Adventures on the Dry Side

Having ended up with two days off together, B and I rather precipitously decided on an overnight trip. It being spring, and thus still fickle weather-wise, and given my desire to show him something that would really make his eyes pop, we decided on the Channeled Scablands as a safe bet. We’d already planned on Vantage – simple enough to expand that day trip into two.

Petrified Log at Gingko Petrified Forest Visitor's Center, with Wanapum Lake on the Columbia River in the background.
Petrified Log at Gingko Petrified Forest Visitor’s Center, with Wanapum Lake on the Columbia River in the background.

How’s this for mind-blowing: those petrified logs were found in Columbia River Basalt flows. Yep. Wood, in a lava flow. You’d think it would catch on fire, but that’s where Vantage Lake comes in: those logs were in it when the lava arrived. Too wet for even molten basalt to burn, preserved nicely by it, petrified over the ages, and discovered by some mightily astonished people.

We’d meant to hike the loop trail and visit all the logs in their cages (had to be locked up against nasty thieveses), but we got rained on. We played around in the Gingko Gem Shop, hoping it would pass, but it never did. At least we got to spend time playing with the shop’s kitty, and magetized hematitie, which were both awesome and fun. The gentleman who runs the shop showed us some neat tricks with said hematite, and let us play with the rare earth magnets, and is as much of a gem as his shop. It’s one of my favorite places to visit when I’m on the dry side. Great specimens at great prices, too! Be sure to drop by if you’re in the Vantage area.

Looking over Lower Grand Coulee from one of the Lake Lenore Caves.
Looking over Lower Grand Coulee from one of the Lake Lenore Caves.

Getting rained out turned out to be a good thing, because it meant we were driving up Grand Coulee early enough to drop by Lake Lenore Caves. We hiked the whole trail, and played in the caves, and reflected upon the power of the floodwaters that carved this whole thing, caves and all. See those cliffs across the way? They’re huge. And this is the Lower Grand Coulee, which isn’t so impressive as the upper. Wow, right?

Next day, we did a more leisurely drive down the coulee, stopping here and there. One of the stops I absolutely had to make was at the end of the Upper Grand Coulee, where you’re in granite rather than basalt.

Granite cliff in Upper Grand Coulee.
Granite cliff in Upper Grand Coulee.

Some of the oldest rock in Washington State, this, and positively glittering with plagioclase. You can actually see it glittering at 60 miles per hour. The crystals are enormous, and the rocks are shot through with pegmatite dikes. I abso-bloody-lutely love this spot.

Of course, all of it’s extremely neat.

Steamboat Rock framed by a Ponderosa pine branch.
Steamboat Rock framed by a Ponderosa pine branch.

Difficulty moderate, the book said. Trail steepens from the base of the cliffs to a saddle, it said. Nowhere did the authors mention that the difficulty is moderate for mountain goats, and that if you can’t monkey your way up and down vertical bits of trail, you will get stuck somewhere along it, faced with a choice between bruising your bum, breaking your neck, or trying to call 911 for a helicopter rescue. We made it up the first vertical bit, stopped at a low area, looked at the people struggling to navigate the next vertical bit, and considered the fact we’d already drunk our bottles of water. And there wasn’t any shade. And my leg muscles, at least, were already rebelling against up and were seriously put out by the idea of more up, followed by lots of horrible down. So we descended without climbing more than a third. Still. Magnificent views, and nice exercise, and now we have a list of things we shall bring next time, not limited to several gallons of water, walking sticks, padded gloves, and possibly mountaineering gear. Sheesh.

Ah, well, left more time for Dry Falls, didn’t it?

Dry Falls. Need I say anything?
Dry Falls. Need I say anything?

You have no idea how happy I am to have finally made it back there with the good camera, and that we had that wonderful interplay of cloud shadow and light, and that we arrived with enough time to talk to the park ranger on duty and get directions from him to a way to a part of the falls you can’t see from the visitor’s center. It’s astoundingly beautiful, and you will love it, but I’m going to make you wait because I am evil and also because I need to bloody well write up Franklin Falls soon. Summer field season has me swamped already, and it’s barely begun!

The weather was spectacular, and allowed us a lovely view of the Stuart Range on our way back through the pass.

Stuart Range, seen from Indian John Hill.
Stuart Range, seen from Indian John Hill.

So that was excellent. I have lots of mystery flora for you, and I would have had birds, only they never held still. Ah, well. The geology will make up for it. I’ll be telling you tales of fire, ice and water before long – after I get round to the things I was supposed to be working on, anyway!

Adventures on the Dry Side

10 thoughts on “Adventures on the Dry Side

  1. 1

    Oh wow. Dry Falls is stunning. I’ve never seen anything like that. And based on the Wikipedia article about it, must’ve been quite a site at the end of the last ice age, too.

    Neat petrified trees! They remind me of the “lava trees” on Hawai’i – although it’s kind of the opposite, since the lava trees are casts of trees that were buried in lava.

  2. 3

    We did a day trip up and down the coulee last fall while visiting relatives in Ephrata. You had better weather! It’s kind of a shock at the north end when you come out ABOVE the Grand Coulee Dam, which is of course not actually in the Grand Coulee. We shall have to do it again!

    Banks Lake, which largely surrounds Steamboat Rock, is interesting from an engineering point of view as it requires dams at both ends and is supplied with water pumped up from Lake Roosevelt. It was originally intended as a pumped storage hydrower project but I think the water all goes to irrigation nowadays.

    if you go to Grand Coulee Dam, take the tour and get a ride on the inclined elevator down the face of the new part for me. I designed parts of it back in the early 1970’s. It’s never yet been in operation when I’ve been there!

  3. 6

    Did you drive thru Moses Coulee? Its sort of a stealth thing, the road (us 2) dips into this broad valley and rises up again. No dry falls just an empty water course for what was for a while at least a major river.

  4. 7

    Sigh… one of my favorite memories ever. My high school chum and I used to go climbing at Vantage. Not sure exactly how I’m still around to write this comment, but it was so much fun, and I loved the area…

  5. 8

    I remember bicycling through the area on US2 with a full moon with no cars and fairly new pavement. It was really beautiful in August at night.

  6. 9

    I remember a meetup in northwestern Washington State, and a friend drove me to there and back. I got to see those layered flood basalts. I spent the night in a campsite, but I couldn’t sleep very well, and I kept track of time by watching the Moon.

    I hadn’t thought of it back then, but I thought of it later. The Moon’s dark blotches were the same sort of geological formation as what I was traveling on and sleeping on — flood-basalt plains. Only they were about 3 to 3.5 billion years old (Archean) instead of 15 to 17 million years old (Miocene).

    “Where was everybody” is a good exercise, and while the Earth and its biota were largely recognizable in the Miocene, they were almost totally unrecognizable in the Archean — much of the present-day continental crust did not exist back then, for starters.

  7. 10

    Welcome to the dry side! *evil laugh*

    Time to round up the kids for another trip to Vantage. We usually go to the beach on the river at the state park, but we haven’t gone to the petrified forest and surrounds in a long time. Even as a native dry-sider I’m always in awe driving through the basalt and granite formations, though if I’m not terribly well versed in geology. I don’t get how anyone can say the arid steppes are ‘ugly’!

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