Road Blog: Extreme Geology


That’s Washington state Highway 155, headed north from Coulee City toward Grand Coulee Dam. We got a gray, cool to cold day with a little autumn rain thrown in. The landscape is huge and surprising. To the right in this picture are basalt cliffs formed from successive lave flows over millions of years and then violently gouged out by the repeated great floods that poured through this region during the ice age. I heard an estimate somewhere today that about 520 cubic miles of water — cubic miles — came pouring across this part of eastern Washington in 48 hours. That’s a little less than the volume of Lake Michigan, which counts as a big lake in my book, discharged over a weekend. In the left of this picture in Banks Lake, a big reservoir created as part of the Bureau of Reclamation’s massive World War II era plumbing of this area. The huge mesa-like shape in the left distance is Steamboat Rock, once an island at the foot of an immense waterfall upstream. (Click the picture above for a larger image.)

Started: Moses Lake, Washington (7:15 a.m.)
McDonald’s breakfast to go
North on Washington 17 through Soap Lake
Stopped at Lenore Lake
Hiked up through canyon to Lenore Coulee and Great Blade
North on Washington 17 to Dry Falls State Park
Hiked up through notch in Umatilla Rock
Stopped at visitors center
Stopped in Coulee City; lunch at Last Stand restaurant and saloon
North on Washington 155 to Grand Coulee Dam
Stopped at Crown Point, overlooking dam and town, hiked to Candy Point
Stopped at dam visitors center
West on Washington 174 to Washington 17
South on Washington 17 to Washington 172
West of Washington 172 to U.S. 2
U.S. 2 to Wenatchee, Washington
Arrived: 7:30 p.m.

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