Monday, July 21, 2014

WA Hwy 20: Part 1 -- Newport To Kettle Falls

With the largest forest fires in the state's history raging out of control throughout north-central Washington, it is entirely possible that WA Hwy 20 will remain closed in places and I will not be able to complete my intended end-to-end transit. Nevertheless, I'm determined to give it a go and hope that my relatively slow pace of western movement will allow time for conditions to evolve in my favor!

WA Hwy 20 begins in the town of Newport, just inside the state's eastern border. Although it is a significant route across the top tier of the state, only a simple overhead sign indicates its origin.

Heading up the Pend Oreille River valley, the region is a mix of agriculture and forested mountains. As you can see, smoke from fires over a hundred miles away is dense enough to reduce visibility.

As the valley narrows, the road runs quite close to the river and offers a number of nice views. As you might imagine, the corresponding railway line is also quite near, just out of view on the left.

At the tiny crossroads town of Tiger, WA20 turns west to follow the Little Pend Oreille River. It makes a long, steep and twisty climb through heavily wooded forest, then over a pass before descending.

Heading west down the valley to Colville and Kettle Falls is a very pretty drive. Looking at the terrain, it's easy to see how the grass and timber can be so flammable in the dry season.

I'm in a perfectly satisfactory little RV park in Kettle Falls, a small lumber town where the river runs into Roosevelt Lake. The lake is actually a man-made reservoir of the Columbia River, backed up over a hundred miles from its use to generate power at Grand Coulee Dam.

For a thousand years before the Dam was built, this area was a major salmon fishing area for native peoples and a significant crossroads for trappers and traders. All of that is gone now, of course, though the small local museum and interpretive center do their best to preserve the memory.

My plan is to stay here for three days, partly to check out the area but mostly to see what happens with the fires and roads to the west... Stay tuned!

Click here to see exactly where I am posting this from on Google Maps.

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