Jim MacArthur thought he was wasting his time six years ago as he drove deep into what he calls Washington's forgotten corner. In the market to buy an RV resort, he'd told his broker he was looking for sun, trees and mountains.
He was skeptical when the broker suggested a place near Pomeroy, and pulling off U.S. 12 in the middle of a sea of wheat fields didn't make him feel any better.
"No trees, no mountains," MacArthur says. "It was exactly what you think off when you think of southeast Washington agricultural land."
Then he drove over a hill and saw exactly what he was looking for unfurl in front of him. Rising above the fields of grain were the Blue Mountains of Umatilla National Forest.
He was sold. Today, MacArthur still lives on the periphery of the forest where he owns The Last Resort with his wife and mother-in-law.
"It's a great area for recreation," MacArthur says. "And there is nobody here, which is good, but bad" for business.
This is why, of all the places in Washington where you can find solitude, it might be easiest in Umatilla National Forest.
Even forest spokeswoman Joani Bosworth says she doesn't know Washington's 311,197 acres of the forest nearly as well as the almost 1.1 million acres in Oregon.
"That is the place to go if you are looking for solitude," Bosworth says. "It is a pretty quiet area unless it's hunting season."
From the top of 6,397-foot Oregon Butte, the highest point in Washington's Blue Mountains, fire lookout Julie Hentrich says in a typical summer she sees more fires (359 this year) than visitors (about 300 per year).
Monte Fujishin runs the Pomeroy Ranger District, Washington's primary district in the forest.
"I can drive the entire district and not see anybody some days," Fujishin says. "It's great. That's one of the big draws to this area."
The forest is ripe with solitude for several reasons, Fujishin says.
First, it is more than two hours from the nearest cities with populations greater than 100,000.
The forest is so secluded, in fact, Fujishin figures most people don't know the region even has a national forest.
"Most people associate Umatilla with Oregon, not Washington," Fujishin says.
Second, much of the forest is the Wenaha-Tucannon Wilderness, where there are hundreds of miles of trails but no roads. There are 613 miles of roads in the forest, but only about 330 miles are open to the public and only three roads are paved.
"But if you have a pickup it's pretty easy to get around," Fujishin says. "The roads are in pretty good shape."
Third, the forest sprawls across the Blue Mountains, making for a different infrastructure than most national forests. While most Forest Service roads run through drainages at the base of tree-covered hills, the opposite is the case in Umatilla National Forest.
"Most of the roads are on the plateaus above the valleys," Fujishin says. "This gives you some pretty good views and enables the forest to hide a lot of people.
"You can go forever and not see anybody."
Unless it's hunting season.
The Umatilla forest is a popular destination for elk, deer and turkey hunters.
Last month, Jim Ezell of Kennewick was in the Wenaha-Tucannon Wilderness helping his friends pack in gear on mules and horses to set up a remote base camp for this season.
"There are more people during hunting season, but I wouldn't say it's all that crowded," Ezell says. "Once you get out there a couple of miles you can go days without seeing anybody."