The solstice is upon us. While we have been enjoying the longer days for some time now, this weekend signals the true beginning of summer — and hopefully this year, it can more safely be filled with get-togethers and vacations. Last year, I made the most of all that the Inland Northwest has to offer in terms of hiking and foraging, and so did my colleagues. As a librarian, I’m always on the lookout for free, accessible and reliable information — beyond books — that I can use in my adventures and can share with others, too.

A personal favorite of many at Washington State University Libraries is the free app, Seek, by iNaturalist. With it, you can point your camera at an organism and you’ll soon know the species. Librarian Erica Nicol says it is fun on hikes, but also good for identifying backyard plants and insects. Last fall, a friend and I used it to identify some lobster mushrooms and we were able to hold a feast; it more recently helped me identify stinging nettles before I taste-tested them. Whew!

Unique to this area is the native Palouse Prairie. Only 1 percent of the original habitat remains. Good places to see these undisturbed tracts are some of the cemeteries (e.g. Whelan) that dot the Palouse. For help identifying native plants, I find “Palouse Prairie Field Guide: An Introductory Guide to Native Plants, Agricultural Crops and Invasive Weeds for the Curious” helpful in my exploration. Other recommended guides to local eco-identification include: “Roadside Geology of Washington” and “Roadside Geology of Idaho,” both by David Alt, and “Birds of Washington State” by Brian Bell and Gregory Kennedy.

For those of you who appreciate a print book in hand while discovering the trails, the books “100 Hikes in the Inland Northwest: Eastern Washington, Northern Rockies, Wallowas” and “Day Hiking Eastern Washington: Kettles-Selkirks, Columbia Plateau, Blue Mountains,” both by Rich Landers, are go-tos for the area. I am a fan of the free website and app, AllTrails, which uses crowdsourced data to map out hikes, while several WSU librarians recommend the Washington Trails Association website. Want to push the limits and spend the night outside? Librarian Gabriella Reznowski recommends Hipcamp to discover unique accommodations nearby. The Animal Health Library at WSU would also like to issue an announcement regarding your pandemic puppies: Make sure to check first to see if the trail you’ll be exploring will allow dogs — and bring biodegradable bags.

Learning about the area is not just limited to the current ecoregion, but also how humans have historically lived and worked on the land and the ways in which the violent removal of native populations is tied to the destruction of the Palouse Prairie and irrevocable changes to the Columbia Plateau. To learn more about the history of the area, librarian David Luftig recommends “The Nez Perce Indians and the Opening of the Northwest” by Alvin M. Josephy. He says, “When I told my colleague that I was reading this book shortly after moving to the region, he agreed on its importance but noted that a more appropriate title would have been ‘The Nez Perce Indians and the Colonizing of the Northwest.’ He, of course, was correct. I came to better understand our region, its peoples and its history. I have frequently made day trips to places that I read about in this book.” David also recommends “Hear Me, My Chiefs!: Nez Perce History and Legend” by Lucullus Virgil McWhorter. These books tie in well with a visit to one of the 38 sites that make up the Nez Perce National Historical Park. (nps.gov/nepe/index.htm)

And if you are content to stay put, there are resources for that too. Luftig recently put together a library research guide, found on the WSU Libraries website, containing numerous free and openly accessible online resources on gardening (libguides.libraries.wsu.edu/openhort). Do you want to see some historical gardening techniques and information produced by WSU Extension? Check out this collection, dating back to 1892. (content.libraries.wsu.edu/digital/collection/ext).

And as a final reminder when exploring outside: Pack everything out, and leave the area better than when you found it.

Hvizdak is a humanities librarian at Washington State University.

Recommended for you