  1. Another great trip, and lots of interesting sights along the road. Makes me want to visit the American Southwest again :-)

  2. Yew - so many interesting destinations, so little time off! You're welcome here any time you're near Seattle.

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