Say what you will about my parenting, but I’ve managed to convince my son that a little college town surrounded by amber waves of grain is a getaway destination on par with Disneyland.
At least once each fall, Alex and I head east to Pullman to watch (and, sometimes, endure) a Washington State University football game.
It isn’t easy being a WSU fan and not just because the football team will make its first bowl appearance since 2003 Saturday morning.
While playing Colorado State in the New Mexico Bowl will seem like a road game, that is nothing new for Cougar fans. With many of WSU’s alumni and fans living in Western Washington, home games might as well be road games. And Tacoma to Pullman and back is 600 miles, farther than three other schools in their conference.
That much driving coupled with the festivities surrounding a Pacific-12 Conference football game and we rarely have enough time in a weekend to properly explore Pullman.
This year we decided to do things a little differently. We added an extra day to enjoy Pullman for what it has to offer beyond football.
WSU SURPLUS STORES
If you’re 6 feet, 6 inches tall, 300 pounds and strong enough to bench press a Smart Car, you’ll think the WSU Surplus Stores is a shopping wonderland.
For the rest of us, it’s a fun treasure hunt.
The store is tucked away on the outskirts of campus and is only open to the public from 10 a.m.-3 p.m. Fridays.
The inventory changes regularly and includes computers, monitors, exercise equipment, desks, lab equipment and just about anything else you’d find on a college campus.
We headed to a corner loaded with retired WSU sports equipment. There were old baseball helmets for $20, and football shoulder pads so large Alex could almost crawl through the neck hole.
He needed football cleats, and they had top notch shoes for various sports at bargain prices. But the smallest cleats we found were size 15, roughly the size of Alex’s bedroom.
Still, we spent an hour digging through bins and scouring shelves. We left with a large WSU women’s rowing team duffle bag, three pickle ball rackets, one tennis racket, a dozen wrist bands and, the highlight, a pair of skiboards.
THE BEAR CENTER
Pullman is probably the only town in Washington where you can see a grizzly bear get shot with a tranquilizer gun on your way to get an ice cream cone.
That’s what we saw when we stopped at the Bear Center, the only facility in the world to house adult grizzlies for research, according to the WSU website.
We got within 5 feet of the bears as they lounged in their pens, but several layers of fence made quality pictures nearly impossible. That’s not the case when they’re turned loose to roam in a larger fenced area.
While we weren’t lucky enough to see this, Alex was entranced watching a pair of workers preparing a bear to be studied. One distracted the bear by feeding it from a water bottle while the other fired through the cage with her tranquilizer gun.
WSU’s creamery opened in 1890 at the same time as the college, and today it sells 250,000 cans of cheese and 20,000 gallons of ice cream per year.
“It’s like a tiny version of that place in Oregon (the Tillamook Cheese Factory),” Alex said.
It is. You can sample eight types of cheese, watch workers produce their best seller, Cougar Gold ($20 for a 30-ounce can), and feast on huge ice cream cones. It doesn’t have a palatial gift shop with cheesy trinkets like Tillamook, but for $3 you can get a Cougar Gold can converted into a piggy bank.
The self-funded creamery supports the WSU College of Agricultural, Human and Natural Resources.
WALK OF FAME
Super Bowl MVP Mark Rypien, journalism icon Edward R. Murrow and Tacoma-born “The Far Side” cartoonist Gary Larson all have a couple things in common.
They all attended WSU and they’re all enshrined in the downtown Pullman Walk of Fame. The walk covers portions of four blocks near the intersection of Main and Kamiaken streets and currently includes 81 placards.
Alex enjoyed finding some of his favorite NFL legends, such as former New England Patriots quarterback Drew Bledsoe and Hall of Famers Mel Hein and John Elway (former Pullman High student).
A guide to the Walk of Fame is available at pullmanchamber.com.
Located just off campus, Sella’s Calzone & Pizza quickly becomes a staple of many college students’ diets.
The walls are plastered with calzone-themed art produced by the patrons using the restaurant’s placemats.
There’s a calzone-shaped submarine entitled, “We all live in a Sella submarine.” It hangs next to a crayon rendering of a “Scarface”-era Al Pacino entitled “Sella hello to my little friend.”
As we waited for our calzones, Alex and I drew on our place mats and I tried to distract him so he wouldn’t notice a drawing of a flashing woman with calzones instead of breasts.
Our calzones were roughly the size of Alex’s head and eventually proved to make three meals.
Between September and May, you can typically enjoy an inexpensive or maybe even free college sporting event at WSU. The school has six varsity sports for men and nine for women. And while football and basketball get most of the attention, sports lovers will find most of them entertaining.
In a six-hour stretch, we swung by the soccer pitch while the WSU women beat California, watched the women’s volleyball team lose a heartbreaker to Colorado and then watched the men’s basketball team crush Central Washington in an exhibition game.
Total cost: $8.
A TASTING TOUR
Should you ever visit Pullman without a 12-year-old boy (or anybody else younger than 21) in tow, there is no more iconic place to enjoy a beer and a burger than the Cougar Cottage, better known as The Coug.
The 81-year-old bar is located just off campus but is typically in the middle of the action.
The Palouse’s revived wine industry makes Pullman a good place to launch a wine tasting tour, too.
Merry Cellars is in Pullman, Wawawai Canyon Winery is just outside town, and according to the Pullman Chamber of Commerce, there are four other wineries and three breweries located nearby. The Whiskey Barrel Cider Company also is located in Pullman.
A book lover could get lost for a semester inside Brused Books in downtown Pullman. No, the name isn’t a typo. It’s a fusion of the words Bruce and used, said owner Bruce Calkins.
Calkins opened the store 32 years ago and still doesn’t use a computer database to organize the books. A card file is used for customer requests. “It’s the old way,” Calkins said. “Low tech.”
He estimates there are more than 80,000 books filling the shelves and stacked on the floors.
“If you like to dig around for a good book, you’ll have a good time,” he said. “That’s the plan anyway.”
THE STUDENT REC CENTER
I once spent nearly an entire day in the 160,000-square-foot WSU Student Recreation Center, and Alex wished we could have done the same on this trip.
The facility is immense and packed with hundreds of ways to play. In addition to typical gym amenities, such as basketball courts, weights, a pool and cardio equipment, the Rec Center has a climbing wall, a roller hockey rink and even a shuffleboard table.
Access to the Rec Center is $8 for adults or $5 if you’re accompanied by a WSU student. Kids are $1.
A bike share station — there are 10 on campus — is located at the facility.
The Rec Center isn’t far from the Pullman bike path that loops around town and connects with the 7-mile Bill Chipman Palouse Trail. The Chipman Trail links Pullman and Moscow before connecting to Idaho’s 1.5-mile Paradise Path then the 11-mile Latah Trail. A brochure with trail details and several road routes is available at pullmanchamber.com. Bike rentals are available at B&L Bicycles for as little as $15 for four hours.
PALOUSE RIDGE GOLF CLUB
It wasn’t too long ago that golfers in Pullman would rather head out of town than stick around to play the 9-hole course. Remodeled and expanded, it is now one of the most heralded golf courses in Washington.
When it reopened in 2008, magazines such as Golf, Travel + Leisure Golf and Golf Digest listed it among the nation’s best new courses. In 2011, Golfweek named Palouse Ridge the state’s No. 3 “best course you can play.”
In 2015, Palouse Ridge will host the Pac-12 Conference Men’s Championship.
Greens fees will set you back $99, unless you live within 40 miles ($50) or have a WSU Alumni Association membership ($50). Other discounts are available for students, faculty, seniors and juniors.