Spokane Road Trip

A couple of months ago, I learned one of my favorite musicians, Ryan Bingham, was on a solo-acoustic tour and coming through town. I only go to a handful of concerts each year and this was one that I did not want to miss. Credit card in hand, I was ready to fork over whatever they were asking for tickets when I abruptly learned the Portland show was sold out. I looked at the next nearest city on the tour, Seattle, and learned that show was sold out as well. I proceeded to check every city left on the tour and they were also sold out, all except one: Spokane, Washington. I thought about it for half a second before pulling the trigger, buying the ticket, and committing myself to a Spokane road trip for the Thursday night concert.

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Lone tree overlooks Sprague Lake, Washington

Seeing as it was a 6-hour drive to Spokane, I figured it was best to make a long weekend out of it. After cashing in my travel points to cover a free 3-night stay at a hotel in Spokane Valley, I noticed that the venue where the concert was going to be was also hosting the World Tour of the Banff Mountain Film Festival the weekend I was in town. I reached out to a friend in Spokane to see if she and her husband would like to get together while I was in town. It turns out they were up for grabbing a coffee as well as joining me for one night of the film festival.


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Lake Coeur d’Alene, Idaho

So I had Thursday night and Friday covered with things to do. I then turned my thoughts to what natural areas there was to explore in the area. It didn’t take long for me to remember that Coeur d’Alene was very close by, an area that had made it onto my bucket list when I was driving cross country for my move from Madison, Wisconsin to Seattle, Washington in 2010. I was eager to finally have sufficient time to explore the area, albeit 8 years after discovering it. Finally, for Sunday, I planned to use the day driving back to Portland to explore a couple of state parks in Washington that had been on my travel list, one that I had stopped at very briefly a few years earlier on my Labor Day weekend road trip of 2015, and another one that I had only seen pictures of.

Gnarly tree at Lake Coeur d’Alene, Idaho

Fast forward to November 15th and Cole and I hit the road first thing in the morning. I had planned for us to make a stop at Moses Lake to stretch our legs and check out the sand dunes but a pounding headache derailed those plans and we settled for a quick stop at Sprague Lake Rest Area instead which offered a lovely view of a spectacular sunset. We arrived at our hotel in Spokane Valley around 4:00 PM and were delighted with a dramatic tale from the front desk clerk of a former guest and stolen TV. It quickly became apparent that this hotel experience was going to be…interesting. After unloading my luggage from the car and getting things put away in my room, Cole and I ran out to grab a quick dinner to bring back and enjoy in the room. I had a couple of hours to lounge before it was time to head to the concert. Parking was a bit harder than I anticipated for downtown Spokane but eventually, I settled on an overpriced parking lot so I wouldn’t miss the opening of the show. I’m happy to report that Ryan Bingham put on a spectacular event which was everything I had hoped it would be, complete with all the stories behind the music — something that has always been my favorite part of any kind of art form.

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View from Steptoe Butte State Park, Washington

Friday morning I slept in a bit but after a quick shower and walk for Cole, we headed over to my friend’s house. After checking out the spectacular view from their backyard deck, we decided to walk a mile or so through a nature preserve and park to a local coffee shop where we sat outside, sipped coffee, and enjoyed the sunny fall weather while catching up. After our fill of coffee, we started to walk back to their house, chatting more along the way. After a tour of their house and seeing some of their home projects I had only caught glimpses of on Instagram over the past year, Cole and I headed out for a quick drive to the top of Mt. Spokane. It was a perfect day for the beautiful and relaxed drive through meandering countryside scenery before beginning the winding ascent through the curvy mountain roads toward the top of the mountain. Unfortunately, the road that is needed to access the very top of the mountain was closed so we settled for a mid-level view off the mountain which was still pretty nice. Before long, we needed to head back to the hotel so I could drop Cole off and head over to the film festival. After dropping off Cole, I headed to the venue and joined my friends, who were saving me a seat in a very packed house. The films were all pretty good, exactly what I’ve come to expect year after year at this festival which I’ve attended every year since discovering it in 2014. There is always a film that makes you laugh, another that makes you cry, and one that makes you think.

The colorful, rolling landscape of wheat fields in Eastern Washington

Saturday I woke up early, eager to get to Coeur d’Alene. I parked the car at the City Park parking lot and proceeded to walk the beach with Cole. The sun was bright and the area was surprisingly desolate which made for a great start to the day. After my shoes had their fill of sand, we hopped back in the car and started our drive around the lake, keeping an eye out for the eagles we had learned were abundant at the time in the area. We did see a lot of eagles, unfortunately, mostly while driving so I didn’t get to take a lot of pictures of them. We did stop at several places around the lake to stretch our legs, explore, and photograph a bit. By the time the sun was beginning to set, I was wiped and ready to head back to the hotel. Once at the hotel, Cole and I spent our final night lounging in bed with hotel movies while what sounded like chaos ensued in the hallway from a boisterous group taking up several rooms who apparently decided to spill into the hallway space for several hours.

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Where the Palouse and Snake Rivers meet

I woke up at 5:00 AM Sunday, my back aching from the poor support of the hotel bed, and decided if I couldn’t sleep, that Cole and I were going to hit the road early. What started as a bit of a grumpy day for me soon became the beginning of an exciting day for photography. First, we caught a magnificent sunrise at a random dead-end road I found that just happened to overlook an entire valley that faced the direction in which the sun was soon to be making its appearance. After we were back on the road, within an hour I found myself surrounded and enamored with rolling, curvacious farmland, the terrain that I knew was going to make for spectacular scenery once atop Steptoe Butte. Trying not to get too sidetracked with the side roads of the landscape, we finally found ourselves winding up the spiraling road to the top of the Butte. The drive up lent a beautiful yet terrifying view of the area as far as the eye could see in all directions. The road was narrow, and the land steeply dropped off just over the edge, with no guard rails in site. It was overwhelmingly clear that one wrong move could prove fatal if I was not careful. Once at the top, I could breath easier, although I was afraid I might find myself like one of those cats that climbs a tree but finds themselves unable to climb back down. Lucky for me and Cole, that turned out not to be the case.

Wind turbines enveloped in the fog somewhere in Eastern Washington

After thoroughly freezing ourselves with the high wind and cool 27 degrees air, we started to make our way to Palouse Falls State Park for a more thorough look around than the first time I was there a few years ago. Along the way, I found so many cool roadside wonders to photograph from colorful wheat fields to wind turbines draped in fog. When we finally arrived at the park, we were happy to get out and hike around a bit, exploring all the views we reasonably could before we had to head home. I’m happy to report we did not run into any rattlesnakes and despite the large construction sign at the park entrance warning to stay away from cliff edges due to four people dying recently after falling into the strong currents of the river below and drowning, we managed to keep ourselves safe and in one piece. The drive home presented even more opportunities to photograph a few cool scenes along the way including one that turned out to be my new, most favorite photograph.

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Admiring the curves of the landscape in Eastern Washington

Cole and I arrived back in Portland around 7:30 that night. After unloading the car, and returning it to Enterprise, I grabbed a Lyft back home and quickly unpacked so I could begin sharing photos online from the trip. As soon as that was done, Cole and I called it a night and fell fast asleep. It was a great, but exhausting, trip. I was fortunate to have a short work week that next week due to the Thanksgiving holiday so the following 4-day weekend was earmarked for “rest and relaxation” on my calendar and that’s just what Cole and I did.


  1. Looks like a wonderful scenic road trip … excellent images! I especially like the first 2. I’ve been to Steptoe Butte in the late summer … interesting to see it in a different season.


    1. Thanks, Denise. I know what you mean. All the photos I had seen before going here showed the area carpeted in green in all directions. The bonus to going this time of year was having the entire park to myself, which made my time there a little more special and reflective.


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