High Desert Car Camping in Eastern Washington

An unplanned weekend away sees three new friends find respite along the Columbia River and at Palouse Falls

High Desert Car Camping in Eastern Washington


Miriam Subbiah


Miriam Subbiah


Canon 5D mkii



Miriam Subbiah is a Vermont-born photographer and creative director now living on the West Coast. Her work documents the environments and people around her. She is currently using every weekend to explore Washington, usually while wearing crazy patterns. 

This trip was unplanned. Casey, a friend I've made via Instagram, and I had hoped to go camping over a recent long weekend, but had to reschedule. Originally we were thinking Rainier National Park, but with the weather looking rainy (surprise), I suggested going over the pass to Central and Eastern Washington. And that was about it.

We said we'd leave around 6pm on Friday, and her friend Nicole decided to join too. One of them was bringing marshmallows, I was bringing my tent, and we might car camp. Or backpack. Actually, no one knew. We’d figure it out on the way.

Friday evening came, and Casey and Nicole picked me up before heading east out of Seattle on I-90. The sun faded and the sky erupted into a vivid sunset, complete with a view back on the Central Cascades and the endless grasslands rolling out in front of us. I thought we could camp along the Columbia River, somewhere near Mattawa, at a free campsite I had found online.

"We might car camp. Or backpack. Actually, no one knew. We’d figure it out on the way."

When we showed up, it was pitch black, our headlights only providing visibility a few feet off the road as the plains extended seemingly endlessly with little for the light to reflect off of. After a few back-and-forths past the location I thought the campsite should be, we ended up backtracking to Jackson Creek Fish Camp a few miles away. We set up the tent in the dark and and called it a night.

In the morning, we picked up gas station coffee and headed over to the White Bluffs in Hanford Reach National Monument. While we never made it to the actual bluffs, the desolate landscape was still striking, which we enjoyed and explored extensively on foot.

Early in the afternoon, we set out further west through back roads to Palouse Falls in the southeast corner of Washington state. This is a place I've wanted to visit for the entire three years I've lived in Washington, and I was thrilled that we felt like tacking it on to this meandering road trip.

When we arrived, the state park was packed, but luckily a hospitable group let us share their campsite in the corner of the small tree grove allotted for tents. We staked down the tent, better than I've ever done before, and set out to explore the falls and the Snake River oasis.

Day-old sunscreen caked my face, and I couldn't tell if I had a Chaco tan or was just covered in dirt. Either way, it was a great weekend.


Published 04-30-2018