US Highway 2 Finale

Let me now get back to the events of Wednesday, the day we left Grand Coulee, crossed the Cascades, and finished our US-2 drive. The tail-end of the day provided us with an unusual challenge too, but that's another story which I'll get into in my next post.

We left the Grand Coulee area about 9am and headed back to Wilbur. In order to drive all of US-2 we had to get back the point where we got off... and that meant rolling about 20 miles eastward to Wilbur in order to preserve the objective.

Once pointed in the right direction again we came to Coulee City, the town on the south end of Banks Lake. There, a 2 mile long earthen dam was constructed across the Grand Coulee gorge to form the lake. Hwy 2 sits atop that dam... Banks Lake to the north, and Dry Falls to the south.

Dry Falls  (photo by Ikiwaner)
During the great prehistoric floods that created the landforms in this area, vast quantities of water would come rushing down Grand Coulee at speeds up to 60 miles per hour, through the area that's now Banks Lake, and over a waterfall so large it's considered the largest known waterfall to have ever existed on the planet -- at least 10 times larger than Niagara Falls. This happened dozens of times as the glaciers melted at the end of the last ice age. The water doesn't flow over the falls anymore, but the falls itself is still there... and immense 400 foot high scalloped precipice that stretches for more than 3 and a half miles.

Viewed from a pull-off along Hwy 2, it's a stunning sight to soak in. Because of it's size photos don't capture the essence of the experience. Memories will have to do.

Down into Moses Coulee
About 15 miles west of Dry Falls we suddenly dropped into another large canyon... remember, a "coulee" in this area. Although smaller than Grand Coulee, it still had us ooh-ing and aah-ing during the time it took for Hwy 2 to make it across. It's a different experience... starting at the top, dropping down to the floor of the coulee, and then climbing back out on the other side. It was the second highlight of the day... and we feel like we've just begun.

Dropping down to the Columbia River near Orondo
But less than 20 miles further on, just after passing through Waterville, we started down again, along the twisting walls of a steep canyon... dropping 2,000 feet in about 6 miles. We were dropping from the high plateau of central Washington down to the Columbia River at Orondo. The descent, controlled by pretty-much constant use of the bus-house's exhaust brake, was another scenic wonder we won't forget anytime soon. Highlight number three.

From Orondo US-2 follows the Columbia south for a few miles before turning westward again just before Wenatchee. This next leg of the drive... about 100 miles or so... would take us up and over the Cascade Mountains. Of note, we passed through the Bavarian-esque community of Leavenworth, where the confluence of Bavarian architecture and close steep mountains do make one feel like you might be in a mountain village in Southern Germany. Someday we'll stop back and explore the area more deeply.

Along US-2 on uphill run to Stevens Pass in the Cascades
The next hour or so was a lot of nose-high uphill driving... typical Cascades feel... an abundance of tall firs and pines... twisting road... lots of pull-offs to stop and absorb the view... and plenty of traffic too. At the "top" is Stevens Pass, 4,061 feet above sea level.

Stevens Pass
Historic sidebar: In February 1910, two Great Northern Railway trains were stuck in heavy snow at the Cascade Tunnel Station at Stevens pass... unable to move. They sat there for 6 days when an avalanche pushed both trains off the tracks and 150 feet down into the Tyee River Valley... buried. Known as the Wellington disaster, 96 people were killed making it one of the worst train disasters in American history.

Downhill from Stevens Pass
As the nose of the bus-house leveled at the apex of the pass, and then pointed downward, the exhaust brake came back on and remained so for much of the next 20 miles as we fell almost all of the 4,000 feet of elevation. At one point, one of the steepest portions of the descent... where the roadway curved to the left and the view straight ahead was open air and trees for a thousand feet straight down, Dar lost it... screamed, cried out... convinced of our imminent demise. The vertigo-driven attack passed but she'll always remember Stevens Pass... highlight number four for the day.

US-2's western terminus is the point where it joins I-5 in Everett, WA. From the beginning of our US-2 trek, in St. Ignace, MI., we've traveled almost every foot of it's 2,119 mile length. We've seen a large stretch of the USA along its shoulders... from the woods of Northern Michigan, the Lake Superior shoreline in Wisconsin, the lake country of Northern Minnesota, the rising waters of Devils Lake North Dakota, the booming oil industry and open range land of Northwest North Dakota and Eastern Montana, the looming Rocky Mountains and Glacier National Park, the forest and peaceful lakes of Northern Idaho, sparky and spunky Spokane, the vast gold-yellow wheat fields of Central Washington, and then today... with some of the most dramatic and breath-taking scenery this side of Glacier. It's been quite a trip... one we'll remember for as long as we live.

Giving the exhaust brake a "break" for a while...



Tom and Marci said…
Wow - I didn't realize that US-2 went that far across the country - we've only been on the Michigan portion! Looks like today's drive was exciting -- I would have been biting my nails the whole way! Beautiful, though . . .
We've put US2 on our "Must See" list. Had no idea it was so vast in the area it covers.

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