Sometimes locals say we live in a desert, but that's really not true. Spring is the time of year that illustrates best that we live in a region that is shrub-steppe instead. Shrub-steppe depicts an area with low rainfall and natural grassland. This type of region has sufficient moisture levels to support a cover of perennial grasses or shrubs. That, combined with the rich volcanic soil of southeastern Washington, creates ideal conditions for grazing or raising crops of dryland wheat. With the addition of irrigation water, orchards and other crops grow very well. A drive through the countryside is prettiest in April and May because of the vibrant green of new growth. When it starts getting hot, everything turns brown and beige instead.
Erosion during the Missoula Floods caused deep canyons in some parts of the landscape. It is not unusual to find flood-created coulees, cataracts, plunge pools, potholes, rock benches, buttes, and pinnacles in this part of our state. They have a unique beauty all their own.
As soon as the weather warms up each spring, it has become tradition that our family take a day trip to Palouse Falls. It involves a drive through flat, shrub-steppe lands, past wheat fields and through fields of cattle. Pretty farms and ranches dot the landscape. Eventually a small sign indicates a turn onto a dirt road. Washboarding through a cattle pasture is a bumpy experience! But it leads to a magnificent sight!
Out of nowhere a deep canyon appears and with it a beautiful waterfall! The Palouse River flows through the shrub-steppe and suddenly falls 198 feet to a basin below the canyon wall. A picture cannot do this waterfall justice! Humans who hike to its base (and fish along the pools shore) look like tiny dots from the observation area at the top of the cliff.
Mock orange and other flowering shrubs provided beauty and much contrast to the basalt rocks and grasses nearby.
We enjoyed viewing the falls, looking at marmots as they ate and played, and observing all the other humans who came to enjoy the view!
The view to the left, the falls. And if you look to the right, a canyon with the Palouse River winding along for four more miles where it joins the Snake River.
Here's another description of the falls. The writer who shares hiking information with others notes that the paved paths that lead to the observation site are appreciated by bull snakes and rattlers on a warm day. Yikes!
Yellow-bellied marmots thrive in their rocky homes between the safety fence and the edge of the cliff. They are quite immune to being bothered by humans, generally ignoring those who come to view them. The babies were especially cute and fun to observe!