Short trip west features lake, loads of history
When the temperatures around here creep toward the 90s and the air turns dry and dusty, people go “to the lake” and that’s exactly what this road trip is doing: It’s going to Lake Roosevelt.
Leave Spokane by taking U.S. Highway 2 west through Reardan and on to Davenport, Wash. Instead of immediately heading north on state Highway 25 to Lake Roosevelt and Fort Spokane – the ultimate destination of the trip – make a stop in Davenport and visit the historical museum.
It’s not often you see a 1906 jail cell, a collection of plateau Indian beadwork, mammoth bones and the most beautiful hand-sewn dresses and linens in the same museum, but that’s what the Lincoln County Historical Museum has to offer.
Tannis Jeschke is the director of the museum which focuses on the pioneers of Lincoln County.
“It was built by the farmers out here in 1974 or ’75. It was a really big museum at the time and had displays going to places all over the world,” Jeschke said. “The focus is on wheat and cattle, the farming that was going on out here. I’d say we have one of the biggest collections of antique farm equipment around here.”
The farm equipment is housed out back, which is where you’ll find the Selde Blacksmith Shop – a complete blacksmith shop that was picked up, transported and put back together at the museum.
There’s also a full-size wooden combine, of the kind that was pulled by a dozen horses and mules, and several plows as well as light buggies and horse drawn sleds.
Inside the museum a special exhibit is dedicated to legendary outlaw Harry Tracy, who committed suicide at the nearby Eddy Ranch when he was surrounded there in 1902. Tracy supposedly ran with the Butch Cassidy gang and among his many criminal exploits was a carefully planned escape from the Oregon State Penitentiary earlier that same year.
“We have his death mask,” said Jeschke. “Maybe that’s a little creepy, but it’s also very cool.”
The museum also has a huge collection of housewares, clothing and toys from pioneer times.
At the museum you’ll also find many historical photos from towns like Mohler, Reardan, Lamona, Odessa and Egypt.
“Egypt used to be a bustling little town with a doctor and many shops and houses,” Jeschke said, when asked for directions. “Now there’s a grain elevator, and the church.”
That beautiful little white church is on the road toward Lake Roosevelt. From the museum, hit Highway 2 again, travel east for a little bit and then take Highway 25 north toward Lake Roosevelt – there are plenty of signs, you can’t miss it.
This is one beautiful stretch of road that winds its way through meadows and wheat fields in the most picturesque manner, up and down little hills. You know you’re close to the Christ Lutheran Church of Egypt when you see the grain elevators. Slow down, the church driveway is coming up on your left.
“The Egypt church was built in 1906, and for some reason they turned it around in 1957,” said Jeschke. Today, it’s surrounded by fields on all sides and perfect spot for a quiet break.
Continue north on Highway 25, and you’ll hit Fort Spokane after just a few more miles. The visitor center is on the left, just before the road dips down toward the confluence of the Spokane and Columbia rivers.
According to the National Park Service, construction of the fort began in 1880 when it was a simple military camp. It was Commanding Officer General Nelson A. Miles who recommended the construction of a permanent post in 1881, and military decree named the post Fort Spokane in 1882. Over the next decade, more than a dozen buildings including barracks, stables and a hospital were erected.
Today, only a few buildings are left standing and the two you’ll see right away are the quartermaster stable from 1884 – a beautiful wood building – and the guardhouse from 1892. The guardhouse is now the visitor center and it just reopened with a brand new interpretive display. Keep in mind that there is very little shade at Fort Spokane, so visiting in the middle of the day, when it’s 90 degrees out, is not such a good idea.
The exhibit explains that soldiers stationed at Fort Spokane were there to keep peace and protect the rights of Native American tribes and settlers, but they didn’t see much action.
When the Spanish-American War broke out in 1898, the military pulled out of Fort Spokane and moved on to Fort Wright, near Spokane.
In 1900, the Fort Spokane Boarding School opened a much different chapter in local history books by enrolling more than 80 Native American children at the school – often against the will of the children and their families – to give them a “proper education.”
At one point, the boarding school had more than 200 students age 6 to 20. The new display at the guardhouse gives a stark account of what it was like to be a child, far away from your family, surrounded by a language and customs you didn’t understand. The boarding school closed in 1914.
Between 1914 and 1929, Fort Spokane was a tuberculosis sanatorium and a tribal hospital, before the grounds were abandoned.
The National Parks Department took over the grounds in 1960.
Today, the Fort Spokane grounds are simply stunning. There is a spectacular view of the Spokane and Columbia rivers looking west, and looking east, mountains and meadows stretch as far as you can see.
After walking the interpretive trail, continue north on Highway 25 and the Fort Spokane Campground is to your right, down by the river. On your left, just before the bridge over the Spokane River are a beach and a comfortable picnic site. Bring a lunch from home – there aren’t that many amenities up here.
Across the river, on the Spokane Indian Reservation, sits the Two Rivers Casino, which features great RV accommodations and everything else you expect from a casino.
There are dozens of campgrounds and boat launches in this area, tucked away on hillsides facing the rivers. Explore a few, like Porcupine Bay on the Spokane River, until you find a favorite. It is stunning country up here, and it’s just a little more than one hour away from downtown Spokane.
After a day of exploring and a dip, take the same road home – but add one more stop: In Reardan, stop at Dean’s, the drive-through on the north side of Highway 2, and order hamburgers and huckleberry milkshakes; it’s the perfect end to the day.
Sources: Publications by the National Parks Department, including the Sentinel Trail Guide for Fort Spokane.