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Posted: September 2, 2018

Around and up to ‘wow’ at Steptoe Butte

Road Trippin’ Washington

Over a few thousand year period at the end of the last ice age cataclysmic floods scoured across Northern Idaho and Washington to the Columbia Gorge and out into the Pacific Ocean.

It is believed several dozen towering floods, initiated by ice dams breaking from a glacier that held back glacial Lake Missoula near-about Hope, Idaho, formed the varied and beautiful landscapes of the Palouse Country of southeastern Washington, the Channeled Scablands from Spokane to the centre of the state and the Columbia River Gorge and Wallula Gap.

Few geological features withstood the awesome devastation of the floods, considered to possibly pack 10 times the flow power of all rivers in the world

But standing alone in the rolling Palouse Hills on the eastern edge of Washington is an exception. Steptoe Butte, a quartzite bluff, rises (3,612-feet above sea level) over a multi-coloured quilt of undulating loess that is now thriving farm country.

The 400-million-year-old butte contains some of the oldest rock in the Pacific Northwest, and marks a border of the original North American continent.

Steptoe Butte, located 19 km east of Colfax, has become an archetype for all isolated protrusions of bedrock, such as summits of hills or mountains, in lava flows have come to be called “steptoes.”

Now Steptoe Butte State Park, the site is now a 150-acre (61 ha) recreation area.

What makes it all the more unique is the drive to the top of the butte is a classic corkscrew format – around and around you go, tighter and tighter to the top.

Carrie was a light shade of green by the time we got to the top. Another woman we came across near the top seemed rather desperate for a bathroom!

At the top of the day-use park are displays and interpretive panels that explain the fascinating geology.

Mount Spokane, 70 miles to the north, is visible on a clear day.

Access Steptoe Butte via Washington State Highway 195 at Steptoe onto Scholz Road, which becomes Hume Road. Or from Highway 27 at Oakesdale onto Hume Road.

It is about 90 km from Spokane to Steptoe Butte, or about 45 km from the twin university cities of Pullman and Moscow (Id.).

Nearby attractions include the picturesque towns of Rosalia, Colfax and Palouse. The Snake River Canyon is accessible via Wawawai Road near Pullman. Pictured below, it is a must drive that takes you to Lewiston (Id.) and Clarkston.

Lead image: A view west from the top of Steptoe Butte.

Along with images of Steptoe Butte, the following video also features Rahm, Rosalia (pictured above), Palouse and the Snake River Canyon.

Photos and video by Carrie Schafer and Ian Cobb

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