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Washington Voices

Grotto, cabins near Newport evoke settlers

Thu., Aug. 26, 2010

Inside the Manresa Grotto a stone altar still stands in the cool shade of the huge rock wall. The ceiling is pitched high above as tall as in any church, and the view through the huge opening is sweeping over the treetops, the Pend Oreille River and the Kalispel Indian Reservation.

The Manresa Grotto is located just north of the tribal headquarters on the Kalispel Reservation in Usk, Wash., and once you sit there for a bit it’s easy to understand why people have worshipped there for generations. As you walk up the dusty little trail off LeClerc Road, the coolness from the cave is the first thing you notice, like a cold draft around your legs. The cave is suspended between the road below, the mountain behind, the sky above and the mighty view of the land to the south.

The sign at the parking lot reads “a beautiful grotto exists,” and that’s absolutely true.

April Pierre, spokeswoman for the Kalispel Tribe, writes in an e-mail that the caves have been used for thousands of years.

“They are the site of the first St. Ignatius Mission and Catholic Church with Father Desmet and they are a focal point for the reservation,” Pierre writes. “The Tribe continues to hold Mass there at least once a year and the Manresa Grotto is on the National Register of Historic Places.”

The grotto was the northernmost point on this road trip, which started out heading north through Newport. To get to the Manresa Grotto and the Kalispel Reservation, you could take Highway 20 north to Usk and then cross the river there, but the bridge is currently under construction, so stay on Highway 2 through Newport and use LeClerc Road, the first left on the north side of the Pend Oreille River, instead. That drive is gorgeous as it continues north along the river. Stop at Pioneer Park – a great campsite right on the river – and unwrap your picnic lunch before you continue north.

Once on the reservation, you can’t miss the Camas Center for Community Wellness, a 2-year-old facility that looks much like the new Y in Spokane. Pools and gym equipment are available for the local community, and the center also features a dental and medical clinic, an early learning center, meeting rooms and a great cafe.

Just south of the center is another attraction you don’t want to miss: buffalo. The tribe runs a pretty big herd of buffalo behind a long fence on the reservation.

So spend some time watching the herd from the road or from the powwow grounds farther south. It’s an easy way to get up close to the animals.

Once you are done exploring the reservation, return to Newport where there is plenty to do. One great lunch or dinner spot is Kelly’s Restaurant and Lounge. This family-friendly restaurant was established in 1894 and is one of the oldest businesses in Newport as well as the second oldest bar in Washington. The menu tells a story about a “tame” bear that was kept in cage out back many years ago. If anyone over-imbibed at the bar in what was then a rough-and-tumble logging town, he was put in the cage to wake up next to the bear – to the great entertainment of those not passed out.

Almost kitty-corner from Kelly’s, you’ll find Owen Grocery and Deli, which features a soda fountain and the most delicious huckleberry ice cream, so leave room for dessert.

It’s also at this end of town that you’ll find the Pend Oreille County Historical Society and Museum.

The museum features a collection of local historical pictures – including one from the Manresa Grotto – and lots of toys, furniture, clothing and paintings. Yet it’s the outside exhibit that you don’t want to miss: on the museum grounds is a collection of more than half a dozen original pioneer cabins.

You’ll find the Clair Howe Schoolhouse, complete with student desks, a blackboard and books. There’s a hunter’s cabin and a settler’s log cabin, as well as an ice house. Museum visitors can walk into the cabins and look around, giving everyone a feel for how small these dwellings really were. Children especially would get a kick out of these little cabins, many of which are no bigger than a typical bedroom in a modern house.

This is the last Stay and Play story for this summer. Find past Stay and Play features (including the trips from 2008) at sections/stay-and-play.

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