A shipping center for the wheat farms of eastern Washington, Coulee City (pop. 562) calls itself the “Friendliest Town in the West.” Despite this claim, there’s no more reason to stop now than there was during the pioneer days of the 1860s, when it was said that transfer times on stagecoaches and trains were arranged so that travelers were forced to spend the night in Coulee City, like it or not. If you find yourself here, you can choose from a pair of motels and three gas stations.

Northwest of Coulee City, the large Dry Falls Dam impounds Columbia River water to form Banks Lake; Hwy-155 runs along its sluggish shores on the way to the Grand Coulee Dam. Though you can see the coulee’s towering basalt walls from this road, to get a sense of what the Grand Coulee looked like before the dams were built, follow Hwy-17 four miles south from Coulee City to where the Dry Falls escarpment stands out as the most impressive reminder of the region’s tumultuous geology. Interpretive exhibits along the highway explain that during the last ice age, when the Columbia River flowed over the falls, this was the most powerful waterfall on the planet: twice as high as Niagara, and over three miles across.