It was only three hours to my next destination, the Colville Reservation, but already late afternoon by the time I left Toppenish. I opted to take the 97, a small country road that wandered through the mountains, and paid for it by getting stuck behind an RV that was pulling a whole train of us behind it, all of us maxed out at forty-five miles an hour, unable to pass because of the curves and hills.
Then I took the got on the 2, driving through Entiat and Chelan, and stopped for gas in Brewster. I wanted to drive across the reservation, so went as far north as Omak where I picked up the 155 heading east.
The Colville Reservation is nearly three million acres, and twelve tribes make up the confederated tribes that live on the land. Like many of the Natives of the region, they lived a semi-nomadic existence before the arrival of the Europeans and Americans, migrating according to the seasons and cycles of nature. They got fish from the rivers. They gathered berries and hunted deer on the plateau. They went where they needed to and did what they had to do to survive.
Of the twelve tribes, the one group of outsiders was always the Nez Pearce who followed Chief Joseph. Originally from Wallowa Valley in Oregon, they were forced onto a reservation in Idaho that they fled from in 1877. Their hope was to join Sitting Bull in Canada, and they nearly made it, traveling 1,170 miles, all the while fighting off the U.S. Army, which was in hot pursuit.
Finally, only forty miles from the border, his people starving and freezing, Chief Joseph was forced to surrender. He did so on the condition that they be allowed to return to Idaho. Instead, they were shuffled from reservation to reservation, and finally ended up at the Coleville Reservation, having little in common with the tribes already there.
Nowadays, Chief Joseph is seen as a hero of the Indian Wars, admired for the resistance and ingenuity he and his followers displayed in the face of overwhelming force, as well as for his humanity and eloquence. He spoke honestly in defeat about not only his sorrow and loss, but also the need for there to be equality among all men.
Driving south on the 155, I passed Nespelem, where Chief Joseph is buried, and a rest area serves as a monument. There is a metal sculpture of him, balancing a peace pipe in his hand, as well as other sculptures, a warbonnet, a warrior on horseback, a woman behind, also on horseback, dragging a travois with a child perched on top. A plaque outside the bathrooms tells the story of Chief Joseph and his tribe.
My goal that day was to make it to the Grand Coulee Dam, and it was already nearing sunset by the time I did. As had become customary, I was leaving everything to chance, hoping another campsite would roll into view once I needed it. By now, there were three of us on the journey, myself, the rental car I’d dubbed the Mountain Bluebird, and the woman from Google Maps. I’d checked to see if she had a name, and discovered it was Karen. Karen it was then.
Google Maps located a campsite on the other side of the dam called the Spring Canyon Campground. I never would’ve found it on my own. There were no signs, nothing in my book of maps to indicate a campground anywhere in the vicinity. I pressed start and Karen began to guide me there. I followed River Drive and crossed the Grand Coulee Bridge. From there I took a left on the 155 and passed the visitor center, making another left on Grand Coulee Avenue, past hotels, an RV park, and churches. There was a long driveway to the campground that passed a cemetery. By the time I arrived, it was rapidly growing dark.
There were plenty of open spaces. That came as a relief. When I went to pay, however, I discovered that reservations were required, and they didn’t accept cash. Good God. What a hassle. I had two choices, either to pack it up and move on, or to stick it out and try to explain the situation if a ranger showed up.
I went with the latter but couldn’t rest easy that night. There were deer and quail right outside the door, but a fear had been planted in my mind. I was going to get busted, maybe get a fine or get kicked out in the middle of the night. Every time I heard a noise, I stiffened. Then the wind picked up and I was the only thing weighing my tent down. Finally, I just crashed out of exhaustion. The plan was to sneak out before the first light of dawn.