August 6 – 15, 2015
Omak Stampede and Suicide Race
After visiting North Cascades National Park, our next planned destination was Coeur d’Alene, Idaho. Since it was over five hours of driving time to Coeur d’Alene, we planned a one night stopover in Omak, Washington, near the halfway point of the drive. And the cheapest place we could find there was at the Carl Precht Memorial RV Park. Well, it just happened that the park we stayed at was right next to the big Omak Stampede arena and right at the bottom of Suicide Hill. And it just happened that the Omak Stampede and Suicide Race was happening the very next week.
We didn’t know any of this when we pulled into the park, nor were we familiar with the Suicide Race. As we pulled in and started getting set up, we were deliberating on whether to stay for the night or just eat dinner and continue the drive another hour to the Grand Coulee Dam. We got into a conversation with a man named Joe and his family and learned about the events that would be happening the next week. There would be a carnival with rides, a four-night rodeo, an Indian encampment, and the World Famous Suicide Race. Since we weren’t committed to anything the next week, we decided to set up and stay for the week.
The Suicide Race is an event that started in the 1930s based on endurance races run by the local Indian tribes. In an effort to bolster attendance at the annual Omak Stampede Rodeo, the event promoters and local Indian tribes consolidated some of the local endurance races into a race that would take place each night after the rodeo. Each night for four days, 20 horse riders compete for the title of King of the Mountain by racing down a steep hill into the Okanogan River, ride or swim across the river, and gallop into the nearby arena to the finish line. The results of each race are tallied with the winner awarded the grand prize of around $5,000, a prize saddle, and the title of “King of the Mountain”.
Along with the Suicide Race and Stampede Rodeo, the event includes a four-day Indian Encampment and a carnival. The Indian Encampment is a large gathering of Native Americans from the Colville Reservation who come together to dance, play drums, compete in stick games, and celebrate their heritage. The encampment is open to the public who are welcome to walk through the rows of teepees, observe the festivities, and purchase whatever is for sale. The carnival is a typical fairground traveling carnival with rides, games, and carnival food.
There were too many entries for the Suicide Race this year, so an elimination round was run the Sunday before the official event. Of the 35 entrants, the top 20 from the elimination round were allowed to advance to the official race. We only had to walk a few feet from our 5th wheel to stand at the bottom of Suicide Hill and watch the racers plunge down toward the river. What a fun event this was to watch! Imagine the adrenaline rush of galloping toward the edge of a steep precipice and jumping over the edge to race down into a river.
This was an exciting event to witness. We watched the elimination round on Sunday, then watched two of the official races on Thursday and Friday night. We also attended the Stampede Rodeo on Thursday night and enjoyed watching world class professionals ride bucking broncos, rope steers, run barrel races, and try to stay on raging bulls for 8 seconds.
Grand Coulee Dam
We had almost a full week to wait around for the Omak Stampede to begin on Thursday, so we took one full day to visit the Grand Coulee Dam. It was about an hour drive from Omak through the Colville Indian Reservation. Driving up to the bottom of the dam, it didn’t look as impressive as I had imagined. The Grand Coulee is the second largest dam in the world next to one recently completed in China and it is one of the largest concrete structures ever built. It is a mile wide, over 500 feet tall, and over 500 feet thick at the base. I think the reason I wasn’t impressed as we drove up was that it is so big, the scale is almost beyond comprehension. I didn’t realize how big it actually was until I started comparing it to cars parked near the base, then driving across the top and looking down over the spillway to the water far below. This thing is huge! It is also the largest power generating plant in North America, generating as much as five nuclear plants at over 6 gigawatts. (For comparison, Doc Brown and Marty only needed 1.21 gigawatts to get the DeLorean back to the future.)
One of the most impressive things about the dam is that it was built in the “olden days” of the 1930s. This was definitely quite a feat. Even more impressive is that this massive government project was completed 2 years ahead of schedule and under budget. If only we could achieve such things today!
Abby turned 5! This was a fun place to celebrate her birthday. She got a new bike and a few books, then we all went to the nearby pool for an afternoon of swimming. She picked out a bright pink frosting for her pink strawberry cake.
As we move on to our next location we say goodbye to fast friends and hope to see you again one day. We thoroughly enjoyed the week spent in Omak. It’s a great town with great people.
Check out Indian Dancing and more Suicide Race videos on our YouTube Page.