“CAUTION: PRIMITIVE ROAD” When you see one of these warning signs in your travels through the Palouse, better take that “Caution” seriously.
The road will look something like the ones pictured here: dry Palouse clay dirt, often rutted and not infrequently littered with chunks of basalt large enough to tear up the bottom of a low-riding vehicle.
And if it rains? You’ll discover the phenomenon known as “Palouse Sucking Mud,” as I once did while hunting deer up in Green Hollow near Colfax. My station wagon got pulled into a mess of it and my hunting partner and I had to abandon the car for a couple of days until the road dried and we could rock it out of a deep rut. No fun, hiking across muddy stubble fields in the rain to the nearest farm house, over a mile away, looking like tramps, begging to use the phone to ask my compliant (if not wholly sympathetic) spouse to come pick us up and drive us home.
But I digress.
When the weather is dry and the roads passable — travel on them is forbidden between November and March — these primitive roads can lead an adventurous photographer to all sorts of wonderful opportunities: deserted farmsteads, buildings being reclaimed by weeds and critters, abandoned vehicles left to rust in the sun, and landscapes: sweeping seas of wheat and barley, lentils and garbanzos, alfalfa and canola, begging to be photographed, carefully and lovingly.
If you’re ready to answer the call of the back roads, arm yourself with a copy of Martha Mullen’s “Reflections on the Road” and a recent map of Whitman County (the 2013 update is available as a .pdf file from the Whitman County Clerk’s office – they can even email it to you), along with plenty of bottled water and road food, chart your course and begin your exploration. Make notes along the way, especially wherever you stop to take pictures; you’ll find them handy when you start going through all your photographs.
In future posts, I’ll be sharing some favorite drives provided by one of my favorite Palouse photographers. I invite you to bookmark this site, so that you can find it when the time comes for your Palouse photo safari. Good shootin’!