Potholes State Park
The Potholes area in Eastern Washington has always held an important spot in my heart. It symbolizes the beginning of spring as Tor and I would camp in the area mid-late March to see the Sandhill Cranes. It was one of our first camping trips together and a trip we repeated each year (until my work started interfering). We camping at the Potholes State Park back before all the hookup sites were installed and there were barely more than 20 spots scraped into the ground. We also camping near Uppper Goose Lake back when camping was allowed there and back when the Columbia National Wildlife Refuge had a campground on Soda Lake. All of that has changed now, probably for the best to protect wildlife and preserve the wildlife refuge. This year was our first year to return to camping in the Potholes area in nearly 10 years. We stayed at the Potholes State Park, still a nice campground when it remains mostly empty. I imagine it would get quite noise and busy when full in the summer. Early April was still a somewhat quiet time for the tent/non-hookup side of the campground at least. There was still plenty of motorboat noise in the morning as fishermen headed out on the reservoir, but there were also the more pleasant sounds of Red-winged Blackbirds, American Robins, and American Goldfinch. In the evening, long lines of Sandhill Cranes flew south toward to Columbia NWR, while the gulls flew the opposite direction to the reservoir.
While Potholes State Park doesn't host much in the way of hiking (1 measly "hiking trail" which is more like a network of criss-cross track through the sagebrush and along the reservoir, there are better hiking options on the nearby Columbia NWR. The Marsh, Crab Creek, and Rimrock Trail (and the formerly Frog Lake Trail, which was removed due to the lake draining away) are the most popular trails of the refuge. They also offer a great variety of habitats to traverse.
Having camped at Upper Goose Lake (when it was still legal), we are partial to meandering through the open grasslands and sage of the basal mesa - listening to the Western Meadowlarks, Say's Phoebes and Canyon Wrens sing their sweet melodies. Red-tailed Hawks wheeling overhead and Northern Harriers displaying their swoops and barrel rolls. Prairie Star and Yellowbells bloomed among the fields of dried tumble mustard and marked the beginning of the wildflower season.
There are plenty of small ponds and man-made lakes that support a wealth of waterfowl and wildlife throughout the refuge. Northern Shovelers, Common Mergansers, Great Egrets and American White Pelicans utilized these habitats in an otherwise harsh environment of sage and rock. Marsh Unit 1 is closed off to access for nesting Sandhill Cranes, but the overlook gives a great glimpse of the wildlife within (scope required).
Around Columbia NWR, there are many great birding spots. On this particular visit we stopped at the Audubon Trail on Dodson Road, which was relatively quiet, at Birder's Corner, where we were delighted to see Black-neck Stilts, the Para Ponds next to Othello, and Lower Crab Creek Road, where we saw a number of Loggerhead Shrikes and our first Western Kingbird of the year.
It was a great revisiting of a tradition long lost to the bustle of life. I hope to be able to return again in coming years.
Pictures (click on thumbnail to enlarge)