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by Gary Casteel
You have just crossed the beautiful mountains of northern Idaho on Interstate 90, and the Pacific Ocean is only one day's drive away. Driving 18 miles west of the Washington State line, you are enjoying the six lane divided highway and the first flat land since Missoula, Montana, when you pass through the middle of Spokane. That is a mistake. A mistake because by failing to stop in Spokane, you are missing out on the many wonderful opportunities that a visit to this community offers the visitor, especially Riverfront park - the park that was built to house a world's exposition.
Spokane is the largest city between Minneapolis and Seattle. While you might expect the cosmopolitan environment, which includes fine dining (more than 300 restaurants), excellent shopping (downtown Spokane's main shopping area is connected by 14 blocks of an unusual skywalk), and many cultural activities, you will also experience the feeling of visiting a small western town. The more than 190,000 residents appreciate the many outdoor recreational opportunities that are readily available to them in and around Spokane. Many are active RVers who are fortunate enough to have 76 mountain lakes within a 50-mile radius of their homes. There are four major ski resorts within a two-hour drive of the city, as well as 14 public and private golf courses. When it comes to camping, it is hard to compete with the 15 national forests and 10 national parks that are located nearby, or with the many excellent public campgrounds. But, what about all the rain and cold we hear about in Washington?
Surprising to many is the mild climate that Spokane enjoys. Located between the Cascade and Rocky Mountain ranges, the city is protected from the damp weather that is associated with the western side of the state as well as from the cold temperatures that are experienced on the eastern side of the Rockies. While the annual rainfall is only about 20 inches, 70 percent of it falls between October and April, and the city enjoys more than 200 days of sunshine per year. "Spokane" is a Native American word that means "children of the sun." July's mean temperature is 80.5 degrees Fahrenheit with humidity of 39 percent. In truth, the weather is beautiful.
In the early 1970's, in the middle of the "energy crunch," many Spokane businesses were closing their downtown stores. The most successful were relocating to the new malls on the east and north sides of town. Downtown Spokane was dying, so this small city took a huge gamble and produced Expo '74 - a world's exposition. The event proved to be a success both financially and socially, and its positive effects are still visible today. It transformed what was becoming a decaying segment of Spokane's central downtown area into one of the most beautiful parks found in any city. Expo '74 revitalized not only Spokane's physical environment, but also the attitude of its people. Evidently, the city's gamble paid off.
Expo '74 was devoted to the environment. The fair was held in the newly constructed, 51-acre Riverfront Park, only one block from the major shopping, and business center. The park is almost completely surrounded by the sometimes calm, sometimes raging Spokane River, and it offers a breathtaking view in every direction. Many of the business people of Spokane walk to the park and participate in the city-sponsored "Brown Bag Lunch Programs." While they sit and eat their lunches and enjoy the beauty of the park, they are entertained by musicians, singers, mimes, jugglers, and other performers - all for free.
The heart of the park is the Pavilion, which is filled with rides and thrills for the entire family. The gyrating SR-2 Space Capsule uses film, sound, and motion to take its riders on an action-packed adventure. Let the kids ride the Krazy Kars and the Dragon Coaster, or take them to the petting zoo. Children will also enjoy the miniature golf course that's located directly under the giant pavilion.
The Eastern Washington Science Center offers a world of discoveries for the entire family. This facility features more than 150 hands-on experiments and exhibits that visitors can explore and have fun with. Exhibit subjects range from computers to geology to the stars.
Have you ever been inside a theater that has a screen that is five stories high? That is just what you will find inside the Pavilion's IMAX Theater. The giant screen, coupled with amazing special effects and a stereo sound system that literally draws viewers into the action, is unlike anything most of us ever experienced. Viewers are seated in comfortable chairs, with an unrestricted view of the screen, when a crystalline-sharp, colorful image and a powerful stereo dazzle their senses. The IMAX film format is 10 times as large as conventional 35mm film. Its clarity and impact cannot be described: it must be experienced. Only a fortunate few have had the opportunity to visit an IMAX Theater, as there are only a few of them in the world.