DESPITE ITS ARID landscape, the area between Spokane and the Cascades is dotted with watery wonders. And while Washington is generally known for its natural beauty, a 54-mile drive from Soap Lake to Grand Coulee Dam along the Columbia River also shows off the area’s man-made might.
Begin by admiring the foamy shores of Soap Lake, an old resort town on a body of water known for its unusually high mineral content. Tourists by the trainload arrived in the early 1900s, seeking a soak in the sulfurous water and the reputed therapeutic benefits of its finely ground mud.
About five miles north, another naturally occurring formation is readily accessible from Highway 17: Lake Lenore Caves. The series of caverns, formed during the last Ice Age, were born when rushing floodwaters pulled rock right out of the basalt walls. Native Americans used these nooks as temporary shelters; now they are connected along a labyrinthine trail for hikers to explore.
Farther north along Highway 17, man-made marvels begin to appear in the form of Banks Lake, which was created after the construction of Grand Coulee Dam. This 27-mile-long reservoir covers what was once farmland but now serves as a great spot for water sports, fishing, and boating.
But the big spectacle here is Grand Coulee Dam itself, a massive undertaking by the Public Works Administration in the 1930s that is now the world’s fourth-largest hydroelectric dam. More than 5,000 feet wide and over 500 feet tall, it is larger than the Great Pyramid of Giza—and some argue it’s just as impressive an engineering feat. Tours of this still-operating facility begin from the visitor center, which tells the story behind its ambitious construction.
On the other side of the dam, Lake Roosevelt—named after the president responsible for its creation—stretches about 150 miles north to the Canadian border. Its more than 600 miles of shoreline offers an ideal opportunity to stretch your legs and marvel at the spectacular scenery.
> EAT B & B RESTAURANT, SOAP LAKE
To truly enjoy old-fashioned Soap Lake, pull up to this drive-in. It’s your typical car-hop fare (burgers, fries, and shakes), but it comes with a side of authenticity you’d have to drive hours to find elsewhere. 509-246-1231
> SEE GRAND COULEE DAM LASER LIGHT SHOW
Every night from Memorial Day to September 30, the dam’s massive electrical energy is harnessed for a bit of laser-light fun. The dazzling presentation projects images right onto the spillway, explaining how and why the massive structure was built. www.grandcouleedam.com
> PLAY HEALING WATER SPA, SOAP LAKE
Anyone can “take the waters” on the shores of Soap Lake, but hitting this spa puts you in the hands of experts who know just how to pamper you. With treatments ranging from simple mineral-water baths to full-body mud wraps, Healing Water rejuvenates and invigorates. www.healingwaterspa.com