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Spokane Goes Wild

Nearly 40 years ago, Spokane - Washington state’s second-largest city - earned bragging rights for hosting Expo ’74, the first environmentally themed world’s fair.

At the time, Spokane was the smallest city to ever host the event.  The Lilac City has grown in many ways in the four decades since, but the honors are still quite representative: Spokane can be considered small by some standards, but in many ways, the destination is mighty.

On arriving for a “Wild Women Out West” fam trip recently hosted by Visit Spokane, the city’s strong suits were immediately apparent: unending, postcard-perfect scenery, a quaint, all-American downtown, and a smorgasbord of outdoor activities.  For groups, many of these active amenities – from hiking to biking to kayaking – can begin, quite literally, at their hotel doorstep, as I soon discovered.

After settling in at the stately, smartly designed Davenport Hotel, part of the historic 660-room Davenport Hotel Collection in downtown Spokane, our group headed to the award-winning Barrister Winery, whose owners started out with an at-home winemaking kit.  Amid rows of barrels that gently rumbled whenever a train would pass nearby, we relaxed over a spectacular five-course dinner served by Santé, a local restaurant that has elevated healthy eating (santé is French for “health”) to a gastronomic art form.

The next morning, our wolfpack of wild women gathered bright and early in the Davenport’s ornate lobby to get started on our packed itinerary.  Spokane is blissfully humidity-free and comfortably sunny in the summer, and even when the temperatures eventually drop, the cold can’t keep the sun away – the destination gets 260 days of sunshine a year.  On the back porch of The Orchard Café at Walter’s Fruit Ranch, we indulged in a breakfast of champions – oozy, cheesy homemade egg sandwiches, coffee, and three types of pie (who said dessert is just for dinner?).

After a quick tractor-pulled tour of the orchards, we hustled over to the Cowgirl Co-op, a 70-acre working horse ranch run by local firefighter Shannon Morse and a close-knit coterie of other real-life cowgirls.  Beyond the typical horsing around of ranch life, the co-op cowgirls offer cooking and gardening classes, and even sponsor a retreat for female combat veterans every spring.

When our second evening rolled around, it was time to live up to our fam trip’s theme and really get wild.  About 30 minutes away, in Cheney, Wash., Denny Reed’s TrikeSchool specializes in excursions, instruction, and training on trikes, which are small, powered aircraft similar to hang gliders.  After an encouraging safety talk from Reed and a delightful catered dinner from the talented chefs of Clover, almost every wild woman in our group gathered her courage, strapped on a headset, and took turns sailing into the Spokane sunset.  Scary? Slightly.  Worth it? Definitely.

Day three started off with (almost) as much excitement.  After strapping on headlamps, we tackled the Hiawatha bike trail, a 15-mile, downhill stretch studded with tunnels (the longest is more than two miles) about three hours east of Spokane.  On the return trip, we stopped for a quick tour of Wallace, a kitschy slice of Americana in Idaho’s Silver Valley, followed by dinner at Coeur d’Alene – a sprawling lakeside resort with more than 30,000 square feet of meeting space, a $1.5-million wine cellar, and the world’s only floating, movable golf green.

It was only appropriate that our tour of the Spokane Convention Center – third in the United States to achieve LEED Silver certification – began with a kayak trip to the facility’s front door.  The center sits smack dab in the middle of downtown, adjacent to the INB Performing Arts Center, the 100-acre Riverfront Park, and the Spokane River.  After a tour and lunch, our group capped off the trip at the nearby AAA Four-Diamond Northern Quest Resort & Casino.

Yes, dinner and massages in the resort’s 14,000-square-foot spa maybe weren’t the wildest activities we could have opted for.  But after that 15-mile bike ride, they were well deserved.

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Jennifer N. Dienst

Contributing Editor Jennifer N. Dienst is a freelance writer based in Charleston, South Carolina.