For a city that so obsessively compares itself to its Northwest brethren, Spokane doesn’t spend a lot of time worrying about Calgary. Portland and Seattle, yes, but not this Canadian metropolis, just on the other side of the B.C./Alberta line and only an hour farther away than Boise, by car.
But Spokanites should take note. The “Nashville of the North” is home to a diverse population of around a million people, a thriving downtown and a ton of fun stuff to do. This is especially true in winter (check out the still-operational facilities of the 1998 Winter Olympics), but it’s also evident in summer, when cyclists take to the streets, cowboys take to their horses and the arts arrive en masse. (Don’t worry, they don’t speak much French here.)
Take, for example, the CALGARY JAZZ FESTIVAL. Put on by the grassroots organization C-Jazz, this year’s fest is bringing Chick Corea, Poncho Sanchez, Daptones Afro-Soul collective the Budos Band and Ben E. King (ever heard of “Stand by Me”?), among many others. The festival runs June 21-27 at about 10 different venues throughout town. Tickets are $15 for the cheaper shows, up to $60 for the headliners.
Things get even better the following month, when the city hosts the CALGARY FOLK FESTIVAL. Far from a mere hootenanny, the festival will host the Avett Brothers, Greg Brown, DJ Logic, Roberta Flack, Michael Franti, St. Vincent, Stars, the Swell Season and a heap of other up-and-coming indie, folkie and world musicians. The whole thing happens on seven different stages in Prince’s Island Park, right downtown. (July 22-25, $47/day, $165 for all four days).
In between is the requisite CALGARY STAMPEDE (July 9-18), a legendary orgy of rodeo madness, the advertising for which claims that “It’s where hides are raw, hearts untamed, and the world’s toughest stock walks on two legs.” It may also be the reason Spokanites discount the city as Hicksville, Canada. Maybe so, but Calgary stands up as a Northwest metropolis to be reckoned with.
Newbies to the sport of adventure racing should probably stick to the sprint-distance events, but this 24- to 34-hour combination of trekking, mountain biking and flat-water paddling near CHELAN, WASH., will be a beauty for experienced adventurers. Put on by Trioba, which guards the details of the course until game time, the race (Aug. 27-29) will dare participants to bike some 60 miles, run about 25 miles on trails (while navigating!) and paddle 25 miles, ostensibly on windy Lake Chelan.
Basin Summer Sounds
This surprisingly cool little festival (July 16-17) in surprisingly charming EPHRATA combines a handful of decent names (Carbon Leaf, Cowboy Mouth, Jo Dee Messina) with a mini-Hoopfest, a dozen or so street food vendors and a friendly, small-town atmosphere.
I'm on a Boat
It ain’t Twain’s Mississippi, but the three eight-day PADDLE-WHEELER CRUISES offered along the Snake and Columbia Rivers this summer will show off angles of Washington and Oregon that you never see from the freeways. Of course, the trip from Clarkston to Portland, offered by Adventure Cruises, will set you back over $4,000 (no stowaways or cub pilots here), but what finer Northwest summer experience than to sit topside and sip a glass of Yakima red while the sun sets on the mighty Columbia? (We’ve seen Twain’s Mississippi — it pales in comparison.)
Be a part of the first-ever annual STRAWBERRY FESTIVAL (June 12) at the Front Porch Farm in Colville, Wash., where you’ll get a tour of the garden and greenhouses and you’ll be treated to fresh strawberry shortcake, made by Chef Norman Six of nearby Lovitt restaurant.
Not keen on strawberries? Head to Whitefish, Mont., for the annual HUCKLEBERRY DAYS festival (Aug. 13-15), a three-day celebration of the grizzly’s favorite fruit. Includes over 130 booths of arts, crafts and food, plus a pie-eating contest, a street dance and a treasure hunt.
Quite possibly the loudest thing happening in Eastern Washington all summer, the TRI-CITIES WATER FOLLIES (July 23-25) mark the 45th anniversary of the Columbia Cup for Unlimited Hydroplanes. Plus, there’s food, golf and a sweet air-show.
To most, Flag Day is little more than an obscure, slightly wonky national pseudo-holiday (it commemorates the official adoption of the stars and stripes). But not to the people of tiny FAIRFIELD, on the Palouse. Their three-day Flag Day celebration this year (June 11-13) doubles as the town’s centennial and includes high school anniversaries, an archery competition, a band concert, a grand parade, a six-mile Model A truck ride, a Civil War re-enactment and an “adult” dance (yowza!). So much Americana, so little time!
The annual RITZVILLE BLUES FESTIVAL on July 10 includes performances by Too Slim, Watermelon Slim, the Insomniacs, and Donna Angelle and Zydeco Posse.
Wiener Dog Races
Yes, we’re serious. This will be the fourth time the entire frickin’ city of PENDLETON turns out to watch a pack of adorable, stubby-legged dachshunds race down Main Street. We are so there, on June 25.
It’s that time again. Time to drink beer and eat shave ice while watching farmers mount slow, heavy, obsolete farm vehicles and smash them to bits. Yes, it’s the 23rd running of the COMBINE DERBY in Lind, the tiny Adams County town, where the first derby, in 1988, also marked the town’s first traffic jam. It’s surprisingly good fun. Make a day of screaming for your favorite driver, looking over the shoulders of the crews and making bets on whose combine’ll get wiped out first. It runs June 11-13.
International Accordion Celebration
If you, like us, love squeezeboxes of any kind, this is your festival. For three days, the vaguely Alpine tourist town of LEAVENWORTH will be alive with the sounds of accordion competitions, workshops, jams and demonstrations. If, on the other hand, there’s nothing you would hate more than being tormented by the sound of a thousand bleating reeds, by all means, stay as far away from central Washington as possible on the weekend of June 17-20. This is your personal Hell.
Bard in the Bush
The big Shakespeare festivals in Oregon and Idaho are great, but they’re expensive and, let’s face it, a little intense. Why not opt instead for this laid-back, open-air series in beautiful NELSON, B.C.? For most of July, every Wednesday through Saturday evening, the players will perform Shakespeare Shorts VI, a greatest-hits collection of scenes from the bard’s plays — in an order determined by the audience. Then, in August, the Nelson Youth Theatre will perform As You Like It.
Following the Mullan Trail
Ever cruise down Coeur d’Alene’s Mullan Avenue, or pass through Mullan, Idaho? Both are nods to John Mullan, the 19-century soldier and engineer charged with building a wagon route from Montana to Walla Walla in order to expedite the settlement of the Northwest. His “Mullan Road,” carved out with great pains by civilians, soldiers and surveyors, achieved its goal, despite frequent setbacks. It became a major east-west arterial — hundreds of thousands used it the first year — and it inflated the population of Walla Walla.
This summer, why not re-trace his steps? You don’t even need a pickax. Just a car, a bike rack and about a week to kill.
Get away from me, you time-traveling creep!
Start where Mullan started, at Fort Benton, Montana, and head down Highway 87 to Great Falls. Celebrate his predecessors at the LEWIS AND CLARK FESTIVAL on the Missouri River. This weekend-long event (June 25-27) will get you in the trailblazing spirit, with campfires and re-enactors, old-timey food (mmm…), float trips and a relay race (Meriwether and York used to totally tear up the Oregon Trail). Stick around for the auctions and the quick draw contest.
On Sunday, head through Helena, across the Great Divide on Highway 12, and turn west on Interstate 90. Just a few miles up the freeway, you’ll come upon the ghost town of BEARMOUTH, a long-dead trading post for the mine economy. Check out the livery stable and the old balconied inn.
Next, head to MISSOULA. Don’t be surprised if you see us there, legs dangling over inner tubes on the Clark Fork River, beer tube in tow. This lazier portion of the river runs right through downtown, where you can disembark, catch a movie at the Wilma and watch paddlers shoot the rapids just below the Higgins Avenue bridge.
Head upriver to ALBERTON GORGE. This is where you’ll find the best, most exciting rapids on the Clark Fork. (Google “rafting Clark Fork” to make an appointment with one of many whitewater outfitters.) Get some perspective: Early pioneers like Lewis, Clark and Mullan probably found these waters less “exciting” than “piss-worthy.” Their toil allows you to shoot the rapids with ease.
On your way back to Idaho, hit up the ROUTE OF THE HIAWATHA, an easy, stunning, 15-mile bike trail that takes you through 10 old train tunnels and over seven high trestles. This is a must-do for any Inland Northwesterner.
Cross into Idaho near Mullan and skirt the southern edge of Lake Coeur d’Alene, south of Spokane, and across the Palouse. South of Ritzville, in the tiny town of BENGE, WASH., where wagon ruts from the original road are still visible. Between there and nearby WASHTUCNA, you’ll find the still-labeled, gravel-paved Mullan Road.
You’re almost there. Now just cruise down to WALLA WALLA and treat yourself to a biking tour of the area’s wineries, knowing that you may never have gotten this chance to sip and pedal had a certain Virginia-born West Point cadet not paved the way for you.