Why stop at Frenchman’s Coulee on your road trip

frenhmans coulee aka frenchman hills near george washingtonFrenchman’s Coulee is a must-see on any Washington road trip. No matter whether you’re passing through Vantage on the way to Moses Lake, heading to or from a concert at the Gorge, driving the Grand Coulee stretch, or drooling over landscape photography. Actually, even if you hate landscape photography—go see it. It will take your breath away!

After exploring the Lower Grand Coulee area for a few days in a row, Frenchman’s Coulee seems of minor significance. In fact, my mom and I almost skipped it. But we decided to take a chance since we were passing right by the turn off. Upon entering the area, we gasped.

None of the coulees we had seen thus far had been so impressive from the first view. The coulee (or canyon, if you’re trying to picture it) just stretched on and on, forward and back and to the right and left.

And so we kept driving.

We came to a prime example of columnar basalt, something my mom had been trying to explain to me for our entire Central Washington road trip. Did I understand? Well, not until Frenchman’s Coulee. Here’s a photo to make it clearer.

This area is a hotspot for climbers. In fact, I saw two people climbing on one of the basalt columns.

I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again–What makes Frenchman’s Coulee so impressive is how far it stretches. It doesn’t just look like it does–it really does. It’s also extremely desert-looking, except for a lone trickling waterfall that you can just barely see in my photos.

Toto, we’re not in Washington anymore.

I sure didn’t feel like I was still in the Pacific Northwest! On this road trip, I’d already seen landscapes that reminded me of Utah, but Frenchman’s Coulee felt like Africa or Australia or something. Maybe it was the sage brush. (I googled it later, and sage brush is all over Africa’s desert and the Australian outback. Go figure. Must be hardy stuff.)

Frenchman’s Coulee somehow even had me imagining wild horses galloping through on the land below. In fact, I’ve learned since our road trip that the locals call the coulee “Frenchman Hills” and that back in the day, there were wild horses roaming freely there. Just how I imagined it would have been!

We drove to the end of the line where the road meets the deep blue waters of the Columbia River. From that point, you can see the bridge to Vantage, our next destination.

We had to head back from the dead end to get to the main road. Once we got close to the bridge. Once we got close, we saw a caution sign for “High Wind.” And oh man, was the wind HIGH at the Ginkgo Petrified Forest!

Head’s up: Discover Pass required. Also, the stinkiest bathroom ever is available about halfway down the road. BYOTP–Bring your own toilet paper.

Next time I visit: I want to get a closer look at that waterfall, perhaps in the winter or spring when the water-flow is heavier. Turns out there’s a trail I didn’t see when I was there. Maybe I’ll even camp out!

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