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Potholes SP central WA desert - 2 stars, maybe

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The area is in the heart of the Scablands of central Washington and an oasis for migratory birds. Potholes Coulee (NOT my picture!)... this area gets 8” of rain, so without irrigation there would be nothing here but sagebrush and rattle snakes:


This is a typical WA state park, nicely laid out, over crowded and a little seedy because of long term lack of funding. We booked three nights ($35 full hookup, including sewer and decent 4 mbps camp wifi). There are primitive sites available but they are tightly packed, dusty, close to the very busy boat launch, and close to marshland (bugs and ticks). The CG swarms with families on the weekends, and lesser numbers of fishermen mid week. The lake is stocked with various game fish, and the area is crowded with fishing resorts. Many primitive camping spots like BLM and Dept of Wildlife are still shut down due to Covid-19, so we picked this location so we could explore the nearby wildlife refuges, looking especially for migrating Sandhill Cranes.


Fishing: https://wdfw.wa.gov/fishing/locations/lowland-lakes/potholes-reservoir. You can rough camp at any of the unimproved boat ramps, but they tend to be close to busy roads and crowded with fish folk. Not super relaxing, but free. Or you can book a spot at a number of RV resorts. There are a dozen or so rough water access points in the surrounding wildlife refuges, they tend to be very lightly used by fishermen with very small craft, and rather remote.

A lively ORV area is located at the north end of the reservoir close to the city of Moses Lake, much of it is off limits during bird nesting season, but from July through September it is wide open sand paddle mayhem. If you want to tool around in your 4wd truck, air down and be sure to wear an appropriate flag if you get off the main routes..... https://www.grantcountywa.gov/SHERIFF/SpecOps/ORV/


Thirsday night the park was half full and dead quiet, by Friday night it had filled up and hordes of young people circulated on ebikes and screamed at each other. Arriving parents tooted their ahoohgah or locomotive airhorns (!!!) to announce their arrival, and set up their party spots. Social distancing and masks were notably absent.


We spent a couple of mornings looking for birds and wandering the isolated and rough gravel roads and sandy tracks. No camping allowed in any of the cool remote spots....



We had our two labradoodles along, usually they stay at home. We discovered a vast number of juvenile ticks on them after one hike along a marshy area.... Oh joy.

My newly installed iPad Mini BSMS aka battery/ solar monitoring station worked great, but it definitely needed to be powered down at night:


This is not turning out to be the greatest of trips, but I really enjoy driving the remote back country. The higher spots, such as lookout towers, are still snowed in under many feet, so a desert destination works best this early in the season.

John Davies

Spokane WA


Edited by John E Davies
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We visited the Washington Scablands, pre-Covid, in 2019.  Our interest in the historic Missoula Flood prompted our visit (Google Harlen Bretz).  We took a roundabout route from Oregon, north into the Yakima Valley, then NE into the Grand Coulee area, spending several days at Steamboat Rock SP hiking (Steamboat Rock and the Northup Canyon), biking (there are paved bike paths connecting the different areas of the campground), and kayaking.  It's a beautiful park situated on Banks Lake in the Coulee just below the Grand Coulee Dam; the campsites are irrigated lawns and very spacious.  There are three areas of campsites, connected by paved paths.  Two have plenty of trees for shade; the other is more open.

I give the park 5-stars!  From there we went north to the dam and circled back to return south to Oregon along the east side of the Coulee.

This entire area is full of unique and stunning geologic features, if you enjoy that sort of thing.  On the return trip we stopped at the amazing Palouse Falls.  We hope to return, this year, to the more eastern portion of the Scablands - the Palouse, on our way north to Idaho and Montana - this time with our Ollie!



Steamboat Rock SP.JPG

We were there the end of September, middle of the week.  As you can see, it wasn't crowded and the weather was gorgeous.


A view of the campgrounds from atop Steamboat Rock.



We had some amazing sunsets just outside our campsite

Edited by Ray and Susan Huff
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Ray and Susan Huff

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