Exploring Northwest US and Canada: Week 4, Day 26, Spokane

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July 15th 2018
Published: July 15th 2018
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Salmon Chief sculpture Salmon Chief sculpture Salmon Chief sculpture

Spokane Tribal Gathering Place
8/5 After a wonderful dinner and great conversation, we went to bed and slept like babies. In the morning we woke to a delicious home cooked breakfast of Huckleberry pancakes. We watched hummingbirds line up for the feeders and deer in the meadows. The uninvited turkeys came later.

Our breakfast feeding frenzy over, we piled into Ellen and Jim’s car for a tour of Spokane. ‘Spokan Falls’ was the original name of the town, named in 1873 by James Nettle Glover after the Spokane Tribe. By 1891 an ‘e’ was added and the falls was dropped making it simply Spokane. The impressive Spokane Washington Water Power Company now called Avista Utilities, completed the Monroe Street Dam. We took the steps down to Spokane Vista, an impressive park and viewing spot of the powerful falls. There is an upper falls and a lower falls. We began on the lower portion in the Spokane Tribal Gathering Place. The Native American name for the Spokane Falls is “Stluputqu” meaning “swift water”. There was at one time a large settlement of Spokane People who fished the rivers. Salmon was a major resource for these people and during fish runs tribal families gathered around the falls to harvest and trade the fish. “Sometimes the fish were so thick that the rocks on the bottom of the river were not visible” said a sign near the river. Metal crafted sculptures of Native American Spokane People are found around the lower platform. One most impressive sculpture, created by “Smoker” Marchand, is the Salmon Chief sculpture of an Indian chief facing the falls holding up a large salmon.

The Spokane population, like many Native American populations, diminished from about 2,500 to about 700 estimated Indians in 1829, the decreased number guessed at by a Hudson Bay trader, after traders and settlers brought smallpox and other diseases that these people had not been previously exposed to. I remember reading about a fur trading post established by Finan McDonald on the Spokane River to trade with the local Indians. The trading post, now known as Spokane House, was the first European settlement of significance in Washington State. It was nice to see the art installations and parks set aside to honor these first American peoples.

We crossed over the Spokane Waterfall, the second largest urban waterfall in the country, on the 1911 Monroe Street Bridge providing us yet another view of the river and its falls. Jim told us that in 1974, Spokane hosted the first environmentally themed World’s Fair. Much of the Riverfront Park we had explored was developed to accommodate the fair. Because of this there are wonderful walking and biking paths with beautiful views connecting shopping and dining areas in the city. There was an option to “soak” below in the sprays from the falls (but we didn’t). It is here that you can really experience the force of the waters. Jim and Ellen recommended the book Cadillac Desert about the damning of the west. Another on my ever-lengthening book list!

Jim and Ellen had to more of their home town to share with us: their favorite local ski area. We left the heat of the city below and drove 26 miles northeast of Spokane to Mount Spokane State Park in the Selkirk Mountains. The smoky skies lingered below as we went up the winding forested drive to the top of Mount Spokane where, although the smoke lingered in the valley, we had clear views at the top with fresh clean mountain air to clear our lungs. From a height of 5883 feet at
Looking towards Idaho from Mt SpokaneLooking towards Idaho from Mt SpokaneLooking towards Idaho from Mt Spokane

The rocks below are covered with snow in winter and become their ski runs
the mountain top, the decreased visibility in the distance didn't allow for us to see the normal 100 mile views that included Coeur d’Alene, ID which reportedly you can see on a clear day. We explored the stone Vista House, constructed in 1933 by the CCC out of native granite. This building is now a day use facility by hikers and skiers. The stone structure, created with local materials, looks like it has always been a part of this mountain. From this viewpoint we looked down over the ski runs that Ellen and Jim use in the winter. I know that snow will cover the rocks during ski season, but I am an Eastern skier and I was pretty doubtful that snow would cover the enormous rocks on this ski run, especially knowing that in the east it is not uncommon to ski with some grass poking through the snow, especially late in the season. Ellen assured me that they get dumped with snow and no rocks would be visible. I was reluctant to leave the vistas and the cool 71 degree temperature at the top but it was lunch time and who am I to complain about eating?

We wound our way down mountain into the warmer valley to the Riblet Mansion at Arbor Crest Winery. Perched 450 feet high on a basalt cliff, the Riblet Mansion has commanding views of the Spokane River Valley. Royal Newton Riblet was a “creative” inventor and patented numerous devises, some of which had less market value like the square-wheel tractor and the pattern sprinkler system. When he built his Florentine-style mansion in the 1920s it was one of the “most wired homes in the nation”. Riblet and his wife Mildred invited over 7,000 visitors in the first eight years alone. Among some of the activities offered was to play with a life-sized checkerboard set after the ice cream social that was held in the open air stone gazebo.

The Riblet estate was turned into a winery in the early 1980s by Harold and Marcia Mielke who, after running a successful winery in California, relocated their operations to Spokane. Arbor Crest Wine Cellars is now a premier destination winery. In addition to their wonderful tasting room they serve lunch. We bought French bread, a Charcuterie platter, a fruit and cheese plate and a basil Caprese salad to pair with a lovely dry white Avincino Arbor Crest Wine (chosen with Jim’s expert knowledge of wines) to enjoy at the little table and chairs on the stone patio outside the Arbor Crest Tasting Room. What a wonderful way to spend a lovely afternoon. While we were eating, someone must have been married because we found a well dressed wedding party lining up for photos around the vine-covered mansion. After lunch we wandered around the gardens, and explored the views of the valley from the flower bedecked hillside under the stone gazebo from which you could barely make out the faint outlines of the mountains in the distance.

Back at Ellen and Jim’s to honor the fish that made Spokane what it is today, we enjoyed a delicious salmon on the grill, corn on the cob, salad and some of the best wine I ever tasted. After dinner we enjoyed fresh blueberry pie on the porch as we looked for deer in the meadow below. We are so lucky to have such good friends, good cooks, and especially someone who is an expert on wines!

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