Thursday, September 22, 2016

Wanapum & Ginkgo Petrified Forest State Parks

We made our way west from Coeur d’Alene, and the lush forests of Northern Idaho gave way to grasslands with scattered conifers.

A few miles farther on, we were in Western Washington and the roadsides became more arid, with clumps of sagebrush and sparse grasses.

Then, a few hours later, we rounded a curve in the road and before us were the basalt cliffs along the mighty Columbia River, which has been dammed a short distance downstream, forming Wanapum Reservoir.

We saw signs for the Ginkgo Petrified Forest State Park/Wanapum State Park and decided to check it out.

We often find that places we have been eagerly anticipating disappoint, and others we happen upon are real jewels.  This was one of those times.  Wanapum State Park is a small site that sits on the shores of the Columbia just above the dam.  It is truly an oasis in the desert.  All around us were sand and sagebrush, but the campsites in the park were lush and green.  As we drove around to select a campsite, several were “closed for irrigation” with sprinklers shooting streams of water onto the lawns. 

Our campsite was huge.  The yard sloped down to a bluff overlooking the Columbia.  The dogs relished their time beside the RV, as well as the opportunity to play in the water when we went for walks. (And if you want to see just how clear the water is, look at the picture of Colt below.)

We not only had a great campsite, but were treated to a lovely moonrise and a beautiful sunrise the next day. 

We decided to stay two days at Wanapum SP, and on Monday we visited the nearby Ginkgo Petrified Forest State Park.  The park is so named because of the petrified remains of the ginkgo trees found there.  The interpretive center tells that in Central and Eastern Washington’s prehistoric past, the area was wet and humid, consisting of swamps, shallow lakes and forests.  Many moisture-loving trees thrived there, until a volcanic fissure in Southeastern Washington sent molten lava gushing across the Columbia Plateau, leveling the landscape.  Thousands of downed, waterlogged trees were entombed in basalt and slowly turned into rock.  Among the trees that have been identified is the ginkgo, which is no longer found growing in the area.  The grounds of the interpretive center hold a number of examples of the petrified trees that have been found.

We walked the interpretive trails a few miles from the banks of the river, and were treated to sweeping views of the scablands landscape,

as well as the carefully preserved and protected trunks of various kinds of trees, including the rare ginkgo.

We had expected to find the ground littered with petrified wood, but it is all hiding below ground.  There are other treasures beside the trails, though.  Beautiful sagebrush and several kinds of native grasses and small flowers are everywhere.   

It’s a wild, forbidding landscape, but has a beauty all its own.

After two days at Wanapum SP, we enjoyed a nice hike and then set off for our next destination, Port Townsend, Washington.  A half-hour or so into our trip, we topped a hill and in the distance saw the snow-covered face of Mt. Rainer in the distance.

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