This is not the grassland you seek

Traveling north of 60 …

Windows XP default screen entitled “Bliss”

I wanted to tell the long story of how I was first drawn to the scenes of green rolling grainfields of Washington State, but the words for this blog entry came very hard. Perhaps I was suffering a bit of intimidation after just reading some “Travels with Henry James”, who was arguably the best and most descriptive travel writer ever. But after 12 days of tweaking, it is time for me to “publish or perish”.

I only became aware in the last couple of years that this area is called the “The Palouse” and I figured I was one of just a few poor souls who didn’t know what it was called. However, I discovered I was not alone, so I will press on with my story.

I spent hours of my working life staring at a Microsoft Windows-based computer screen – one version (Windows XP) featured the background image of the beautiful rolling meadow above. I figured this was certainly Washington State but I wanted to know the exact location. I discovered that this scene, entitled “Bliss”, was not shot in Washington State at all but in Sonoma, California. Nevertheless, during my Web surfing for bucolic grasslands and meadows, I did finally discover the area and I knew that Marcy and I needed to go there.

Origins of the name “Palouse” are uncertain, but the story I like best is that French fur traders called this region of southeastern Washington, north-central Idaho and northeastern Oregon the “land with short and thick grass” – or pelouse (lawn) in French which later became “Palouse”.

We finally found our way here this month for a photoshoot, and Marcy discovered a great photography field workshop with Palouse Country Photo Tours led by Jack Lien. I would recommend that you don’t try to photograph the Palouse on your own. There are hundreds of miles of gravel roads in Whitman County and you will certainly never discover the essence of this place without wasting a lot of time just lost in the dust. But if you do find your way here, I think the signature place for pictures is Steptoe Butte, near the town of Colfax. The butte is a chunk of ancient quartzite that rises 1,000 feet above the surrounding countryside. Named for Colonel Edward Steptoe, the butte is now a state park with a narrow road circling the butte to the top. As the sun gets low, the hills of the Palouse cast shadows that produce incredible patterns of color and light showcased in the image below.

I hope that I have broken through this writers block and I will be able to produce some more posts from the huge stack of memories we are taking from this place …

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The Palouse area of eastern Washington State

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