Road Blog: Scablands


The scablands–that’s what they call big pieces of eastern Washington, where I spent the day with one of my oldest friends, Randy Robinson. Roughly speaking, the scablands are the extensive rocky breaks in the rolling countryside in this part of the state. Mesas, tiered benches of basalt from ancient lava flows, gravel ridges, craters, the random distribution of huge boulders across the landscape. They’ve come to be known as the channeled scablands because of a reinterpretation of the regional geology in the 1920s that proposed that a flood of unimaginable proportions — set loose by the collapse of a colossal ice dam in western Montana, which in turn led to the sudden outflow of a huge mountain lake — scoured and sculpted the land maybe 15,000 years ago.

Anyway, that’s a summary of what Randy told me today, and we’ve got two or three or four more days of scabland hiking and sight-seeing ahead. (Where did the term scablands come from? I’m running it down — I find several references in the 1880s that apply that term to this part of Washington; I also found one possible reference from 1630s Britain that may indicate there’s an older and more general meaning of the term.

The picture above: One of our stops, a spot called Twin Lakes, west of Spokane. The challenge with this countryside is capturing something so big in any sort of meaningful way. Anyway

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