Slideshow: ‘Grandfather Cuts Loose the Ponies’


Another slice of the Great Scablands Tour of 2013 (yes, I’m back home now, sorting through the pile of pictures indiscriminately shot over the five days poring over landscapes). On the third day of the eastern Washington trip, we started in Wenatchee, took a long hike in Potholes Coulee, then headed to the tri-cities of Richland, Pasco, and Kennewick. Before sunset, we stopped at the “Wild Horses” sculpture along Interstate 90, just across the Columbia River from the town of Vantage.

I remembered the spot from driving through here in 2011 with Eamon and Sakura: a string of metal horses dancing along the skyline on a bluff just east of the highway. We had pulled into the parking lot but didn’t have time to stop and hike up to the sculpture. My trip with Randy, though, was more about taking the time to do that (though as always I was a little worried I was holding us up through my repeated insistence on stopping to snap grain elevators, rocks, road cuts, plowed fields, riverscapes, wind turbines, declining small-town Main Streets, and whatever else the terrain offered up).

So we hiked up the steep trail from the parking lot, took some pictures, then hiked to an even higher ridge where we could see how the how the rolling Palouse country came to an abrupt stop as it encountered the flood-sculpted course of the Columbia. Up close, the horses are even more striking than they are from below. The installation is actually called “Grandfather Cuts Loose the Ponies” and is a conception of a Native American creation story by Washington state sculptor David Govedare:

“Creatures of this planet, behold, a Great Basket! I send this basket, bearing the gift of life, to all corners of the universe. Now take these ponies, I am cutting them loose. They will inspire a Spirit of free will. They will be a companion for work and play on this planet. This is a way for you to see how all life depends on all other life. This basket is my heart. You are at one with me. Eagle of the sky, we look to you for vision. Salmon of the water, we look to you for life-giving sustenance. Deer of the land, you provide a bountiful tranquility for our Mother Earth.

“From the center of my Basket burns the fire of our collective souls. Humans, you are responsible. You have the power of reasoning and the gift of free will. Use them wisely. Always be aware of the limitless nature of this ever expanding universe. Let us live to inspire each other.”

A 2008 story in the Seattle Times (“All the pretty horses of Vantage are only half done“) explains that Govedare has been trying for years to raise funds for the Great Basket portion of his installation. Aside from the cost–$350,000–Govedare has encountered skepticism from those who feel the proposed “basket” resembles a giant satellite dish a little too closely.

One other thing to note here: The graffiti. As you’ll see in the slideshow below, lots of visitors have given free rein to their urge to scrawl and doodle. Randy expressed disgust at this and at some level, yeah, it would be nice if people could refrain from leaving their marks. On the other hand, I’m reminded of the multitudes who’ve done the same thing on natural features across the West and the rest of the world–people just have to let you know they were there. (Although sometimes you wonder what’s going on in their heads. Case in point: the two Korean exchange students who were busted after scratching their names into Inscription Rock at New Mexico’s El Morro National Monument. There’s something ironic there, in that the rock has been described as “the sandstone bluff that is the birthplace of graffiti in America.” People have been doodling and scrawling there since long before the first European colonists passed by. As the students found out, now it’s historic, and off-limits to the casual graffitist.)

Road Blog: Palouse


Columbia River at Wallula Gap, shot from Twin Sisters.

Tuesday, Randy and I started out in Kennewick, Washington, made our way to the Columbia River, then south to a landmark called Twin Sisters — a sort of double volcanic spire on the east bank of the river (and in native stories, what’s left of sisters who were thwarted in their salmon fishing then turned to stone by Coyote). Part of the attraction of the Twin Sisters is what you see from there: the Wallula Gap, where the Columbia flows through an opening eroded through the Horse Heaven Hills then enlarged by the Big Floods.

From there we made our way over to the Snake River country, the town of Kahlotus and Devil’s Canyon, yet another landscape wrought by the ice age floods. We stopped in the town of Washtucna for a hot dog and a double cappuccino, then headed to Palouse Falls.

The Palouse is an extensive area of steeply rolling hills, mostly treeless, much of it planted in wheat, made up mostly of ancient wind-blown soil (or loess, pronounced “less” in approximation of its German origin) that’s as much as 200 feet deep. (That’s a shot of a recently plowed field below, looking south toward the Snake River.)

Palouse Falls is another one of those places that recounts a chapter of the flood epoch. The Palouse River flows through gorges excavated by the ice age floods and falls into a “plunge pool” dug out by the gigantic volume of water that came rushing through 15,000 years ago or so.

From the falls, we cruised back through Clarkston, Washington, and Lewiston, Idaho, to Randy’s house in the town of Orofino, population 3,000 and some, seat of Clearwater County. More geoimagery tomorrow.

Conclusion of the foregoing.

Road Blog: Palouse