The Miracles of Spokane
"Our Spokane branding theme 'Near Nature, Near Perfect' fits us well," says Yvonne Lopez Monton of Spokane's Northwest Museum of Arts and Culture." Adventurous travelers are coming here to experience the vibrant amenities of our city along with ample activities connected with nature. All of this offer in a near crime free environment."
I was traveling with a small group from the North American Snowsport Journalist Association. We had arrived after attending our national convention in Coeur d' Alene-30 miles distant-where we skied Schweitzer, Silver Mountain and Lookout Pass. Originally we had planned to ski the nearby resorts of Mount Spokane and Forty Nine North but a lean snow year forced the resorts to close early for the season.
Our tourist plate was ample though as we adventured around Spokane's inner and outer city, discovering a largely undiscovered city.
Downtown Spokane is being reborn as a vibrant hub for art, music, food, lodging, entertainment, shopping, nature and cultural activities. The resurgence is a late occurring result of Spokane hosting the 1974 World's Fair, the smallest city to ever be a host. "It was hugely successful and one of the few to make a profit," says Don Largent of Spokane's Parks and Recreation Department. "It was also the first Fair to focus on the environment."
Riverfront Park was the site of the World's Fair, situated on two islands separated by cascading Spokane River and spectacular Spokane Falls. During the spring thaw the river is raging and powerful, a true visual spectacle of Mother Nature's force. Footbridges connect the islands, allowing tourists to witness the rare phenomenon of a city with downtown rapids and waterfalls.
Riverfront is home to Spokane's stately clock tower, Pavilion rides, the IMAX Theater (I viewed National Geographic's Lewis and Clark Expedition), ice skating, gondola rides over Spokane Falls (seasonal), Lilac Bowl (home to many outdoor concerts), Opera House, Convention Center and my personal favorite: a 1909 hand-carved wooden Looff Carrousel which we rode like gleeful 10-year-olds. "You're probably looking at $2 million worth of carrousel animal carvings," says Largent. "Some date to the late 1800s."
Spokane is a city with a rich history of providing green, open and recreation belts for its residents and guests. Centennial Trail can be accessed from Riverfront Park, allowing cyclists and hikers 38 miles of trails to Coeur d' Alene or 14 miles to the western terminus through Riverside State Park. Riverside-a gift to the state from Spokane's citizens and the Washington Waters Power Company-encompasses 10,000 acres, additionally offering canoeing, rafting, camping and an Equestrian Center. The Bowl and Pitcher area is especially dramatic where the Spokane River has carved deep green pools among Herculean boulders.
World class gardens-manicured and designed like Europe's finest-occupy Manito Park, a must see spring through autumn. Located on Grand Boulevard, Manito offers a stunning view of Gothic Saint John Cathedral. Down the road on Second Avenue is Wild Walls, an indoor climbing gym. We stopped, geared up and scaled several walls one afternoon.
After a robust day recreating in Spokane, one's appetite is primed for a night out on the town. Spokane is experiencing a Renaissance in dining from the elegant grande dame Davenport Hotel (reopened in 2002 after a $38 million facelift) to the more provincial, yet classy, Steam plant Square restaurant and brewery. I sampled all of the Coeur D' Alene Brewing Company's beers, giving two thumbs up to their Polar Bear Stout and Brewer's Whim. If prime rib is your forte, none better will be found than at Ankeny's, located on the rooftop of the Ridpath Hotel where the panoramic city views are stunning. Niko's Greek Restaurant is superb and the wine steward peerless in wine knowledge. A unique and fun eatery is the Catacombs Pub below the Montvale Hotel. It is modeled after the finest German and Viennese pubs.
Historic preservation is a new mantra in Spokane. Spokane has more historical districts than any other Washington city. In 2002, their total spending on historic preservation was greater than the entire state combined. The recently opened Montvale Hotel is one such example. The historic 36-room boutique hotel sits amid downtown Spokane's emerging arts and entertainment district with restaurant, theaters and music options within a short walk. Later this year, a block from the Montvale, the historic Fox Theater will reopen.
Wine enthusiasts need not go far to experience Spokane's ten wineries. I walked to Robert Karl Cellars where affable owner Rebecca Gunselman (along with her husband Joe) gave me a personal tour and tasting. Their award winning clarets and cabernet sauvignons are superb. Rebecca drove me nearby Caterina Winery. En route, we passed by Gonzaga University, home to native son Bing Crosby's Library. Caterina is housed in a historic 1910 dairy building. Their Italian varietals are elegant and well structured. I was amused by an Italian proverb in their brochure: "One barrel of wine can work more miracles than a church full of saints."
One of the most impressive winery locations in the Northwest is the Arbor Crest Winery, which is perched near the edge of a basalt promontory carving by ancient glaciers 450 feet above the Spokane River outside Spokane. The estate was built in 1924 and includes a three-story Florentine house, sunken rose garden, life-sized checkerboard, terraced gardens and an open-air pagoda. The National Historic Landmark produces six varietal wines annually.
Spokane has come a long ways since it was the first European trading post in the Northwest, established in 1910. The Lilac City-named for the lovely, aromatic bush that blooms in May-has all of the amenities of a vital city, yet you can still sense the spirit of the early native Americans, explorers, trappers, first settlers, farmers, loggers and business people from bygone eras. That history is well chronicled in Spokane's new crown jewel: the Northwest Museum of Arts and Culture. The greater sense of that history though echoes off the walls of the mighty river that sings and shouts through downtown Spokane and the nearby Bowl and Pitcher.
SPOKANE INFORMATION: CONTACT Spokane Regional Convention and Visitors
Bureau at www.visitspokane.com or 888-776-5263.