National Geographic : 1982 Jun
yw$w 1 Each year as much as a third of the ten million tons of soil lost in the deep Palouse finds its way into streams and rivers. The topsoil of the Palouse, an irreplace able natural resource, took thousands of years to create; an incautious farmer can lose much of it in an hour. Without careful farm ing, the topsoil of the Palouse could vanish in the next hundred years. Progressive farmers like Gary Morris at Gold Creek Ranch use several methods to prevent topsoil from running off. Gary uses a "no-till drill" developed specifically for the Palouse by Mort Swanson, a local farmer whose son now markets the drill nationally. Barely disturbing the topsoil, the drill cuts narrow grooves in the ground, so that there is less loose soil for water to wash away. It also leaves last year's crop stubble, which anchors the soil and acts as a mulch. Gary bolsters the effect of the drill by design ing terraces to catch water and run it around hills on a contour, so that a con duit is formed, forcing runoff to flow into areas where it won't cause an erosion problem. FTEN IN DRIVING around the Pa louse, I felt like a human runoff, forced into conduits I didn't wantto be in, run around hills, and dumped out Lord knows where. Once, when I had again become totally disoriented, a stranger I asked for directions sympathized. "The Pa louse is a good place to go crazy in," he said. All the deep Palouse looks much the same: Endless swelling hills, no trees, no moun tains, no hedgerows-nothing breaks up the wave upon wave of wheat. Because fences are no longer needed (there are few animals), you cannot tell where one farm ends and an other begins. Only the farmers remember. If you're driving below the crests, where most of the roads run, there often is no sun, only silence and the wind. It is an eerie expe rience, and you can easily lose your bear ings. Through this terrain Col. Edward Steptoe led his U. S. Army troops. In 1858 they were surrounded and trapped by young warriors of the Spokane, Palouse, Coeur d'Alene, and Yakima tribes. Steptoe was hampered by the rolling land, and had to continually maneuver to keep on high ground. Although Steptoe Butte bears his name, the battle was actually fought on a hill 15 miles away at Rosalia. Colonel Step toe and his men finally ran out of ammu nition, left their equipment behind, and retreated at night, aided by the Nez Perces. Helen McGreevy, 81, regards the Nez Perces with affection. Her family home steaded by the rimland of the Snake River in the southern Palouse, and she lives nearby to this day, in the little farming town of Col ton. We drove to Wawawai Bay County Park and climbed a hill to have a look at the Snake. Helen said, "When I was growing up, the Nez Perces would come along Union Flat Creek looking for camas and then camp here at Wawawai." I looked for traces of the Indian encamp ment and saw instead Boyer Park and the 814 Beauty queens and sweet treats attractfolks to the annualice-cream socialin Colfax, Washington (left), sponsoredby the county historicalsociety. Proceeds helped finance the restorationof PerkinsHouse, background, built by James A. Perkins,first permanent resident of Colfax. An aspiringballerina (right)practicesin Ridenbaugh Hall at the University of Idaho in Moscow, home of the nationallyrecognized American Festival Ballet.