With the licence perhaps only a realtor (as was his profession) would dare employ, Seattle pioneer C. T. Conover is responsible for Washington state's nickname, The Evergreen State. It might look that way from the Emerald City, but as Christian and I raced along the Snake River Canyon west of Lewiston, there wasn't any green anywhere - just baked, brown, barren cliffs separating the churning white water from the indigo sky above.
From the Selkirks to the Snake
I'd always thought of Spokane as something of a hick town, a sprawling, strip-mall community, not much more than a motel stop on I-90. Then I read that it's the biggest city between Seattle and Minneapolis, which implies either that there's not much between Puget Sound and the Twin Cities, or that Spokane is more of a metropolis than I'd appreciated.
Founded in 1810 as a fur trading post under supervision of the North West Trading Company's David Thompson, "Spokan House" (the "e" was added in 1883) enjoyed early success because of its access to the Columbia River (via the Spokane River), and thus the Pacific. When the North West and Hudson Bay companies merged in 1821, the trading post was dismantled and moved to Kettle Falls.
In 1873, one James Glover, enchanted by the beauty of Spokane Falls, bought 158 acres that became downtown Spokane. The Falls tumble on in the heart of the city, providing a delightful environment for what is now Riverfront Park.
Like many western cities, Spokane's wealth came with the railway. Chosen as a principal stop on the Northern Pacific Railroad in 1881, it served the mines of northern Idaho. A devastating fire in 1889 encouraged the city to rebuild in brick and stone, and many of the grand buildings from that era still stand.
Elevating the railroad and moving it away from the waterfront allowed Spokane to host a world's fair in 1974 with the Falls as a backdrop.
Leaf 1: Into the Selkirks
Another of Eastern Washington's surprises is how hot it gets here in summer. It's mid-July as Christian and I spin toward Spokane on US 395, the temperature into the nineties, and the sun boiling us inside our riding gear. Though I'm able to keep my "knees in the breeze" behind the V-Strom's smaller fairing, Christian steamed in full leathers behind the capacious, wind-blocking bulk of a BMW K1200GT.
We join I-90 into Spokane. The elevated freeway skirts an impressive skyline of brick and stone civic buildings, classic hotels and stout churches, as solid and vigorous as the pioneer spirit that created them. We're staying at the Lusso in the heart of downtown Spokane, a short walk from Riverfront Park, and across the street from the rococo facades of the Davenport, the grand dame of Spokane hotels. Both of us are glad to cool off in the marble elegance of the Lusso's air-conditioned lobby.
Next day, Christian had other duties, so I set off on my own. I-90 and US 2 intersect in Spokane, and my first task is to tackle the stop-go traffic signal slog north on 2 to Eloika Lake Road. I'm heading for Loon Lake, which I find via Garden Spot Road, a succession of straight lines running around square fields of waving golden wheat. Loon Lake is famous for its old brick schoolhouse, and though I cruised many of the dirt side streets, all I find is a neat white-painted wooden church and a modern brick library. That aside, Loon Lake's cheery streets and tidy homes create an atmosphere of civic pride.
On the way north on 292, signs warn me to expect horse-drawn wagons (a nod to the local Amish community) though none appear. Beyond Springdale, the road winds through gentle, pine-lined hills. These are the southern foothills of the Selkirk Range, a string of snow-crusted mountains running more than 300 miles north into British Columbia. The winding two-laner spins through wooded passes and pine scent plays in my nostrils before the trees open out and the road swings down into each new valley. It's close to midday, and in spite of each climb, the sun remains fiercely hot.