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Monday, May 17, 2010

Ancent Lakes

Not really that old.

When I first got into birding I learned a lot about the natural history of the state by going on field trips. Eastern Washington was always a favored destination because it offered a complete change of environment , flora and fauna.

During one of these trips I met someone who was very knowledgeable about geology. He told me about the book "Fire, Floods and Faults" by Marge and Ted Mueller. This clever book is a combination of learning and field trips. The Muellers write about the Bretz Floods and describe road trips where you can see the actual effects of these floods on the landscape.

Recently I completed the book "Bretz's Flood, The Remarkable Story of a Rebel Geologist and the Worlds Greatest Flood" by John Soennichsen. The combination of both these books has allowed me to see and understand how the eastern half of our state was shaped ~12,000 years ago.

Another resource for understanding is the wonderful NOVA story about the Megaflood


Approximately 12,000 years ago at the end of the last Ice Age a giant ice dam located in the far northwest corner of Montana / Idaho region broke loose and allowed the backed up waters of glacial Lake Missoula to flood out. The waters flowed across Western Washington and scoured the landscape all the way south to the Willamette River valley in Western Oregon. This happened multiple times over a span of ~2000. The exact number is not known. You can see evidence of the multiple water levels and layers of scouring in some of the hills. A type of shoreline effect.

I visited Ancient Lakes in Grant County, about 10 miles north of the I-90 bridge along the east shore of the Columbia River, in Potholes Coulee. It was a magnificent warm day and the sky could not have been more blue.

I had hoped to catch some wildflowers on this hike, which was written up in my guide book. To my disappointment most of the flowers have passed for the year, but I certainly enjoyed getting out.

I arrived very early and feel like I had the place to myself. There was a horse trailer that pulled in behind me, but I never saw the horses and their riders until late in my return loop. I loved being in this ancient feeling place with no other people about.

The coulee is about 4 miles deep and ends with an amazing waterfall. At the terminus of the coulee are three lakes which have no outlets. They are remnants of the massive flood that backed water in from the Columbia to the west and waters that flooded over from the east. The combination of forces dug out deep lakes, like a high pressure hose.

Today waterfalls from the plateau above spill over the basalt rock faces and disappear into the ground. The water does not form streams as you would expect but is soaked up into the ground.

Along the way a nose of coulee floor shows multiple layers which illustrate the shoreline effect. Water once lapped against this nose creating lines of erosion. I would guess this nose is about 300 feet high. The distant wall of the coulee is quite a bit further on.

The trail was pretty level until I got into the shorelines of the lakes. They don't have gentle shoreline on their east faces. The basalt boulders were part of the hike challenge and good training right now for future hikes. Recently I heard or read something about rock climbing. As I worked my way along some of these rocks I heard the quote "Trust your foot"

It helps!

A waterfall at the east end of the largest of the trio of lakes compelled me to scramble up to see what was up there. I did find a new flower to figure out , American Brooklime.

The shores of the lakes had Thelypodium still growing well. The bees loved it and it was fun trying to capture photos.

and had some wonderful views of the landscape. This is from the top of the falls.

Walking back I passed many people hiking in for camping. I am sure this must be a remarkable camping area in good weather. There is absolutely no shelter in bad weather but it must be gloriously dark and wonderful on a clear night.

The cliffs were alive with nesting birds, Cliff and Violet-green Swallows, rare White-throated and Black Swifts and a few Rock Wrens. The wrens are so very hard to see but I did spot one singing from his rock and later, while at the top of the waterfall, saw one come down to drink. I didn't even think to try and get a picture.

I stopped by the Quilomene WR I visited last month with on the Native Plant Field trip to see the Bitterroot in bloom. It was a great pleasure to find many in blood and all over I found buds still breaking through the dry hard soil.

These are surely one of the most beautiful flowers of Spring.

1 comment:

  1. My gosh! That landscape is magnificent! Very compelling. Imagine a waterfall where the water doesn't go into a stream but sinks into the ground. I wonder if there's an aquifer somewhere?