Spokane to Collins House
- Distance: 99 miles
- Routes: SR 195
- Estimated Driving time: 2 hours
When the first settlers arrived, they found the entire region covered with lush bunchgrass, waist high in places. Here Indian bands hunted, dug roots, and pastured their ponies. Quick to recognize the productivity of the soil, the newcomers staked claims, strung miles of barbed-wire fences, and set to work breaking the sod, in the meantime turning their cattle out on the range to fatten. Within a few years, thousands of acres had been planted to wheat and were producing exceptional yields.
Wheat continues to be the chief crop of the region. In the spring the entire countryside, seen from an eminence, is a checkerboard of green fields and dark brown squares of fallow land. Vagrant winds sweep over the hills toward the horizon, billowing the maturing grain like the waves of a heavy sea. By midsummer the wheat has ripened. Then the combines come, most of them tractor-operated, but a few still drawn by many teams of horses. Cutting wide swathes as they swing around the fields, they leave in their wake small piles of golden straw and dun-colored sacks of wheat. Seldom is a crop failure known, for the rainfall, although rarely more than 20 inches, comes in the fall and winter months when it is most needed, while the harvest months are almost always rainless.
The basis, however, for the productivity of this region is the soil. The top layer, averaging 10 to 12 inches, is rich brown silt, often exceedingly dark because of its humus content. Next is a lighter brown layer 30 to 40 inches deep. A third layer, from 50 to 75 feet in depth, is hardened light-yellow silt, or loess, which was deposited many thousands of years ago in lake bottoms. Apparently, all three are of the same material, differing only in hardness and in humus content. These layers rest upon a fourth layer of granite or basalt with no intervening material. For a long time geologists have puzzled over the mystery of how this Palouse soil was formed. One explanation was that the soil was decayed basalt. Today, opinion leans toward the theory that it was formed in the Pleistocene age by the depositing of wind-borne dust blown from arid to more humid regions, where it stuck. Whatever the origin of the famous Palouse, there can be no question as to the part it has played in the development of this section, nor about the urgency of checking the disastrous erosion which has already wrought great damage.