Visit idyllic countryside surrounding two college towns along the Idaho-Washington border

I've never been to Vermont. But when I travel to the Palouse, Iimagine it must be the inland Northwest's answer to that pocket ofNew England. From its voluptuous landscape to the environmentallyaware, politically progressive people who call the area home, thePalouse ― a region of small communities and farmlandradiating from the two neighboring college towns of Moscow, Idaho,and Pullman, Washington ― is proudly green.

Spring is a great time to visit. The Palouse's rolling hillslook like a topographic map that has sprung to life, and thecollective energy of more than 30,000 students helps travelersreturn, even if just for a few days, to the pulse of college life.You'll find funky shops, creative cafes, and hiking and bikingtrails that are perfect for witnessing the region's annualrebirth.

The area takes its name from the Palouse Indian tribe, whosemajor village sat at the nearby confluence of the Palouse and SnakeRivers. Pullman and Moscow have always had robust agriculturaleconomies. These days, however, the region is just as well knownfor the forward-thinking academic community and thriving arts scenesurrounding the Washington State University and University of Idahocampuses. A bit of strip-mall sprawl mars the two cities'outskirts, but vital downtowns and lively campuses make Moscow andPullman the sorts of places people want to stick around long afterthey graduate.

My first morning in Pullman, I wander into Ric-O-Shay, aneclectic shop run by Yvonne Skinner and Walt Zylowski, both 1980Washington State University grads. Skinner designs custom beadedlampshades on antique bases for a far-flung clientele, whileZylowski does fine wood-, metal-, and beadwork and moonlights as acomputer consultant. They both love the Palouse's blend of artisticverve, college-town vitality, and natural beauty.EXPLORING THETWIN CITIES

Mitch Chandler, a former Pullman mayor and owner of a downtownfloral and gift shop, says that Moscow and Pullman (and their twocampuses) work together in many ways, sharing a publictransportation system, an airport, and doctors. "We understand thatwe're each small, but together we're big," Chandler says.

The Bill Chipman Palouse Trail is one visitor-friendly projectlinking Pullman and Moscow. Completed in 1998, the pavedbicycle-pedestrian path, named for a University of Idaho graduateand WSU volunteer who was killed in a car accident in 1996, spans 7bucolic miles between the two towns. Although it's an easy bikeride, you'll want to stop at the trail's way stations, whereinterpretive panels share Palouse area geology, poetry, and locallore. One panel tells how the region, with its mild winters andrich, deep soil, can produce twice as much wheat as the nationalaverage. Although the trail parallels busy Moscow-Pullman Highway(State 270) on a onetime railroad bed, it's far enough away fromtraffic to give riders a feel for the fertile folds of the agrarianlandscape.Moscow attractions include the McConnell Mansion, aVictorian home built in 1886 for William J. McConnell, who servedas Idaho's governor from 1893 to 1897. McConnell wound up goingbroke and losing the house, but a vintage machine lets visitorsstamp facsimile checks from the Moscow State Bank for up to$99,999. "They make great birthday presents for kids," docent BarbHipple says. Too bad the bank no longer exists.

In Pullman, it's worth getting up early to visit WSU's bearcenter, where visitors can watch director Charles Robbins and hisstudents feed and tend to about a dozen resident grizzly bears. Thebruins here either were born in captivity at WSU ― like cubsMica and Luna, whom I watch Robbins bottle-feed ― or forother reasons cannot survive in the wild.

Both towns are packed with fast-food and pizza restaurantscatering to students, but more adventuresome palates will find afew fine-dining spots. In downtown Moscow, the art-filled Red DoorRestaurant is packed even on weeknights. Diners choose from theever-changing array of French-, Asian-, and Northwest-influenceddishes emphasizing fresh ingredients; during the growing season,produce is culled from local organic growers. In Pullman, Swilly'sserves similarly inspired food, with patio seating as the weatherwarms. But for a quick bite, locals often head to WSU's Ferdinand'sIce Cream Shoppe, which serves cold, creamy treats and packages ofCougar Gold cheese, a nutty cheddar made on campus by students.(See Dining listings.)

One of my favorite times to visit the Palouse is during theMoscow Renaissance Fair, an annual event heralding the start ofspring. The town's East City Park throngs with revelers listeningto music and browsing wares ranging from the usual ― candlesand tie-dye clothing ― to the truly offbeat. Last spring Iwatched, impressed, as one vendor, with what is known as the Dr.Vortex Traveling Medicine Show, hawked an aestheticallyirresistible multicolored concoction (not intended for drinking)that he touted as "peace of mind in a bottle" to a crowd gatheredaround the booth. Here on the Palouse, a fanciful outlook on lifesprings eternal.

In Pullman, it's worth getting up early to visit WSU's bearcenter, where visitors can watch director Charles Robbins and hisstudents feed and tend to about a dozen resident grizzly bears. Thebruins here either were born in captivity at WSU ― like cubsMica and Luna, whom I watch Robbins bottle-feed ― or forother reasons cannot survive in the wild.

Both towns are packed with fast-food and pizza restaurantscatering to students, but more adventuresome palates will find afew fine-dining spots. In downtown Moscow, the art-filled Red DoorRestaurant is packed even on weeknights. Diners choose from theever-changing array of French-, Asian-, and Northwest-influenceddishes emphasizing fresh ingredients; during the growing season,produce is culled from local organic growers. In Pullman, Swilly'sserves similarly inspired food, with patio seating as the weatherwarms. But for a quick bite, locals often head to WSU's Ferdinand'sIce Cream Shoppe, which serves cold, creamy treats and packages ofCougar Gold cheese, a nutty cheddar made on campus by students.(See Dining listings.)

One of my favorite times to visit the Palouse is during theMoscow Renaissance Fair, an annual event heralding the start ofspring. The town's East City Park throngs with revelers listeningto music and browsing wares ranging from the usual ― candlesand tie-dye clothing ― to the truly offbeat. Last spring Iwatched, impressed, as one vendor, with what is known as the Dr.Vortex Traveling Medicine Show, hawked an aestheticallyirresistible multicolored concoction (not intended for drinking)that he touted as "peace of mind in a bottle" to a crowd gatheredaround the booth. Here on the Palouse, a fanciful outlook on lifesprings eternal.

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