A Mancation in Spokane: Unforgettable Thrills

Spokane, Washington: So Much to See and Do

Kayaking the swift-flowing Spokane River. Photos by Max Hartshorne.
Kayaking down the Spokane River. Photos by Max Hartshorne.

By Max Hartshorne
GoNOMAD Editor

Can you think of any place that’s more famous for being mispronounced than Spokane?

Spokane is Salish for ‘sun people,’ named by Indians who first settled here. You probably Voted Top Story of 2010 by GoNOMAD's Readers. Congrats Shelley!have already been corrected by somebody who has been there, so you now know it’s Spo-KAN, like the Indian tribe, not Spo-KANE.

This mid-sized western city turned out to be a perfect choice for a mancation I took recently. I was after adventure, great food and beer, and the kinds of activities that I’d never forget. Spokane delivered in style!

More and more, these times away with the guys are the perfect remedy for the sensation that you and your wife don’t always have the same interests for every vacation. Sometimes you want to enjoy the things you love with your buddies.

Beginning with a Thrill

Gorgeous old art deco and older buildings, a tradition of preservation, and intriguing eats. Spokane has preserved many of its 1960s-style buildings that might have met the wrecking ball in other cities.

An example is a parking garage called the Parkade, with a Guggenheim-esque swirling ramp up the side and classic 1960s signage up top. It’s an anchor of a downtown that has a network of walkways joining each building. So it’s easy to walk from one end of the city to the other and not get wet!

Other buildings have gorgeous decorations and crenellations that add so much to the look of the city.

To get into the spirit of the mancation week, we began with a thrill. We joined Denny Reed up on top of a bluff outside the city for a little flying.

Denny founded Backcountry Aerosports with a fleet of ultralight aircraft seven years ago. He can fly up to 2000 feet high but usually likes to cruise at six feet above the fields, at about 65 mph.

The Parkade, a structure some cities would have torn down, proudly serves shoppers today. Max Hartshorne photo.
The Parkade, a structure some cities would have torn down, proudly serves shoppers today.

It’s a motorcycle in the sky, a roaring rip-freakin amazing craft and to ride with him is to experience flight as if you had wings!

Denny built his own kit plane but at first, wasn’t allowed to take any passengers up. Laws changed, things developed, and today, you can pilot the little planes with a joyous passenger in the backseat.

After a training video and some pointers on getting in and out of the fragile aircraft, we took off. The runway is only about five feet wide, a gravel affair, but ample for the lift we needed. A couple of hundred feet of acceleration and the craft was airborne. WOW! Swooping and gliding like the wings were your own.

The little engine turns a propellor, and below that there’s a parachute. But it didn’t feel dangerous, just amazing. Like a motorcycle ride in the sky. George Jetson-esque!

Ultralight aircraft at Backcountry Aerosports.
Ultralight aircraft at Backcountry Aerosports.

The company headquarters offers a 360-degree view of The Prosser Butte, a high mesa with farm fields all around it. This is a low, flat summit… a beautiful place for riding so low to the Earth.

In the distance is Medical Lake, all of this was formed by glaciers rolling their terrible selves through and creating these flat areas beside the hills.

Fairchild Air Force Base an Anchor

Eastern Washington’s economy benefits from a large air force base, Fairchild AFB, that employs nearly 8000 people. There, ancient KC-135 refueling tankers practice take-offs and landings and are serviced. This is a strategic part of the US Army’s might since everything in the army needs gas to take off.

Native Tales

There’s a large casino owned by a local Indian tribe that gleams like Emerald City above the flat rolling plains of the region. I sat and had dinner next to the assistant GM of the Northern Quest Resort and Casino. Phil Haugen, a vigorous looking man who is enthusiastic about his job, was raised in the tribe and grew up poor, like most of his relatives.

Longbotham building, downtown Spokane.
Longbotham Building, downtown Spokane.

Haugen told me at dinner about how bad things were for the tribe in 1965. “There were only 125 members of the Kalispel tribe, one telephone, and only three houses had running water,” he said.

Today while the 415 Kalispels receive annual checks, there is plenty of hot water, and the housing is all new. Phil is proud to be one of the few tribe members to go to college and someday he may end up running this big place.

In 1998 the tribe almost declared bankruptcy; today they’re flush and are about to expand another 250,000 square feet into a conference center and other amenities to make the resort even larger.

As we toured the newly built hotel and looked at the open fields where the new buildings would go, I sensed some serious optimism here, these guys are going to make this great! The sky is the limit if you get enough gaming revenues. The reservation is 60 miles north, on 4800 acres.

Nursing students enjoy a taste of the product at Dry Fly Distilling Co., Spokane, Washington.
Nursing students enjoy a taste of the product at Dry Fly Distilling Co., Spokane, Washington.

We compared the Kalispel’s trickle of a windfall to the gusher that comes to Connecticut’s Pequots from Foxwoods and Mohigan Sun resorts.

“They get $12,000 a year apiece, but this year it may be going down,” he said. A tough thing that the two Native American tribes share is a scarily short life expectancy. People pass away in their 50s due to factors like diabetes, heart disease, liver problems and, for some, their hard-drinking ways.

At Masselows, the big restaurant anchoring the first-floor casino, Chef Scott Miller works hard to procure local food and the best salmon and keeps his revolving menu in tune with the seasons here.

He said that he spent time with tribal elders during the building of the restaurant and tries to incorporate some of the Native American traditions in the cooking. No, you don’t see many Native American dishes on most restaurant menus… something intriguing and new!

Bison Rib Eye

The bison rib eye was cooked to perfection, just crispy enough and the right shade of red. He also fried brussel sprout leaves, a curious item that’s quite tasty.

A Big Land

Spokane has about 300,000 residents; suburbs outside the city give the area a population of about half a million. There’s a lot of land and not a lot of people.

A famous crop here is hops, used to make beer. Mennonite farmers grow lots of hops; here the weather is perfect for this tough to grow crop, and it’s world-famous among brewers.

The city of Coeur d’Alene is close to Spokane, and here is where we discovered mountain climbing, Washington style. That is, we boarded our own 500 cc all-terrain vehicles and zoomed up a trail to the top… after all it was a mancation, right?

These four-stroke Polaris vehicles are so much fun, and even the steepest ruts seem buttery and like rolling over a pillow.

Trout Fishing: No bites, no worries.

Trout fishing: no bites but a great day out!
Trout fishing: no bites but a great day out!

We averaged about 25, but the thrill comes when you zzzzzzzoooom up to about 40, a burst of speed on the uphill incline that is just the rush the doctor ordered. Did I mention this was a mancation?

Yogi Naresh owns his own fleet of these ATVs, so he piloted the lead vehicle and we followed, actually speeding up to keep up with him. This is a great way to see a lot of the country and get a nice adrenaline rush at the same time.

Where to Stay

My friends who are long-time Spokaners have recommended the following hotels in the city:

The Oxford Suites
115 W North River Drive, Spokane, WA 99201

Right on the river, an indoor pool, individual apartments, free beer and wine, different sizes of rooms, most two-bedroom, two baths.

Davenport Hotel, Spokane.
Davenport Hotel, downtown Spokane.

The Davenport Hotel
10 South Post Street, Spokane, WA 99201
A distinguished downtown hotel with a great storied history. They have suites and very large regular rooms, about $159 a night. They also let guests use the Davenport town car, where a uniformed chauffeur will drive you around within a short radius of the city. Very old school.

The Montvale Hotel
West 1005 First Avenue,
Spokane, WA 99201

Near the Fox Theater. Old fashioned large rooms, in the entertainment district, near the Knitting Factory a famous music club.

Spokane Eats

Churchill Steak House
165 S. Post St.

Agave Latin Bistro
830 Sprague Ave.

Satellite Diner
425 W. Sprague

Breakfast and a beer
right downtown.

621 W. Mallon

The falls next to Clinkerdagger Restaurant, Spokane.
The falls next to Clinkerdagger Restaurant, Spokane.

Amazing menu! Varied and local.
Overlooking the falls

Masselow’s Restaurant at Northern Quest Resort and Casino
100 No. Hayford Rd.
Airway Heights, WA

Casino restaurant: Bison and filets are superb, and the chef is very conscious of seasonal and native American traditions in his menus. Big leather chairs make you feel like a bigshot. Staff super attentive… It’s a casino, remember?

Frank’s Diner
1516 W. 2nd Ave.

You may or may not want to sit next to the window where the creepy mannequin named Frank lurks with his lurid grin. It’s up to you. Generous portions, fattening yet comforting breakfasts… They have grits which I applaud any diner for!

Spokanites we talked to raved about Dave’s Pizza, all over the city, and Jack and Dan’s Tavern near Gonzaga University.

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