Around the World... One Journey at a Time. Around the World... One Journey at a Time.

Glacier N.P. & Pacific Northwest

by Kathy 11. February 2011 16:58

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Washington: The Omak Stampede

[Note:  This story continues our journey home from Glacier National Park in August 2010.]

Leaving the Spokane area of eastern Washington, we traveled northwest, winding along 2-lane roads to reach the small town of Omak. We were there to celebrate the annual Omak Stampede and witness the famous “Suicide Race.”

Before reaching Omak, however, we stopped at the Grand Coulee Dam—the largest irrigation, flood control and hydroelectric dam on the Columbia River:

The visitor’s center was built to resemble a large generator rotor:

The dam is touted as the “cornerstone” of the hydroelectric power system for the Pacific Northwest. During peak demand periods, it can generate at full capacity to meet the power needs of Oregon and Washington residents.

Sebastian and Genevieve had fun playing with the interactive exhibit that allowed them to crank a handle and send “electricity” to a miniature house.

The Columbia River had to be diverted while the dam was built. Divers played a critical role in installing the temporary diversion dams.  One of the diving suits was on display; it was made of three layers of canvas, covered by two layers of rubber, and weighed 40 pounds--quite different than the lightweight gear that exists today! Can you find Genevieve in the photo below?

The diving helmet alone weighed 80 pounds (more than Genevieve)!

Construction of the Coulee Dam provided work to thousands of jobless families during the Depression, controlled downstream flooding, provided power to communities, and allowed farmers to have a reliable water supply.

However, the dam also had a negative impact on the Native Americans in the area. While Native Americans have lived in this area for thousands of years, the dam was not built for their benefit—instead, the focus was on helping the newly arrived homesteaders. The local tribes lost 20,000 acres of land as well as their ability to practice their cultural traditions and livelihood as fisherman. The dam blocked the migration of salmon and other fish that supplied food to the tribes living upstream, all the way into Canada.

Displaying his art at the visitor’s center was John Grant, a member of the Colville Confederated Tribes.

A man of few words, he said that he was four years old when the dam construction began, so he does not remember much about what life was like before the dam.

Continuing north, we crossed the Columbia River Bridge, which was built as part of the dam project.

The steel cantilever frame is typical of 1930's design, and the bridge is listed on the National Register of Historic Places

A view of the dam from the bridge:

Entering the Colville Indian Reservation:

The blue of the Columbia River contrasted with the dry golden hills:

On the reservation was the Chief Joseph Rest Area:

Some exhibits on the front of the building told the story of Chief Joseph, who was a leader of the Nez-Pierce tribe during a dark part of U.S. history.

The Nez-Pierce people had considered the northeastern corner of Oregon to be part of their homeland for thousands of years. This ownership was affirmed by the U.S. in an 1855 treaty. However, more and more European-American settlers kept encroaching upon this land, so the U.S. “renegotiated” the treaty eight years later and took away 90% of the Nez-Pierce land. Even that wasn’t enough, however; in 1877, a U.S. general ordered that the peaceful Nez-Pierce be moved from their homeland to a reservation in Idaho.

Angry about the forced relocation, a few of the young Nez-Pierce men attacked and killed several settlers. Pursued by the U.S. military, over 800 men, women, and children of the Nez-Pierce tribe fled toward Canada. After traveling 1800 miles, under grueling conditions, the band was finally surrounded by U.S. soldiers when they were only forty miles from the border. Enduring five days of freezing temperatures, canon fire, and lack of food, Chief Joseph ultimately agreed to surrender to save the rest of his people. (Some did not trust the U.S. to honor any agreements, so they fled at night into Canada.)

Chief Joseph and his band were exiled to Kansas, where they endured harsh conditions. Many died. Chief Joseph was tireless in his efforts to speak out about the ongoing injustice and seek redress through a return to their homeland. Finally, after much public pressure, the U.S. government allowed the 268 survivors to return to the Northwest in 1885, but not to their homeland. Some were sent to the Idaho reservation. Chief Joseph and others who refused to renounce their traditional religious beliefs were sent to the Colville reservation. Chief Joseph died here in 1904.

Here is a close-up of the steel memorial, sculpted by artist Smoker Marchand:

The men’s restroom door:

The women’s:

Continuing on, we cleared a mountain pass and slipped down into a wide valley. We could see Omak spread out across the river, with the red roof and white tipis from the Indian Encampment and Pow Wow that coincides annually with the Stampede rodeo:

The Indian Encampment is sponsored by the Colville Confederated Tribes, and has Native American dancing competitions, drumming, singing, and games.

Welcome to Omak:

Another welcome sign proclaimed that Omak was the “Home of the Pioneers”:

“Pioneers” is the name that was chosen for the high school sports teams. Since the town of Omak is right next to the Colville Indian reservation, the name seemed a bit antagonistic, especially since the European-American “pioneers” who originally arrived here were homesteaders on land that was wrongfully taken from Native American tribes. To me, the high school mascot name spoke volumes of past, if not on-going, racial tensions within the community and with the neighboring tribes.

To reach the downtown area, we crossed over the Okanogan River:


The painted fire hydrants were a special touch:

Our campground was just north of Omak, on a quiet little lake, where the kids took a dip and flew their kites.

RV parking only:

The lake:

A small pier provided some jumping fun:

Sebastian with his kite:

Sebastian and Genevieve:

The kites soared with the birds:

On our first night in Omak, the campground owner provided us with directions on how to reach the perfect viewing spot for the start of the Suicide Race. This race involves riders and their horses plunging at breakneck speed down a steep hillside (hence the “suicide” terminology), swimming across the Okanogan River, and then racing a short distance to reach the finish line inside the rodeo arena.

The race began in 1935 and is one of the biggest draws of the Stampede. During the last decade, there have been protests by animal rights groups who argue that the race is cruel to the horses (and indeed, a small number of horses have died due to injuries sustained during the race).

In response, the race organizers have taken measures to make the race safer for the horses, such as covering the hillside with deep sandy soil for better traction, widening the course at the bottom of the hill to prevent a bottleneck, limiting the number of competitors, having vet checks before each race to ensure the health of each horse, imposing a pre-race “swim test” in which each horse must swim across the water without hesitating or panicking, requiring each horse to demonstrate that it can run down the hill at a steady pace without balking, imposing a minimum age of 5 to ensure that the horse’s bone structure is fully formed, setting strict rules regarding animal conditioning and practice runs, and wrapping each horse’s legs for protection.

In addition, each rider must be at least 16 years old and wear a life jacket. Both riders and horses must be drug-free (and no alcohol for the riders), and both must wear reflective tape so that they can be seen at night.

Here is Ben, just inside the gated area where the horses start the race:

We were practically the first to arrive, with our choice of any spot along the lengthy downhill slope:

We chose a place near the top, with a slanted pole brace that the kids could hang onto to keep from sliding down the hill.

The soil was deep and very loose.  Our feet sunk in and were also repeatedly buried later when hoards of viewers arrived and squashed in beside us.

Here is a view of the hill, taken the next day from across the river:

Race workers, wearing pink, made sure that the crowd stayed behind the barrier:

At the river’s edge on the opposite bank, we could see the road where the horses and riders would exit the water and race ahead into the rodeo arena:

We watched the moon rise:

Sweet Genevieve:

The crush of people above us kept expanding:

About 20 minutes before the race, the riders and their horses began coming to the top of the hill and looking down, scoping out the conditions:

The vast majority of riders were men from the Colville Confederated Tribes.

The crowd was getting antsy with anticipation. I had my camera ready, as I wanted to snap a photo as the riders raced by.

Ready, set . . .


(Ha, Ha, Ha! Those blurs are about what I saw in real life. It happened so fast!)

All the riders and horses made it down the hill without mishap, although we did hear that one rider fell off his horse upon entering the water.

Here is an artistic representation of the race, painted as a mural on a downtown Omak building:

We don’t know who won tonight’s race, which was the second of the four Suicide Races held during the Stampede. We would have seats tomorrow night in the arena, where we could see the end of the third race.

We planned to spend the whole day at the Stampede grounds the next day.

In the morning, Sebastian was looking forward to some fun!

We parked downtown and walked across the river bridge to the Stampede area.

This sign was next to the river:

On the edge of the Stampede was a large carnival.

Genevieve and Sebastian were swirled around, hoisted into the air, swung high and other things that would have left me with a pale green face.

Sebastian’s favorite ride was the spinning disc:

He emerged each time with a big smile and rosy cheeks—he obviously doesn’t have my sensitive stomach!

Genevieve and I preferred the relaxing pace of the Ferris wheel, where we were treated to a great view:

To beat the 100+°F heat, we stood under the mist sprayers, which not only cooled us down but created small rainbows near the ground:

On our short walk over to the Indian Encampment area, we passed people dressed in elaborate ceremonial outfits:

A small tipi village was set up outside of the new dance pavilion:

The red-roofed dance pavilion was built by the Colville Confederated Tribes and is the same design as the one located within the reservation.

The interior:

The wood-beamed ceiling:

We arrived in time to catch the “Grand Entry” parade at the opening of the dance competition:

Sometimes the back of the costumes were even more fascinating than the front:

The police officers had prime, front row spots:

We stayed to see some of the children’s performances.

Waiting for the dancing to begin:

Getting some last-minute adjustments:

The dancers moved to rhythmic drumming and the jingling of bells:

After the dancing, Genevieve and I wandered down to the river, where we cooled off our feet:

We weren’t the only ones who had this idea:

We entered a raffle to win this 10-foot sculpture named “Spirit Horse” by Smoker Marchand, the same artist who had created the Chief Joseph Memorial sculpture:

Mr. Marchand made the horse and established the raffle to benefit his sister, Susie Marchand (under the umbrella in the above photo). She suffers from polymyositis, a degenerative muscle disease that resulted in lung-damaging pulmonary fibrosis (which may require a lung transplant in the next few years).

No, we didn’t win the horse. But Genevieve and I had some great discussions about where we would put the horse if it arrived on our doorstep. (The raffle included free delivery!)

We liked the “Lead, Don’t Follow” message on the front of calf-roper Tuf Cooper’s rig:

This evening was the much-anticipated rodeo. We had purchased our tickets before leaving home on this journey. Here is Genevieve, in the stands:

The opening ceremonies included a rider holding the American flag, a rider from the Colville Confederated Tribes, and a rider holding the Canadian flag (Omak is 50 miles from the Canadian border).

After we had been seated about 20 minutes, the man behind Ben brushed his hat against Ben’s back and showed us what he had found crawling there—a praying mantis! (Yikes!)

Where did that come from? We still have no idea.

The rodeo had all of the traditional events, including calf-roping:

(That can’t feel good to the calf!)

Barrel racing:

Bronco riding:

And bull riding. Some of the bull riders wore cowboy hats:

And some wore a more protective, hard helmet:

This bull did not want to return to his pen.

(I don’t blame him. If someone kept tightening a strap around my private area, I’d try to evade capture too.)

The star rodeo clown was J.J. Harrison, who kept the audience laughing (or groaning) with his jokes. He was also a talented rider, as he demonstrated when he put on his “big lady” tutu outfit and then zoomed around the arena:

One of the highlights of the show was a performance by Sally Bishop, of Sureshot Productions in Canada.

Ms. Bishop is a third generation trick rider, and a professional stunt performer for movies and television. Here is another trick she performed (after an amazing upside-down feat):

The grand finale for the rodeo was the Suicide Race. We enjoyed seeing the riders up-close as they made a circuit of the arena before heading across the river to the starting line.

Here is the horse that would win tonight’s race--#3:

#17 would come in second:

A large screen showed us the start of the race, as the horses dropped over the top edge of the hillside:

#3, fresh from the river, charging to victory:

We were glad to have experienced the excitement of the Omak Stampede. Before leaving tonight, the children squeezed in a last bit of fun. Sebastian took another whirl on the spinning disk, and the swinging boat rocked Genevieve high into the air.

Walking back through town, this gentleman bid us a silent “good night”:


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Map of Our Journeys

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Our travel map

Places We’ve Been, w/Quick Links

   Bumthang Valley
   Gom Kora
   Paro Valley
   Punakha Dzong
   Sangdrup Jongkhar
   Wangdi Phrodrang

   Janko Marca
   La Paz
   Laguna Colorada
   Laguna Verde
   Salar de Coipasa
   Salar de Uyuni
   San Pablo
   Santa Rosa
   Sud Lipez
   World’s Most Dangerous Road

   Banff National Park
   Battle Hill Nat'l Hist. Site
   Boya Lake Prov. Park, BC
   Burns Lake Bike Park
   Canyon Sainte-Anne
   Dawson Creek
   Eastern Townships
   Fort Nelson
   Jasper National Park
   Kluane Lake, YK
   'Ksan Historical Village
   Lake Louise
   Liard Hot Springs
   Niagara Falls
   Quebec City
   Thousand Islands
   Vancouver Island
   Watson Lake

   Forbidden City
   Great Wall at Mutianyu
   Hong Kong
   Summer Palace
   Terracotta Warriors
   Tiananmen Square
   Yungang Caves

Costa Rica
   Arenal Volcano
   Finca Corsicana
   Hanging Bridges
   Manuel Antonio
   Poas Volcano
   Proyecto Asis
   Sky Trek Zip Lining
   Venado Caves


   Amazon Rainforest
   Chaquiñan Bicycle Trail
   La Mitad del Mundo
   Napo Wildlife Center
   Papallacta Hot Springs
   Proyecto DCR
   Yasuní National Park


   Baja California
   Frida Kahlo Museum
   Hierve el Agua
   Marietas Islands
   Mexico City
   Monte Alban
   Oaxaca City
   Puerto Angel
   Puerto Escondido
   Puerto Vallarta
   San Agustin
   San Martin Tilcajete
   Santa Fe de la Laguna
   Santa María el Tule
   Studio of Jacobo Angeles
   Teotitlán del Valle

   Dead Vlei
   Elondo Village
   Etosha Nat'l Park
   Hippo Pools Camp
   Hoba Meteorite
   Khowarib Camp
   Moose McGregor's Bakery
   Mowani Camp
   Ngepi Camp
   Nkasa Lupala
   n'Kwzi Camp
   River Dance Lodge
   Seisriem Camp
   Treesleeper Camp

   Cañón del Pato
   Cerro de Pasco
   La Oroya
   Machu Picchu
   Nuevo Jaén
   Tingo Maria
   Yungay Memorial


South Africa

   Rock of Gibraltar
   Santillana del Mar

United States National Parks
   Arches National Park, UT
   Badlands National Park, SD
   Bandelier National Monument, NM
   Bryce Canyon National Park, UT
   Cahokia Mounds (UNESCO site), IL
   Carlsbad Caverns National Park, NM
   Canyon de Chelly Nat'l Monument, AZ
   Cape Hatteras National Shoreline, NC
   Capitol Reef National Park, UT
   Civil Rights Memorial, AL
   Death Valley National Park, CA
   Denali National Park, AK
   Devil’s Tower National Monument, WY
   El Morro National Monument, NM
   Ford’s Theater in Washington, D.C.
   Glacier National Park, MT
   Grand Canyon National Park, AZ
   Grand Tetons National Park, WY
   Great Basin National Park, NV
   Hawaii Volcanoes National Park, HI
   Joshua Tree National Park, CA
   Kaloko-Honokohau Nat'l Hist. Park, HI
   Kasha-Katuwe Tent Rocks, NM
   King's Canyon National Park, CA
   Martin Luther King Jr. Nat'l Hist. Site, GA
   Mesa Verde National Park, CO
   Montezuma's Castle Nat'l Monument, AZ
   Monticello, VA
   Mount Rushmore National Memorial, SD
   Mt. Rainier National Park, WA
   Olympic National Park, WA
   Petrified Wood National Park, AZ
   Pinnacles National Monument, CA
   Pu'uhonua o Honaunau Nat'l Hist Pk, HI
   Pu'ukohola Heiau Nat'l Historic Site, HI
   San Antonio Missions Nat'l Hist. Park, TX
   Tuzigoot National Monument, AZ
   Walnut Canyon National Monument, AZ
   Washington Monument
   White Sands National Monument, NM
   Wrangell-St. Elias National Park, AK
   Wright Brothers National Memorial in NC
   Yellowstone National Park, WY
   Yosemite National Park, CA

United States, Cities and Places
   The Alamo, TX
   Alaska Wildlife Conservation Cntr.
   Alpine Loop in CO
   Anchorage, AK
   Antares Junction, AZ
   Arctic Circle, AK
   Barrel Oak Winery in VA
   Biloxi, MS
   Bottle Tree Farm in CA
   Calico Ghost Town, CA
   Canfield Mountain Trail System, ID
   Cape St. Vincent, NY
   Carson City, NV
   Carter Caves State Park in KY
   Chappie-Shasta OHV Area, CA
   Child's Glacier, AK
   Circle B Chuckwagon Show in SD
   City Museum in MO
   Cody, WY
   Corn Palace in SD
   Crazy Horse Memorial in SD
   Custer State Park, SD
   Dalton Highway, AK
   Dinosaur Tracks in AZ
   Discovery Place in Charlotte, NC
   Dry Falls (Sun Lakes-Dry Falls), WA
   Fairbanks, AK
   Front Royal, VA
   Gallup, NM
   Goffs, CA
   Grand Canyon Caves, AZ
   Grand Canyon Skywalk, AZ
   Grave Digger Monster Truck in NC
   Great Salt Lake, UT
   Hackberry General Store in AZ
   Hannibal, MO
   Hatteras Island, NC
   Hawaii (Big Island)
   Hickison Petroglyphs, NV
   Holbrook, AZ
   Hole in the Rock, UT
   Homer, AK
   Honey Island Swamp Tour in LA
   Hoover Dam, NV
   Hyder, AK
   Jim Gray’s Petrified Wood Co. in AZ
   John’s Peak OHV Area, OR
   Kailua-Kona, HI
   Keepers of the Wild Nature Park in AZ
   Kennecott, AK
   Kennecott Copper Mine in UT
   Kingman, AZ
   Lake Havasu, AZ
   Lake Tahoe, NV
   Las Vegas, NV (winter 2010)
   Little Brown Church in IA
   London Bridge in AZ
   Loneliest Road in America, Hwy. 50, NV
   Los Angeles, CA
   Lost Colony Show on Roanoke Isl., NC
   Lowe’s Speedway in NC
   Mardi Gras World in LA
   Mark Twain Museum in MO
   Meteor Crater, AZ
   Million Dollar Highway, CO
   Minnesota Zoo
   Mitchell, SD
   Moab, UT
   Moab, UT (dirt biking)
   Montgomery, AL
   Montpelier, ID
   Navajo Nation, AZ
   Needles, CA
   Nevada Beach, NV
   Newberry Springs, CA
   New River Gorge, WV
   New Orleans, LA
   Niagara Falls 
   North Pole, AK
   Oatman, AZ
   Old Faithful Geyser in WY
   Omak Stampede, WA
   Painted Desert, AZ
   Park City, UT (summer)
   Plymouth, NC
   Portage Valley, AK
   Portland, OR
   Prospect OHV Trail System, OR
   Resaca, GA
   Riverside State Park, WA
   Rock City in TN
   Rosa Parks Library and Museum in AL
   Roswell, NM
   Russian River, AK
   Salt Lake City, UT
   San Antonio, TX
   San Diego, CA
   San Juan Islands, WA
   San Francisco, CA
   Santa Catalina Island, CA
   Seattle, WA
   Sedona, AZ
   Shoe Tree in CA
   Shoe Tree in NV
   Silverton, CO
   Sonora, TX
   St. Louis, MO
   St. Paul, MN
   Talkeetna, AK
   Telluride, CO
   Route 66
   Twin Knobs Recreation Area in KY
   Virginia Beach, VA
   Washington D.C.
   Wayne Fitzgerrell State Park in IL
   Williamsburg, VA
   Winom Frazier OHV Area, OR
   Winslow, AZ
   Zion National Park, UT

Planning Our Adventures

For us, each journey begins with the initial heart pangs to venture to a certain part of the world. Then the ideas start coming together . . . ahh, the possibilities . . . and the dream evolves gradually into an actual plan. But, oh, the joy of the dream!  Click here to learn more about how we plan and prepare for our journeys.

Where Are We Now?

Click here to discover where we are now, as well as our uncoming travel plans.

Words for the Heart

“. . . and then the day came when the risk to remain tight in a bud was more painful than the risk it took to blossom.”

Anais Nin