Water power–modern and ancient.

15 Oct

Travelling south in Washington east of the Cascades our first night we spent at Chief Joseph Dam State Park. This dam straddles the Columbia river and is one of the many which control the flow of this mighty river as it crosses from Canada through Washington and enters the Pacific Ocean at Astoria on the Oregon Washington border.

Major construction was taking place at the dam and the visitor centre was not open so we did not linger long as our next port of call was to be Grand Coulee Dam.


With three power houses this hydro electric plant produces the largest amount of hydro electricity in the US. Its hard to judge from this picture how enormous the dam is but we certainly felt small beside it.



Above I am standing on top of the spill way to the right is the view when I looked over – it was a very long way down, 550ft in fact.








Not a lot to be seen in Power House 3 built in the 1960’s as the massive generators are so heavy they have their base below floor level each one is 70ft across.





The steel shaft is 8ft 6in across , hollow but the steel is 8inches thick.

http://www.usbr.gov/pn/grandcoulee/pubs/factsheet.pdf  for more information


We had two reasons to take in the town of Grand Coulee on our route, one was the dam, the other was to fulfil a promise to visit Jim and Alice Frost,  a couple we met at Dosewallups State Park on the Olympic Peninsula in 2009. They have lived in the town of Grand Coulee for many years as Jim was an engineer at the plant but is now retired. We were able to park haRVey on their land while we visited which was very convenient.

Jim was able to give us many facts and interesting stories about the dam and surrounding area, he took us a tour out to view the dam from a high look out point then along the side of Banks Lake which at present has a very low water level due to maintenance.


We all went up to the hanger where Jim stores his single seat airplane, this was his retirement project – he built it himself, I could see Roberts brain ticking and eyes glinting, he was told not to get ideas!

Over supper we shared travel tales from places visited or not to be missed, we all have an interest in gathering mushrooms so that took a while to cover as did food in general…. and many other topics.






Alice and Jim have a lovely veggie garden in their plot and we were delighted to help out using up the glut of tomatoes, cucumber and beans.






We could have stayed much longer – but we are sure we will return to see them again when we are in Washington.





Grand Coulee Dam takes its name from the landscape it sits in. The giant gouge in the earth was formed thousands of years ago when glaciers advanced and receded across an area which includes Washington Idaho and Montana. A finger of  ice formed a dam across the flow of a river, the lake which formed behind this eventually broke through the dam and rushed across the land sweeping a path through softer earth and rock. This flood was repeated many times until the land was left more or less as we see it today.To put a little more context on this the glaciers would have been over 10.000ft thick, the lake contained 500 cubic miles of water and the flood waters 2,000ft deep near the dam moved at 65 miles an hour when they came bursting through! The floods lasted on and off for 2,500 years.

There is so much more to this story and if you would like more information it can be found here :- http://www.iafl.org


This landmark is known as Steamboat Rock, a huge chunk of land left behind by the receding water. Banks Lake low level shows up the landscape to good effect.


Further along Grand Coulee what was once the worlds largest waterfall is now dry. Dry Falls has a drop of more than 400ft and is 3.5 miles wide.P1200082

What a sight it would have made with the water thundering over the edge. For comparison Niagara is one mile wide and falls 165 feet!

From the Grand Coulee  we followed the road  to Palouse Falls on the Snake River looking out to the falls and down the canyon.




The water falls around 200ft to the plunge pool below. In 2009 a kayaker set an unofficial world record for the highest falls run when he plunged over the top!P1200094The canyon is 377ft deep

In between these grand geological features we crossed many miles of flat agricultural land. We had not realised how many faces there were to the State of Washington, the coast is rugged, the Olympic Peninsula has high mountains and lush valleys, the Columbia Valley has its deep gorge which eventually gives out to a flat dry plateau in between are the grand mountains of the cascades and the US’s most recent mainland volcano Mount Saint Helens (erupted in 1980) and then the area we have just been discovering. Added into this are the big cities like Seattle and Spokane. So much to explore.

So another busy week has passed and we are now in Clarkston on the border with Idaho which we will begin to explore tomorrow as we move on south.


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