Last weekend, my wife and I managed to schedule or selves off on Sunday… and Monday… and half of Tuesday! Holy shit! I know, it doesn’t sound that big of a deal, but for us, running a family business, a break like this doesn’t happen often.
Sunday morning, we woke up and loaded the Cruiser with cooler, bedding, and our trusty banana boxes of cooking supplies. We put Seattle behind us and headed to Ellensburg, WA to run Colockum Pass over to Wenatchee, WA. I didn’t know much about this route other than it had a reputation of being rough (not difficult, just rocky/bumpy) and it marked on maps as “not suitable for passenger vehicles.” Right on.
The pass marks the halfway point for early miners and ranchers between The Dalles, OR and British Columbia mining camps. It is also midway between Ellensburg and Wenatchee, with the road serving wagon trains carrying supplies between those two towns. I did find a short and nice write up of the history of the area here: The Sunset Highway.
On the map, getting to the trailhead looks a bit convoluted, but Natasha’s phone’s GPS lead us right to it. We passed right through Ellensburg and then out into the farm country. After a few turns and bends the pavement ends right at the sign for Colockum Road. It looks much like home to me (the San Luis Valley of CO) with open land and sage brush… well, except the sage brush here gets rain so it’s actually green rather than a light gray color.
The beginning of Colockum road the Ellensburg side leads through some private property before coming to a sign warning you that you need a Discover Pass as well as other rules and regulations of the area because it passes through wildlife reserves. Also only green dot roads are drivable (white markers with a green dot on the top are on the sides of the road designating them). Roads that are for authorized vehicles only are clearly marked, so there isn’t a chance of mistakenly getting on one.
We ran the first 1/4 of the road with full air pressure in the tires; that’s a rough ride. We wanted to see what a difference the TJM heavy suspension made (it was significant) before we aired down at our lunch break.
Natasha is always on about how we don’t see wildlife when we’re out in the wilderness… Who can blame her? She’s from Africa where a quick trip to the Kruger National Park has you seeing tons and tons of wildlife. But, while we were there eating our very good tuna salad sandwiches in the truck, I saw one cow elk bust out of the timber behind the truck and disappear into the woods to our left. Sadly (and as usual), Natasha didn’t see it. The elk definitely stick around long enough for a photo… the tuna sandwich barely did.
With lower tire pressures, the ride was that much smoother even though road was still rough as hell. The road passes through The Colockum Wildlife Area– and much to Natasha’s dismay: no wildlife. Okay, so we saw some Blue Jay, chipmunks, squirrels… and the elk I saw. But I don’t think that counted in her book.
Once out of timber though, the road runs along a ridge and we were rewarded with some spectacular views:
This is when we started to seriously look for a camping spot…
As noted, you do need a Discover Pass.
I was told that DNR Green Dot maps are available, I couldn’t find any at Metsker Maps in Seattle so we used a combination of a DeLorme Washington Atlas & Gazetteer and a BLM Central Washington Cascades map.
At the sign for Colockum road I would suggest locking your hubs, if you have them, so that you’re ready for any obstacle. Deflate your tires a bit here too (on all 4x4s); it’ll make the ride much better.
On my AWD Cruiser, I didn’t lock the center differential until well into the trail; it was only a few sections and dropping down into Wenatchee that we used 4L. A part-time 4WD truck may just need 4H for much of the beginning of the trail and 4L on the descent.