Road Tripping Through the Palouse – My Cure for the Pandemic Blues!
By Donnie Sexton
When the stay-at-home mandate due to Covid-19 went into effect in Montana, it seemed like the ideal time to tackle long-overdue housekeeping chores.
I went through our basement – a catchall for everything mostly useless that I couldn’t bear to throw away, but finally said my goodbyes and moved the stuff to the garbage.
Then it was deep clean into every cupboard in the house. I took breaks from cleaning to sort and edit thousands of images on my computer.
Fall Travel Plans?
As a human addicted to travel, I continued to research and make fall travel plans, looking forward to a September photo workshop in Mongolia.
When Mongolia was postponed until 2021, I started to get downright restless, crabby, and frustrated.
I saw or (maybe just imagined) my cameras growing mold. The need to be creative was eating away at my mind, so to avoid going bat sh%$t crazy, I made plans for a solo road trip.
The Palouse Awaits
The Palouse – a distinct geographic region of the northwestern United States, encompassing parts of north-central Idaho, southeastern Washington, and, by some definitions, parts of northeast Oregon
It had long been a destination I had wanted to explore. The region is often the focus of photo workshops for its picture-postcard landscapes of rolling hills dotted with historic barns.
While waiting for both Washington and Idaho to open for visitors, I scoured the web for info and photos from the Palouse. There was a plethora of advice on great locations for photography. My favorite suggestion was to head down any gravel road and not be afraid of getting lost – a travel method I often used in Montana.
Withdrawal Pains from No Travel
My hubby knew I was dealing with withdrawal pains from lack of travel. I had mentioned a potential road trip to the Palouse. It was a Wednesday evening when I broke the news that I would be leaving in the morning on my road trip.
“Oh….ok…when will you be back?” he said. “Not sure,” I replied, “I’ll call you.” Thursday morning, I packed the camera gear, road trip snacks, a few clothes, and headed West. By the time I reached Idaho, my agitated state of mind over current events was morphing into a sense of anticipation as to what I might discover on this road trip.
I felt like the cocoon I had been wrapped in for the last few months was unraveling and setting my creativity free. The change of scenery was blissful.
A Room in Colfax
The cities of Pullman, Washington and Moscow, Idaho sit on the southern end of the Palouse, where plenty of accommodations were available. But I opted for a room further north in Colfax, recommended as a central location for exploring the area.
When I checked into The Best Western Wheatland Inn, the desk clerk asked if I was there to photograph, and when I answered yes, she handed me some useful maps and brochures.
Where was only one location I had to check out, and that was Steptoe Butte State Park, the go-to spot for sweeping views of the Palouse. This 3,612-foot hill was accessed by a road that wound around to a flat top, where the scenes in any direction were mind-blowing and the only place where I encountered a few other photo buffs.
Roaming and Wandering the Palouse
The next three days were all about roaming, wandering, and getting lost on any gravel road that caught my eye. I chatted with a few farmers asking permission to photograph their barns and ended up gleaning more about this fertile land. The small towns dotting the region felt like a throwback to the 1950s. The only evidence of modern times was the few wind generators that I came across.
My road trip was in June when the canola fields were in full bloom, and the wheat was knee-high. Every shade of green highlighted the area. The Palouse is calling me back in the harvest season when the landscape will bear golden hues. My goal will be to travel new gravel and give myself an infusion of inspiration and creativity.