If you’re in the mood for a roller-coaster ride and can’t get to Silverwood Theme Park north of Coeur d’Alene, Idaho, the Waitsburg Loop may be just the ticket.
The amusement park engineered by Mother Nature is nearby and on roads less traveled. There are no inversions but plenty of inclines and swoops. Best of all, the cost is right: Free, except for gas and wear and tear on the car.
Looking for just such a thrill ride, wife Wonder and I head out Lower Waitsburg Road on a recent hazy day. We are not disappointed.
Within a couple miles Walla Walla has receded from the rear-view mirror and we are in the middle of what Wonder calls the “moguls,” the humps and bumps shaped like giant sand dunes. I half expect to see a camel on a ridge.
Today, the humps are intensively farmed for wheat by brave farmers with tractors and combines designed to handle extreme topography.
The fields lay fallow now. Winter wheat is starting to poke up as if a bald guy has applied Miracle-Gro.
The winter sun rides low in the sky, casting long and eerie shadows. Traffic is light. When we stop the car and get out, the only sound is the wind teasing dried grasses in roadside ditches.
Barns are a highlight. Some seem suited for haunted houses, boasting ample “air conditioning.” Others are in perfect repair. Most are painted red, adding a splash of color to an otherwise winter-weary landscape, as if a door-to-door salesman had come around offering a too-good-to-be-true deal.
In one draw, leafless trees raise their arms toward the sky as if under arrest by winter. Atop one tree, a silhouetted hawk surveys its kingdom — the buffet of the wild.
At one farm, black and white alpacas kick up their heels in a game of tag. Horses graze in a nearby pasture. Wheel tracks on the hills beyond of this past summer’s harvest create farm art. Or maybe those are skid marks.
At one high point, we stop to admire the view. Ridge after ridge recedes into the haze, darker to lighter, until reaching the brooding, majestic Blue Mountains.
Soon we are plummeting down a long hill, with sweeping views of the Touchet River Valley and beyond. At the bottom, we turn south toward Waitsburg. It’s a chance to stretch the legs, see downtown and get a leisurely meal.
Invigorated by the freezing fresh air, we head west on U.S. Highway 12.
Just out of town, we turn onto Middle Waitsburg Road for a long climb back to the hilltops.
Beyond the summit we swoop down again. Farms are cleverly hidden in the hollows. At one farm we stop to admire a pair of mules in their prime. Several horses approach the fence looking for a handout. We wish we had carried along a carrot to share with our newest, closest, wet-nose-iest equine friends.
We jump back in the car and continue the rollercoaster ride. Just over each crest, we swoop down through a hollow, dip and dive around sharp curves feeling the g-forces and, once on the flat, accelerate past more air-conditioned barns showing off their modeling skills.
Eventually, we are spit back onto the plains and pass the west end of the Walla Walla Regional Airport before again reaching civilization.
The Waitsburg loop offers a quick
getaway, whether after work or on a weekend — a non-stomach turning theme park crafted by nature so close to town, yet so far away.