by Jeff Goulden
Contrary to popular belief, it doesn't rain all the time in Washington State. Indeed, there are several rain forests in the state, some of which get over 100 inches of rain each year. Seattle, as a point of reference gets an average 38 inches of annual precipitation. Spokane, in the eastern part of the state gets less than 17 inches.
There is a vast central region in Washington that receives less than 10 inches of annual precipitation and has sagebrush, cactus, lizards and even rattlesnakes. Average summer temperature is 84F but can easily top 100F. Why the big difference between this and Western Washington? The answer is in the the high Cascade range of mountains that divides the state and creates a rainshadow effect. West of the Cascades is generally cooler and sometimes cloudy. Summers east of the Cascades are generally dry and hot.
Does the arid climate really qualify Central Washington as a desert? You won't find Sahara type sand dunes or Saguaro Cactus. This is not the Mojave or Sonoran desert of the American Southwest. Not even close! Technically, Central Washington is a shrub steppe environment, dotted with sagebrush, layered with basalt from ancient volcanic flows and divided by dry coulees and grassland ridges. Seasonal creeks and waterfalls are not uncommon. It is cold in winter and hot in summer. Winter snowfall is relatively light, inviting not only the occasional hiker but an abundance of wildlife seeking refuge from the snowbound high Cascades.
Lest I forget to mention the views, they are simply stunning. In the Cascades one can hike miles uphill through dense forests to get to a viewpoint. In the desert the view is limitless. And if you work hard to reach a ridge-top, you can literally see forever.
Spring is a season of incomparable beauty in Central Washington. The desert comes to life with all manner of plants and animals. The temperatures are cool and comfortable, the aspen trees are leafing out and the hillsides are colorfully carpeted with Arrowleaf Balsamroot, Yellow Bell, Lupine, Yarrow and many other wildflowers. In April and May the streams are running, marmots are waking up from hibernation and the melody of birds fills the air.
Much of the Central Washington desert is publicly owned land administered by federal or state agencies. There are many maintained trails as well as off-trail hiking. Most trailheads require some sort of parking permit. State lands generally require a Discover Pass while some federal lands need a Golden Eagle or BLM Day Use Pass. Be sure to check a guidebook or the appropriate agency for specific hikes and the permit required.
An excellent resource for hiking in Central Washington is the Mountaineers' book "Best Desert Hikes in Washington" by Alan L. Bauer and Dan A. Nelson.
More pictures of this amazing part of Washington can be seen in my Washington State Desert Gallery at Istockphoto.com. Signed fine art prints from many of my photographs are available for purchase on Fine Art America. Be sure to enter discount code LFMNSE at checkout. For special offers and to follow my photographic journey please Join My Email List.
Jeff's Photo Blog
In this Photo Blog I have combined my 50 year passion for photography and my love of the natural world, creating a portfolio that reveals nature in its pure and simple beauty. I am pleased to share my passion with you through this blog.