Last week I got a crazy idea in my head that it would be great to bring friends along on more of our adventures. My kids are getting old enough that they are beginning to prefer friends to mom, and I thought it would help with the long drive. I really wanted to go see the flowers out in the desert, and the kids have fond memories of Wild Horse, so we planned a day to go out there, with each child allowed to bring one friend. I was surprised how easy it was for parents to surrender their children over to me so early in the morning for the whole day!
The drive over went pretty quickly, and we arrived to the Renewable Energy Center outside of Ellensburg/Kittitas in the warmth and sunshine of mid-morning. We saw birds and flowers on much of the drive, and the fragrance of the sagebrush was lovely when we got out of the car.
Flowers were in full bloom around the REC, including the hedgehog cactus, which was just opening up. We oohed and aahhed over the whoosh of the giant wind turbines. Even though we’ve been there a couple of times already, I still marvel at those machines. The kids were impressed, too.
There happened to be a school group touring Wild Horse when we got there, so it was a little overwhelming at first with activity. We checked out the exhibits and tried to get the attention of a staff member.
It took awhile for us to get our questions answered, but eventually we got our hiking permits and the brochure, had lunch, and were ready to go. We put on the sunscreen, sun hats and sun glasses, and tried to find the trail. We wandered the paths near the REC, which had lovely flower displays and interpretive signs.
Unfortunately, we couldn’t figure out where the main trail I had read about was. After wandering around awhile, and even making a phone call back to the REC, we gave up. We had no clue where the trail was. So I got online (thankfully I had cell service) and found a different nearby trail to go to.
Then, on our way down the hill back to the highway, we noticed a pullout and a trailhead. The sign was small and on the ground, but it looked like it would go, so we started off down the path.
One of the boys asked where we were headed; I told him we would just walk for a bit and see what we could see. I enjoyed the flowers in bloom – blues, purples, pinks, reds, whites, yellows – all close to the ground.
I got to watch a Brewer’s sparrow singing his little heart out from a sage bush (this was a new life bird for me). Meadowlarks sang their melodic call out in the distance. We found a large shoulder bone (perhaps from a cow?) and saw some butterflies. It was getting hot, though, so after hiking maybe 20-30 minutes, we took a break and then headed back to the car.
It was early enough in the afternoon by that point that I gave the kids a choice: head straight home, or go down to Wanapum SP to play and have dinner. They all voted to go to the State Park, so we drove down there.
There is a nice sandy beach on the Columbia River. The girls played there while the boys hung out in the grassy area and hid from each other in the brush. After resting a bit and identifying some of the birds (horned grebe and yellow-rumped Audubon’s warbler) I got the stove out and all the food and heated up some mac and cheese I had brought with. We ate and then headed back home into the sunset, arriving before bed time.
I learned a few things from this trip:
- Figure out where you are hiking first and don’t depend on the staff at the REC to tell you where to go. I don’t want to be critical of the staff, because they were very nice and gave great info about the wind facility; but they weren’t helpful about trails. There are no signs telling you where to hike, they didn’t have any maps there, and I couldn’t find any maps online either. I kind of got the feeling that they really didn’t want people hiking there. [If anyone knows which maps I can get next time, let me know!]
- If this doesn’t dissuade you, you need to get a free permit to park and recreate around the property. It is good for the season. You can drive the main Beacon Ridge Road through the farm without a permit.
- It completely changes the dynamic and feel of the group to bring other kids along. It’s not good or bad, it’s just different. Expect that and plan for it.
- The birds and flowers in the spring are spectacular here (actually I knew that already).
- Not everyone is interested in birds and flowers.
- I need to figure out better boundaries for tech use for kids on my trips.
- My kids actually don’t like to hike in the desert. They enjoy the flowers and the drive, but hiking in the glaring sun and heat with no shade and not that much to do where you go – that was the least fun part of the trip. This is our third or fourth time hiking in that general vicinity, and they wilted every time.
With all these seemingly mixed emotions, it was still a great trip. The kids got a good does of nature, we got some sun and warmth, and the kids had more fun than by themselves. It’s so gorgeous out there, and I’m happy we went.
If you go:
The Wild Horse Wind and Solar Facility and Renewable Energy Center is east of Ellensburg. There are signs from I-90 pointing you in the right direction, but it would be good to map it out ahead of time. The address for the REC is 25905 Vantage Highway, Ellensburg, WA 98926. The REC is open from 9-4 April through November. There are free public tours every day at 10:00 and 2:00. Wear closed toed shoes and be prepared to sign release forms. There are some neat displays about wind power, the turbines, the natural history of the area, and indigenous native populations. This coming Saturday, May 9, 2015, there will be public programs, wildflower walks, and tours at the facility [see link here]. Though you need a permit to park and hike away from the REC, you will not need any passes for visiting the Center itself.
Wanapum Recreational Area is located on the Columbia River at Vantage, east of Wild Horse. Camping and picnic areas are open year-round. There is a sandy beach for wading and swimming, and flush toilets. Access is from I-90 or from the Old Vantage Highway if you are coming from the Wind Farm. Consider a visit to the Ginkgo Petrified Forest trails and Interpretive Center (open by appointment only) if you’re in the area. You’ll need your state Discover Pass for these parks.