Shortly after Susan and I toured Washington’s wine country, the area near Prosser, we needed to head home but figured we would explore a really unique part of Washington near the Columbia River.
We drove north along the river on Highway 243, crossing west on the I-90 Vantage bridge. Just over the bridge, we turned right heading north on Vantage Highway, which lead us towards a sleepy and somewhat mystical town of Vantage.
Vantage is situated adjacent to the Columbia River and the Priest Dam. Surround by stark barren hills and large canyons carved by the river, Vantage is a small town that feels a bit mysterious.
Susan and I made our way through Vantage, stopping to take a photo of a sign that told us they had been “expecting us”. I interpreted this sign as either very welcoming or a tad bit scary. Nonetheless, we drove on towards the nearby Ginkgo Petrified Forest. (Petrified wood was discovered in this area in the 1930s, which led to the creation of the Ginkgo Petrified Forest State Park).
On our way, we stopped briefly at a store that had a wide array of stones, quartz, and petrified wood of course and lots of knick-knacks.
After some serious browsing and the purchase of a few lovely petrified wood pieces, Susan and I took in the dinosaur wonderland outside the store. Well worth it, especially if you have kids.
After mugging for the camera a bit, we headed to the ranger station and the Ginkgo Petrified Forest. The ranger station, while old, was impressive in its collections of petrified wood specimens and the views of the Columbia River from the patio outside the ranger station are awesome. Now, what you are going to encounter is not really a forest per say, more of like a graveyard of petrified trees that have been enclosed by protective boxes, covered with metal grates. This may seem impersonal and perhaps a bit boring, but it’s not, I assure you.
The hike is very modest, a bit of climbing, zig zag trails atop barren rolling hills. The day we went it was quite windy, which I suspect is the case most days given the abundance of energy windmills located in this area.
As you ascend the hills on a well-groomed trail you begin to encounter the fossilized remains of a wide range of trees that once grew in this area. Each fossil is marked denoting the tree type and rough age of the tree. Some stumps are quite large and others are remnants.
We continued on the trail, weaving our way to most of the fossils, I think we missed two. During our time there, we were the only ones on the trail, which lead to a really peaceful walk back in time.
This is a great beginner trail and is well suited for parents wanting to get the kids hiking while learning a bit about prehistoric botany. One warning, because of the terrain, this area is prone to an assortment of snakes, in particular, the Western Rattlesnakes. Now, having grown up in an area similar to this, let me give you two tips before you avoid this hike because of snakes: first, if you hike this trail during the months of Dec-March, most snakes are hibernating. Second, when the temp exceeds 80 degrees, most snakes, including Rattlesnakes seek out cooler spots until nighttime. Lastly, though snakes don’t have ears, they are very good at sensing vibration. So, when I get to a part of the trail where the brush has really closed in, I make my feet a little heavier and give the ground an extra hard stomp. The snakes will sense this and scatter. Remember the old axiom, they are far more afraid of you than you are them.
Leaving the Petrified Forest on Vantage Highway, a desolate highway that runs parallel to I-90, you will soon come across rows and rows of massive windmills. Even from a distance, these enormous windmills are imposing and the sheer number of them is a pretty mesmerizing sight. As we drove and drove, the windmill fields continued along the hillside, dotting the landscape. It’s really quite an impressive sight if you have never seen it.
We ended up in Ellensburg and stopped for lunch at a really wonderful place, the Valley Cafe. I had a vegetarian sandwich which was incredible and Susan had the Penne Primavera. With original Art Deco decor from 1938, this places has loads of history and the town is really charming. We are excited to return for Ellensburg’s annual rodeo, which gets rave reviews around Washington State.