Editor’s note: Recent flooding in the Walla Walla Valley led to multiple road closures in the region, including some of the roads mentioned in this story. Proceed with caution.
I grew up in a box canyon on a road to nowhere. Ever since, I have enjoyed exploring dead-end roads.
So when fog spreads its tendrils in the Walla Walla Valley I have a hankering to find a dead-end road that will lead me to the sun.
Couse Creek Road, which climbs the hills near Milton-Freewater, seems a good candidate.
To get there, I drive to the south end of town, turn east on Walla Walla River Road and go several miles before turning southeast on Couse Creek Road. I cross the river at Marie Dorion Park, home to the original Milton Power Plant. It’s a fine place to explore and climb the hill to the memorial marker for the view up the recently flooded canyon.
This day, I drive on and begin climbing the foothills of the Blue Mountains. Eventually, I emerge from the fog into brilliant sunshine. A kestrel on a power line salutes the orb, then dives off for a low-elevation survey of the buffet line.
It’s late winter. The sun is transmitting little warmth as it paints the landscape with shadows.
Farther along, a pair of horses stand on a ridgetop, seemingly in meditation. The road is their TV and it plays only one channel.
I stop the car and get out. A raw wind whooshes down the draw rattling skeleton trees. Sumac lining the road shivers. Patches of teasel dance to the wind’s fast-paced tune.
Shivering, I return to the car. The road meanders up a draw. Gold hills wearing snowy necklaces stretch their arms to the sun. Wheat fields climb to lofty, sun-splashed summits.
Free-roaming dogs show interest as I go by but deem my car unworthy of a chase. Many canines roam here, but none strays far from headquarters this day.
Turn around wherever you like. The modest road eventually turns to gravel and after two miles dead-ends at a ranch where rolling hills sweep up to pine-lined ridges.
As I return to civilization, I again dive into the fog, which seems to have been awakened from its nap in the lower valley but is slow to leave its bed.
My thoughts return to dead-end roads and growing up. I remember Grandma pushing back a curtain to peer out the window at traffic, albeit rare four miles up a gravel road and a mile from the dead-end. Most times, in a few minutes, we’d see the car, having turned around at the dead-end and now returning to the nearby city.
We were the spectators then.
On Couse Creek Road, I am the main attraction.