I hear the name Skyrocket Hills and am immediately transfixed. I have to go there, and, of course, I expect fireworks.
The hills north of Prescott don’t disappoint.
Sure, there are no rockets bursting in the air, but these are some of the steepest, harvested wheat fields in a Palouse known for its flamboyant topography. The few, the brave combine jockeys have to be masters at their craft to bring in this harvest.
Gazing at some of these 40% grades makes me happy for office work, where about the most serious injury is a paper cut.
I am driving Smith Springs Road on a recent Saturday when I become involved in a strange, slow-driving competition.
Ask Wonder, my wife: I am the prince of slow drivers. I don’t get passed by semi-trucks on the interstate like my friend, Bill, the true king, but I do not set any speed records. I like to dawdle.
Wonder, meanwhile, won accolades in high school for her lead foot, back in the days of muscle cars that could be heard in the next county. If we want to go anywhere in a hurry, she drives.
Today, I am not in a hurry.
An elderly couple ahead of me is in even less of a hurry. Occupants of the only other car on the road this day, they are going 20 mph. I do not want to tailgate. As there are few opportunities to pass, I pull over to take a picture. Then quickly I catch them again. Now they are going 10 mph. I pull over for another picture. I don’t want to interrupt their serenity.
Soon I catch up to them again. They are going 5 mph.
Then, suddenly, they stop in the middle of the road. I stop behind them because there is a double yellow line designating no passing, and I am the prince of slow drivers. They stay stopped. I wait. They wait.
Finally, looking far enough ahead to pass a stationary vehicle safely, I accelerate to 5 mph and crawl by.
I am sad to no longer be the prince of slow drivers, and to know that Bill is no longer the king. I am happy with driving about 30 mph through the hills so I don’t miss any spectacular scenery, which is abundant. If a local drives up behind me, I pull over and let them pass.
Today locals are few. Farmsteads are even fewer. Yet hawks are abundant. They perch on fence posts and soar up toward the altocumulus clouds that decorate the sky.
Hills are stacked on hills, rising ever higher.
The rambling road goes over passes probably 1,000 feet higher in elevation than Walla Walla. Panoramic views show a wind-swept country basking in slanting rays of winter sun. Shadows play over the hillsides, and “farm art” abounds.
It’s not a long drive, but side roads are plentiful, and if you have time, plenty of wide open spaces await exploration.
I take Piper Canyon Road back to state Route 124, then catch state Route 125 for the return trip to Walla Walla. Only when about 2 miles north of town do I again start seeing people and vehicles.
The Skyrocket Hills drive is a fine escape from the hubbub of town to a land where people are scarce, combine drivers are brave, hills are statuesque and wheat is king.