updated 7/11/2007 5:54:46 PM ET 2007-07-11T21:54:46

Each year, 10 million people drive over Snoqualmie Pass on Interstate 90, with many making the trip between Seattle and Spokane or to points beyond.

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The five-hour journey can be an ordeal. Fortunately, Northwest Heritage Resources is here to help.

The Mountlake Terrace company has just released "Interstate 90 East Heritage Tour: Seattle to Spokane," an audio guide on three CDs intended to be played during the drive. You can also use the CDs and the accompanying booklet to plan stops along the way to explore various attractions.

The tour, which costs $17.95, can be ordered online or purchased at a handful of stores around the state. It joins six other tours that the company offers, including Othello to Omak, and the Olympic Peninsula Loop.

I found the I-90 tour a welcome addition to a freeway that is, frankly, bereft of romance. Let's face it, this is no Route 66.

Mark Pettit of Yakima, the "I-90 Guy" for the state Department of Transportation, said there was a book written about the road back in 1981, but "I don't know of any I-90 songs."

Romantic or not, Pettit said up to 58,000 vehicles per day can cross Snoqualmie Pass on a busy holiday. Even with gas at more than $3 per gallon, some 56,000 cars used the pass the Friday before Memorial Day, he said.

Interstate 90, which runs from Seattle to Boston, is the longest interstate highway in the nation. It started as an Indian trail.

The first vehicle trip over the pass was in 1905 and took several days, Pettit said. Just driving across the state can seem like it takes days, which is where the new CD, paid for by the Folk Arts Program of the Washington State Arts Council, comes in.

I tested the product during a recent business trip to Seattle, and can report it is a great help in passing 281 hard miles.

Despite living in Washington for 18 years — and making this drive dozens of times — I learned plenty while listening to the three CDs, which begin their narrative near Safeco Field in Seattle and end at Riverfront Park in Spokane, site of the 1974 World's Fair.

The CDs discourage making a high-speed, caffeine-fueled run across the state (as so many Washingtonians do) in favor of a leisurely stroll through eons of geologic and human history. There's also some entertainment by local musicians and poets.

Here are some things I learned or found interesting:

  • Seattle is shaped like an hourglass, with Puget Sound to the west and Lake Washington to the east.
  • Seattle has hosted two World's Fairs, the 1909 Alaska Yukon Pacific Exposition and the 1962 Century 21 Exposition.
  • Almost 20 percent of the residents of Bellevue are of Asian heritage, highest of any city in Washington state.
  • Fall City is named for its proximity to Snoqualmie Falls.
  • Snoqualmie is a Coastal Salish word meaning "moon," and the Indian tribe was called "People of the Moon."
  • At Exit 31, you can see Mount Si and Little Si, the "Twin Peaks" which provided the name of the old television series set in the area.
  • The Cascade mountain range covers 20 percent of Washington's land.
  • The name of Cle Elum means "swift water" in the Kittitas language.
  • Ellensburg was a candidate for state capital, along with North Yakima. The two towns split the vote in a statewide referendum and Olympia remained the seat of power.
  • The collection of 18 wild mustang sculptures on a cliff above the Columbia was created by artist David Govedare, and is called "Grandfather Cuts Loose the Ponies."
  • Near Milepost 142, in the middle of nowhere, is The Gorge, a 20,000-person amphitheater that draws some of the top touring bands in the world and often makes lists of best outdoor concert venues in the nation.
  • At Exit 143 you come to the town of George, Washington, the only city in the nation named for our first president.
  • Moses Lake is named for Chief Moses of the Columbia-Sinkiuse tribe, and was made possible by the creation of Grand Coulee Dam in the 1930s. Moses Lake produces the biggest potatoes in the world, by weight.
  • At Milepost 184, you can see white ash along the highway that was deposited by the 1980 eruption of Mt. St. Helen's.
  • Ritzville, named for homesteader Philip Ritz, was settled by German-Russian immigrants, and even today residents claim 40 percent German ancestry.
  • The Channeled Scablands are not a rock band. That's the name of the vast area near Ritzville that was scoured down to bedrock by the catastrophic floods of Glacial Lake Missoula.
  • There are several colonies of Mennonites and Hutterites in the region east of Ritzville.
  • Those mountains you see as you drop down into Spokane are actually the Idaho Rockies.

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