Colfax, Washington

by Foster Church on June 14, 2011


Paragliding above the Palouse

Try to arrive in Colfax in late Spring or early summer when the wheat fields, deep green at this time of year,  billow across the landscape  like green velvet  comforters. In late afternoon, provided it’s not raining, drive out a few miles toward Spokane, and turn right at the sign that says Steptoe Butte. It’s a few miles down the road, a cone that looks volcanic, but isn’t. It rises 3,612 feet and offers one most stirring views in the northwest. Looking down from the heights, the hills stretc hgreen and lush in all directions and as you wind up the hill, you’ll see them from every angle. If there’s a breeze, you may see paragliders who spread their parafoils on the ground near the top of the mountain and wait for a breeze to lift them several thousand feet above the rolling fields. 


Main Street, Colfax

The Town: 

Colfax is a wheat town in the Palouse, the wheat basket of southeastern Washington, which produces huge crops of wheat and also lentils, chickpeas (garbanzo beans), green peas and barley. Its population has remained at or near 3,000 for years, and its fortunes go the way of the crops. Prices are relatively high now and the town feels if not prosperous, at least safe and comfortable. White settlers arrrived here in the late 1860s, and the town was incorporated in 1873 and became the county seat. For a small town, it has everything: a modern hospital, a weekly newspaper, good schools, two motels, one Mexican and two Chinese restaurants and six banks. 

Getting There: From Portland, take Interstate 84 east to where Washington 730brahcnes off near Boardman. Continue and proceed on Washi8ngton 12. 

Manning-Rye railroad bridge

A Drive in the Country

The countryside here is deceptive. It seems only wheat fields stretching to the horizon, but intriguing canyons appear unexpectedly;. Take Green Hollow Road out of town and turn left onto a dirt road that rises to a point overlooking the Palouse River, cutting through a lovely Valley. Spanning the river is the abandoned Manning-Rye railroad bridge, which is on the National Register of Historic Places. 

The Codger Pole

Things to Do: 

Main Street allows for a pleasant stroll, and for a break, stop at the Whitman County Library where the staff treats you as a valued customer and even offers coffee. Also on the street, you will see a 65-foot wooden shaft carved with the faces of older men. They call it the Codger Pole, and it’s a memorial to a football game , played in 1988 as a rematch by the same players who faced each other in a 1938 game. This is a public-spirited town, andanother way to spend an hour or so is to drop by a public meeting, such as Rotary or the Historic Preservation Commission. The weekly newspaper, the Whitman County Gazette, carries listings of the week’s happenings. You might also make an excursion to Palouse, 19 miles away, which is becoming an arts center. 

Pete Koerner at the Top Notch

Look this Person Up

For breakfast or lunch, you’ll want to stop at the Top Notch on Main Street. It’s a friendly little cafe that hasn’t changed much since it was founded in 1938. The current owner, who only recently arrived, is Pete Koerner, a hearty man who greets customers as they walk in , provided he can look up from the grill. He makes his hash browns by boiling potatoes until they are cooked but still firm, lets them sit for a day to dry out, and then fries them in a butter blend oil. 

Where to Stay: The Best Western Wheatland Inn is comfortable. The Siesta Motel is less polished but clean and much less expensive.

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