by Inlander Staff & r & & r & Best Places for a Sub-Par Experience & r & Golf is all about hushed tones (unless there's the quaffing of too much beer) and the kind of knit shirts we never wear. It's about stuffy memberships and boring stories touting mild accomplishments. Golf is not, in other words, a very Inlander sort of activity ... unless it's played at the odd little small town golf courses dotting the blue highways and back corners of the region, sheltering the beating heart of the game.
There, at No. 8 in Tekoa, outlined against the blue-gray October sky, is etched the indelible image of a farmer -- in stiff blue jeans, long-sleeved plaid shirt, cowboy boots and a big belt buckle -- sending divots of fertile earth mightily skyward.
Only at No. 9 at Ritzville -- adjacent to the high school sports field -- did a football coach yell at his players to take cover behind the blocking sleds when someone with a known slice teed up.
After shooting out of the rough at Bear Creek near Twisp, a red-tailed hawk dives to the spot you just vacated and sails off with a snake as big as your arm.
And only at St. John is "Heglar's Wheat Field" listed as, officially, out of bounds.
Plus it's cheap -- sometimes a matter of $12 in an envelope in an honor box. And if you want to hit every ball in your bag because it's a beautiful evening with shadows stretching across the Palouse? Enjoy. -- Kevin Taylor
Best Place for a Windblown Vision Quest & r & Generations ago, local tribes sent young adults to spend time alone atop the conical formation south of Spokane that's now known as Steptoe Butte. There, they would fast and commune with the spirits until receiving a guiding vision for the future. It's still a great place to feel like you can see the whole world while being intimately connected with the soil, the native plants and, yes, the Palouse wind.
It's also a great place for a geology lesson. The rocks on the 3,612-foot peak are far older than the surrounding basalt and loess that make up the rest of the Palouse. The cone is actually the top of a mountain that dates back to the Precambrian era, or more than 600 million years in the past. Contrast that to the basalt that covers much of Eastern Washington, which was formed from lava flows during the Miocene Epoch of the Tertiary Period (stick with me here) between 12 million and 25 million years ago. Successive flows of lava filled the valleys and covered all of the earlier rock surfaces with a solid rolling layer of basalt -- except for the very tops of the tallest mountains.
So, standing at the top of Steptoe Butte is placing your feet on some of the oldest rock on the planet. If that doesn't get the visions rolling, nothing will. -- Ann M. Colford
Best Kickoff to March Madness & r & All across the rural swaths of Washington, there are tiny high schools -- in the forests and the wheat fields -- where just enough kids scrape together to form their small-town basketball teams. Typically, the uniform shirts they pull on don't carry the name of the school. "It's the name of your town. It's where you're from," one such player explained many years ago. This added weight of identity and pride often makes the small-school state tournament -- an early March fixture in Spokane -- a surprisingly fierce pleasure to witness. It's not for money and it's not for fame. It's all about who you are. (KT)
Best Burger in the Shadow of a Grain Elevator & r & Sometimes the most unassuming places hold the best road food surprises. Along Highway 2 in Reardan, it's easy to overlook Dean's Drive-In, tucked in at the foot of the massive grain storage buildings of the Reardan Grain Growers. But overlooking it would be a mistake. The deluxe bacon cheeseburger is a top-notch blend of hot sizzling meat, gooey melted cheese and just enough lettuce and tomato to help one feel virtuous. For extra decadence points, top it off with a huckleberry shake -- small, medium or large, depending on how far over the top you want to go. Say "hi" to the regulars in feed caps for us. (AC)
Best Place To Say J & ouml;kulhlaup & r & Stand on the road near Stateline Speedway. Note the rounded hills to the north, and the rounded hills to the south. Realize you are standing in a gap two miles wide -- a gap punched out by runaway freight trains of floodwater that burst out of central Montana and roared all the way to the sea. This is where you get to appear erudite and use the Icelandic term describing a sudden outburst of glacial floodwater. One of the coolest things about living here is that cataclysmic events like the great Missoula Floods of 12,000 to 15,000 years ago left markings still visible today: the Purcell Trench at State Line, the channeled scablands to the west. Exploring these is pure time travel. (KT)
Best Wicked-Good Pizza West of the Hudson & r & When you've got a serious need for some real East Coast-style pizza and you're all out of frequent flyer miles, there's always Hope -- Idaho, that is. The uber-funky Ice House Pizzeria on Main Street in tiny Hope (pop. 80) has freshly baked focaccia bread, calzones and pizzas served whole or by the slice. You can also get sweet baked treats -- plus hats, scarves, beads and all manner of accessories. But the pizza is the thing: thick, molten cheese; fragrant, lightly spiced tomato sauce; yeasty crust that's not too thick, not too thin. This stuff is authentic enough to bring on a Boston accent. (AC)
Best Place to See the Earth Turn & r & By the side of the road around Othello, Wash., just at dusk at the end of March, if you look up, you can see long skeins of sandhill cranes - an ancient breed of birds - rippling their long wings against the sunset and filling your heart with haunting, eerie cries. The cranes are still doing what they've done for eons along the Pacific Flyway -- migrating to Alaska and Siberia to have their young and then fly back to California and Mexico. It's the great wheel, suddenly visible. (KT)
Best Place for Journalists to Go on a First Date & r & Nothing beats the romance and excitement of driving north -- way north -- to see the drug smuggling trails at the Canadian border beyond Bonners Ferry, Idaho. After an invigorating outing, happy scribes return to Bonners Ferry to discuss the ins and outs of B.C. Bud-smuggling over a hearty meal, delighting at the vistas of the Cabinet and Selkirk mountain ranges and the broad Kootenai River. Downtown is full of interesting shops, including Bonner Books and a low brick building that housed the Kootenai Tribe when it declared war on the United States in 1974. Plus a mystery: Who are all the scrubbed-looking women in long farm dresses and headscarves riding bicycles all over town? Get the scoop, cubby. (KT)
Best Foreign Country Within a Three-Hour Drive & r & On the Weather Channel, all the graphic reporting on their computerized maps -- temperature, precipitation, weather fronts -- ends at the 49th parallel. It's as if north of that line is terra incognita, uncharted territory beyond the knowledge of humankind. But that's just a lie foisted on an unsuspecting public. We're here to tell you, people, there's a whole other country up there called Canada, and they love it when Americans notice they're there. From Spokane, it's only about three hours to the nearest border crossing, then maybe an hour to either the scenic Creston Valley or to Nelson, where you can take a walking tour of sites from the 1987 movie Roxanne. The exchange rate still favors Americans, and their currency is darned pretty, too. (AC)
Best Place to Wish You Had Joined That Commune in Hamilton, Mont., After All & r & It's not just the smell of lavender, or the organic tofu burritos, or the chicks with armpit hair that radiates the earthy whiff of a better, saner, more holistic way to live. It's all of those things and the crafts and conversations and the chance meetings with old friends at the farmers' markets along U.S. Highway 95 at Prairie just north of Coeur d'Alene, and in downtown Sandpoint. It's easy to hit both on a single sunny, summer afternoon. We also recommend, though -- in the interest of spiritual feng shui -- stopping at the Sagle Flea Market (just south of Sandpoint on 95) for a completely different but equally fascinating experience. Think: samurai swords, carburetors and toasters. (KT)