A few Columbia Basin hikes

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Spring is a great time to discover Columbia Basin hidden places. Plus, this is the time of year when wildflowers are in bloom, although seeing these plants can never be guaranteed. There are several easy walks/hikes within 70 miles of Moses Lake.

Chief Moses Rock: This may not be the official name of the spot, but it is the name given by me. It is on the downstream side of Rocky Ford Creek and on the Ephrata side of the creek.

Park in the lot, situated on the Ephrata side of the bridge. There is an old road, which serves as the hiking trail beginning at the parking lot.

This hike is about a mile or so on level ground. There are several references to this rock, including the Ruby and Brown book, “Half Son on the Columbia.”

The book describes the Chief Moses Band of Indians camping near the rock. The chief would tie a rope around the rock and tie his horse to the rope. Indeed, there is room for two or three horses to stand at the base of the rock.

Other Pacific Northwest tribes would join Moses for springtime games and trading.

A few yards, perhaps 20 or 30, from the rock and downstream, there is the trading rock. This is a slanted granite bolder, where the various tribes would trade their goods. It is said this rock was once piled high with buffalo robes.

This rock was also the beginning point for racing horses. The racers would head downstream to a designated point, turn and then head back to the rock.

Lake Lenore Caves: This is a great adventure. Head north on Highway 17 from Soap Lake. At eight to 10 miles, notice a sign point to the right announcing Lake Lenore Caves. There is a gravel road to a parking lot, which is the beginning of the hike. The first stretch is a set of cement stairs, then a trail leads from cave to cave.

These aren’t deep caves, but deep enough to serve as shelters during prehistoric times. They were created by the Missoula Floods, which plucked basalt from the Grand Coulee walls.

There are seven caves, with the last one the largest and down in a large hole. The entire hike, is just over half a mile each way or just short of a mile and a half out and back.

A few years ago, the local homeschoolers accompanied me to the caves. We had around 30 people, including youth and adults. Some of the kids were as young as 4 years old, but we made sure all were well supervised. The view offers great photo opportunities. A walking stick will be well used.

A visit to the Lake Lenore spawning area should be considered for a stop before exiting the general area. Getting to this spot is easy. Simply turn north, right, on Highway 17 and travel a few hundred yards. This spot is on the left side of the road.

There is a creek flowing from Alkali Lake and into Lake Lenore. Fish and Wildlife has used part of this stream to capture the Lahontan cutthroat trout, which inhabit the lake.

The fish will swim up the creek and into the capture area, a large screened area. They are great to see and a learning tool for the youth. This isn’t a yearlong event, but just during the spring spawning run.

Northrup Canyon: On State Route 155, near the north end of Steamboat Rock is Northrup Canyon. This hike consists of a round trip of about three miles. There may be muddy spots, depending upon the time of year.

The scenery changes with dramatic basalt cliffs the entire way, but also open areas, some of which were farmed years ago.

The highlight of the trip for me was the old homestead. There is a more modern building at this spot also, but it is interesting to see how the pioneers of the homestead lived 100 years ago.

The parking lot of the canyon is the spot to watch eagles fly in to root during the winter months, January and February.

Steamboat Rock State Park: Also in this area is Steamboat Rock State Park. Go back to SR 155 and turn south, left, until the sign to the park is spotted, a couple of miles. A right turn will put the travelers on the road to the park. There is usually plenty of wildlife to be seen.

There is also a hike to the top of Steamboat Rock. This hike is around four miles long, depending upon how much the hikers stray from the trail to get to other parts of the rock, while they are on top of the rock. This hike is on my list, but has eluded me so far.

There are many other hikes in the Greater Columbia Basin. Stay tuned for those directions. No matter where hikers travel in the Columbia Basin, be aware of the possibility of encountering a rattlesnake. Insect repellent should be in the backpack and sunscreen, too. Also, these hikes require a Discover Pass.

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