Washington: Day 8

Dry Fallsspent the day wandering through eastern Washington, admiring the farmlands of the Palouse and the sage-filled high desert region.  My path led first to Dry Falls, which – during the ice age -- was three-times the size of present day Niagara Falls.  Even dry, it was a massive sight – a huge gorge with small-looking lakes at the very bottom where the churn pools once lived. 

The Dry Falls were created by the breaking of the ice dam from the one-massive Lake Missoula, created when a glacier blocked the river and the water backed up for hundreds of miles into Montana and grew to a depth of 2000 feet!  When the ice-dam broke, all that water poured out, emptying the lake in 48 hours and smashing through eastern Washington with such force that it carved up the landscape like a stream in flood, depositing massive boulders here and there, gouging out channels (like the Grand Coulee – which really was once filled to the brim with flood water), and falling over massive water falls like Dry Falls.  It finally hit the Columbia Basin, where it gouged at the Columbia gorge and flooded the Willamette Valley on its way to the sea.  Apparently, even the ocean bed of today still bears signs of the old-time ice-age floods. 

Steamboat RockAfter lunch at a teeny restaurant in the small downtown, I drove up through the Grand Coulee toward the famous dam, and paused in wonder when I found Steamboat Rock State park.  The huge monolith dominated the landscape, looming over a gorgeous lake.  It was absolutely surrounded by golden wildflowers and purple sage, and I had to stop for a short hike amidst such beauty.  At the top of the main trail were gorgeous views and a picnic table under a pine tree – a welcome spot to rest after the blazing desert heat. 

After checking into my hotel, I went for a drive through the Coville Indian Reservation, making my way up and across the mountains to the San Paloi river valley (lovely), where I had a picnic dinner at a park overlooking the river.  Then I drove back across the mountains to the Columbia River valley (also lovely!)  Entering the Columbian River Valley, I was once again struck by the landscape – an oversized dry river bed with the (at this giant’s scale) teeny tiny Columbia River way at the bottom.  When you view the landscape as a giant river bed, you can see all the channels the flood cut, and the house-size rocks it through everywhere.  I was in awe.  Apparently, the best place to view the giant flood-path is from space!! 

After a relaxing drive, I spent some time examining the Grand Coulee Dam, which is the largest concrete dam in North America and the third largest producer of electricity in the world.  Amazing engineering feat.  It spans the Columbia river – the third largest river in the USA, an it generated more power than a million locomotive, which supplies electricity to 11 of the western states.  Yet electricity was only a secondary purpose for the dam.  It was originally created to help irrigate eastern Washington, where low rainfall was threatening the agriculture of the state. 

After a quick swim, I found a comfy chair and settled down to read and relax for the rest of the evening. 

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