Follow the sun to Sun Lakes/Dry Falls

May 14, 2013

By Joe Grove


Weekend Wanderer set out mid-April for Sun Lakes/Dry Falls State Park, about a 200-mile drive from Issaquah. The clouds hung low over the mountains on Snoqualmie Pass, barely shielding their beauty, like the sheer nightgown of a bashful bride.

Somewhere near Easton, the sun began its struggle with the clouds to dominate the sky. It won east of Ellensburg.

The Soap Lake sculpture ‘Calling the Healing Waters’ is the center piece of the world’s largest human figure sundial.

The Soap Lake sculpture ‘Calling the Healing Waters’ is the center piece of the world’s largest human figure sundial.

Why Sun Lakes/Dry Falls State Park? Start with the name, sun, and add camping, swimming, fishing, golfing, sightseeing and a place to research your kid’s science project on Washington archeology.

Once you get beyond Cle Elum, fir and pine tree forests fade away, replaced with blooming sage brush and whirling windmill farms. Between Kittitas Valley and George, wind is more farmable than soil.

As you approach the Columbia River, follow the signage at Vantage to the Ginkgo Petrified Forest, where there are whole logs of petrified wood on display at the interpretive center and museum.

You can also view a stone wall of original native hieroglyphics. The area is rich with Native American history, and when the Wanapum Dam on the Columbia River was completed in 1963, much native archeology was flooded. These hieroglyphs were chipped from the cliffs and put into this wall.

At the Ginkgo Gem Shop, your kids can enjoy the fantastic dinosaur statues amid more logs of petrified wood.

Back to Interstate 90 and the challenge of the Vantage bridge, a bridge with a windsock to let you know what you are up against. If you drive an RV with a lot of surface to catch the wind, get ready for a blast.

Stunning sculptures

As you climb out of the Columbia Gorge, look at the ridge above you for the wild horse monument, “Grandfather Cuts Loose the Ponies,” a sculpture of 15 wild horses by David Govedare.

Leave I-90 at George and take state Highway 283 to Soap Lake. While passing through Soap Lake, noted for its mineral water baths, stop at the visitor center for pictures of the sculpture, “Calling the Healing Waters,” the world’s largest human-figure sundial, according to a brochure at the visitor center.

The sculpture is of a Native American and his maiden. The statue sits in the center of a sundial and his outstretched arm, clad with a large feathered wing, catches the sun’s shadow, which points to the appropriate post, marking the time of day.

Exit Soap Lake on state Highway 17. In about 20 miles, you will come to the entrance to Sun Lakes/Dry Falls State Park and Sun Lake Resort. The park and resort sit about a mile downhill from Highway 17. They are across the road from each other.

The resort is actually a private business on leased property from the park. Aside from a place to set up an RV or pitch a tent, the park has few amenities. The resort, on the other hand, has RV parking, cabins, cottages, mobile homes, tenting, a marina, a large swimming area, a miniature golf course and a store.

Adjacent to both facilities is the Vic Meyers nine-hole golf course. Vic Meyers was a former Washington state lieutenant governor, and his family donated the property for the park and golf course.

Two and a half miles away on a rough, dirt road is Dry Falls Lake, which is reserved for fly-fishing only, with no internal combustion motors allowed.

High on a cliff overlooking Dry Falls Lake and accessible from Highway 17 sits the park’s interpretive center. The sign at the center welcoming visitors reads, “These cliffs are the visible remnants of what was once the world’s largest waterfall. They bear stark witness to the tremendous power of catastrophic floods that swept over Eastern Washington at the end of the last ice age.”


Landscape of catastrophes

Park interpretive specialist Chris McCart said as many as 700 people a day stop at the center during the tourist season. He said the center has displays on the archeology, human archeology and paleontology, which tell the type of environment that was here in the past and how it has changed over time.

He said the thing that is the most difficult for visitors is to “get their heads around the idea of the magnitude of the flood that created Dry Falls. We are dealing with something that we don’t know anything about in today’s world. The landscape has been created by a lot of catastrophes.

“Along came the ice age about 20,000 years ago, and it was during that ice age when we had the great Missoula floods. It was not just one flood, but up to 100 floods that came through here with the magnitude of all the world’s rivers combined.”

McCart said the surrounding cliffs are 400 to 450 feet high, and when a surge of water came through, it could be another 400 feet above that.

“Every time a flood would come through, it would cut a little bit more,” he said. “We don’t deal on scales like that. It is hard for people to imagine how water could create such a great canyon. It is not necessarily the water itself, but the force of the water.”

McCart said the visitor center is where people stop to take pictures, view the scenery, look at the displays and use the restroom. This year, he said people will have one more option as Top Chef Concessions from Cle Elum will have a mobile food service set up on the site.

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