Explore Steptoe Butte
Washington › Steptoe Butte State Park
Added by Mark Handy
Breathtaking viewsA variety of landscapesRemote location with few peopleOpen roadsAmazing colors
To the layperson, the Palouse, an area that comprises some 4,000 square miles in parts of Washington and Idaho, looks to be rolling hills of grass. In fact, the Palouse is a complex geological wonder. And there is no better place to view the Palouse than from Steptoe Butte, which is located in the Steptoe Butte State Park in Washington (Whitman County).
The vast majority of what people see on the Palouse is not grass but rolling hills of wheat, lentils, barley, and peas. Deep underneath the soil lies basaltic rock that was created by volcanoes long since past. For a glimpse of what lies underneath, be sure to visit the Palouse Falls State Park, which is located about 70 miles southwest of Colfax, Washington.
In the meantime, what's above the basaltic rock is even more fascinating. The rolling hills of this farmland were not created from creeks and rivers but rather from the wind, which has swept silt into the region from huge dust storms during the past two million years. Today, the soil is considered some of the most fertile in the United States and in the world. Indeed, this region produces the most white winter wheat of any other place on Earth.
This fertile area is also a visual wonderland, especially for photographers. Perhaps one of the best places to capture its essence is from the top of Steptoe Butte. Beauty abounds for as far as the eye can see atop Steptoe Butte. Not surprisingly, it's probably one of the best locations to capture photographic images of the Palouse.
Steptoe Butte, which has an elevation of 3,612 feet, is some 1,000 feet above the rolling hills that you'll be able to view and photograph if you're near the top of the mountain. What's more, there are dozens and dozens of vantage points as you ascend the mountain, meaning that you will be able to photograph the Palouse from the north, south, east, and west. It's a true 360-degree photographic opportunity.
Once you have decided that you've taken is all that you want to see from Steptoe Butte, you can jump in a car and explore a variety of sights and scenes near the base of Steptoe Butte. From 100-year-old barns to colorful flower fields (canola fields are easily found during the spring), this area is a joy to explore. I love photographing the Palouse during the spring, when the wheat is emerald green, but there is great beauty in this area year round. During July and August, the fields turn gold. During the winter, the rolling hills are covered in snow.
Regardless of when you visit, you will probably have most of this place to yourself, or at least you will feel that way. The large area means that you are unlikely to see that many people exploring. There aren't many people on the roads and you're not likely to see more than a handful of photographers during any five-day period. Of course, Steptoe Butte is a popular area during parts of the year, so you'll have to share the mountain with others. Luckily it's big enough that you shouldn't have any problems taking in the breathtaking views or capturing images.
I encourage people to view the Palouse from Steptoe Butte but I also implore people to explore the entire region by car. There is no better way to get acquainted with this beautiful area of the United States.
- Long lenses (at least 200mm)
- Map and/or GPS
- Windbreaker (spring)
- Warm jacket (winter)
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